DROUGHTS in football can be a cruelling, mental beast in a game played largely above the shoulders.
For Eltham, its 33-year, 40-game-losing-streak to Heidelberg became banished to the history books on the weekend when it defeated its long-time sparring partner by 15 points.
Following the drought-breaking win, Panthers’ senior coach Mario Bandera said his side had learned the lessons of focusing on history.
“The first time we played them down at Heidelberg, I sort of made it the focus of the day in that the boys would have an opportunity to create their own bit of history,” Bandera said.
“I’m sort of big on the guys at the end of their footy career looking back at having done something special.”
But the big emphasis made on slaying the Heidelberg drought proved overwhelming in Round 8, as the Panthers made a slow start and succumbed to their 40th successive loss to the Tigers in a 21-point result.
“It didn’t quite pan out the way we wanted,” Bandera said.
“We really didn’t want to focus on all the history (this time), and we just wanted to focus on the way we’ve been playing the last few weeks.
“But certainly once the job got done, I reminded the boys that they’d achieved something pretty special in terms of the Eltham footy club.”
Considering the average age of the Eltham’s list is around 22 years-old, many weren’t born the last time the Panthers defeated the Tigers in 1982.
More so, the victory provided sweet relief for the Eltham faithful.
“It’s been a bit of a monkey on the footy club’s back and they’ve obviously copped a bit of ribbing over the years,” Bandera said.
“The most satisfying thing was being in the social rooms after the game and seeing the supporters so happy to have actually beaten Heidelberg.”
As the only side in Division 1 to have defeated all nine opponents this season, Bandera believes the Panthers are in control of their own September fortunes.
This is in stark contrast to this time 12 months ago, when Eltham finished second-last with a 3-15 record.
“Our (goals) have changed as the year’s gone on. After last year, we had a pretty hard year, it was just to improve, and have some improvement, (and) then we sort of looked at finals,” Bandera said.
“Now we’re sitting in a place that if we get a double chance we can go deep in the finals,”
Bandera is no stranger to heading into a September finals campaign as coach. Epping took home the Division 2 flag in 2012 under Bandera, who can see similarities between the two sides.
“They are both pretty young groups. The similarities are there and what I’ve tried to push to the boys in the last few weeks is, and by no means are we being arrogant, is you have to be aware of what other sides’ strengths are.
“But sometimes you can get overwhelmed by that. What we really need to do as a young group is focus on what we do well,” he said.
Eltham has been improved by the return of co-captain Bradyn Taglieri this season, along with midfield recruit Anton Woods and the development of key forward James Kroussoratis – who leads the goal kicking table with 64 majors.
The Panthers have also been buoyed by the blistering form of reigning best and fairest winner Billy Glasgow.
The versatility of the 20 year-old has aided the Panthers this season, covering for teammates in the VFL.
“It’d be hard to underestimate his influence on our side, especially in the last couple of weeks.
“With a few of our guys now getting games at the Northern Blues, we’ve had to swing him around a bit. He’s played a bit forward, he’s played a bit in the midfield and in the last few weeks we’ve played him back.
“He’s grown as a player, to be part of our leadership group. His level-headedness and his maturity, that’s his strength as a 20 year-old. He’s tracking to be not only an elite player at Eltham, but an elite player in the competition.”
With North Heidelberg, West Preston Lakeside and Macleod to come in the final three rounds, the Panthers are in the box seat to secure third spot and a double chance in the finals.
From there, the next goal will be to win the club’s first Division 1 final since beating South Morang in the 1977 qualifying final.
“The biggest thing for us though is that we’ve probably set our season up now and our destiny is in our own hands,” Bandera said.