Today was a different type of day for our club in terms of what we wanted to achieve from our practice games. With our game against Greensborough only 6 days away with a 5 day recovery period, it was an approach of two types that the coaches decided to take leading into the game and on game day.

It was a clear direction of getting a final run and some more touch into our players, as well as trying to get everyone of our 90 listed players a run in all three games, with minimal numbers not playing or being rested – Which was a management headache in itself!!!

With Chippa and TRog both playing in the NFL Rep game, Coff having played for Richmond on the previous Thursday night, and Richo being given a rest there was an opportunity to give our starting 22 in the seniors a different look which also then allowed the reserves and U19’s to do the same.

The U19’s started the day with a solid win away against St Marys, the boys played some exciting football while at the same showing some real understanding of what defensive pressure and work rate is. They are also showing that they are starting to understand what is required of them in the jump up to what is essentially senior football. Paul has probably the hardest job at the club as he looks to manage a list of 44 players, and not only keeping them happy but also getting them in a position to play a similar style to the Seniors and doing it in unison. To this point he has done it well and is always looking to promote his players up the food chain, reinforcing that he only has the best interest of the player and the club at the forefront of his mind, and not personal success or promotion. I look forward to an exciting and successful year working alongside him.

The reserves then followed up with a super impressive performance, easily winning their game against Traralgon, with plenty of players impressing in what was a performance that was full of run and aggressive defensive work on and off the football. Plenty of players had an influence on the day and they are starting to play with real unity and the flow that replicates the Seniors. They are for the majority coming off an impressive preseason which once again promises to set us up with a strong senior squad, with plenty of competition for spots. Trap has certainly done a magnificent job in getting the boys to play to the game plan and its structures in a very short time, his appointment is one that took time as we searched for the right fit with not only the players but with the other coaches as well, and it was one that I’m confident will pay huge dividends for both the short term and long term future of our club.

The Seniors had a very solid hit out in a game that was extremely physical and provided both teams with the type of hit out they needed. It was great to have our old team mate in Jay Neagle, back at the Panth, and he is doing a tremendous job in his first coaching stint. He looks to have turned a side who missed finals last year into a contender, with an impressive style of football and playing a tight pressing game, that he also helped us build last year.
The approach was simple going into the game, get as much out of our regular senior players in the 1st half, and then look to expose some players to Senior football in the second half, some that may have never played before and others who had played minimal senior football. It was an opportunity to also reward players who had put in all the hard work over the summer and expose some more younger players to the heat of Senior football. Rotating 10 players at half time and constantly rotating players through a bench of 8 in the first half was always going to prove unsettling for the team’s balance and chemistry, however we wanted to push on with that line of selection and rotation to see how our players would cope mentally with the challenge and the unsettling effect it would have on them in their rhythm of play.

All players coped well with the day, and each played a role in the success we had in playing and improving our play, in the first half we held sway for much of the game and were comfortable for the most part, we showed poise in the unsettling rhythm of the game and we were able to extract enough out of the contest to say we had achieved our goal for the half. With most players getting the necessary run and physical assertion to awaken their footy senses for the big stage of Good Friday next week.
In the second half, after a period of settling in where Traralgon made all the running with a solid attack on our young and inexperienced team, our boys were able to settle into a transition within the game that saw are us go from our usual flowing footy, to a contested one on one type game, and we quickly turned the game in our favour. If it wasn’t for some poor execution and decisions moving through the ground and into our F50, we certainly could have run away with the game.

What exactly was achieved was that our players got some more precious game time through three well fought out and played contests, we exposed our whole list to some more intense football against good opposition, and we exposed some more young players to senior football. All in all, all three sides ticked the final box in our preparation for the upcoming season and what has been a super impressive and successful 5 month intensive preseason campaign. Having the ability to train with 70-80 players for every session was a organisational headache, but in the end we did it well and it has allowed us to grow together and learn our game plan and its structures as one team. We are better placed to handle the season than we were at the same time last year. Not only will the quality of our recruits help us grow, but the natural growth of our players from last year over the summer and the understanding and chemistry they will have all gained by training together is another strength we now have. Finally, it is also great to have players return to the club in all three grades as it shows we are truly building something special, and those who felt it once necessary to leave, now see the positive and successful direction we are now heading towards and they want to be part of that, which I feel is a tremendous feather in the cap of the current players, as well as the coaches and our new 2015 committee, who are all committed to seeing this club succeed.

Winning the game allowed us to 3-0 for the preseason, but we had stressed throughout the whole month of football that we were not interested in results, and that our scoreboard would be how we played each game and how we would hopefully improve in each. We are now ready for the enormous challenge that awaits us on Good Friday against the reigning premier on their home turf. We have done all we can in our preparation, and we hold no fears heading into 2015, all the players and coaches look forward to the Panther army getting behind us and driving us to a successful campaign in 2015. We are one big family, and we will show the rest of the competition what we started together in 2014 will continue in 2015 – The PANTHER family is unified in all facets and up for the challenge of BUILDING towards LONG TERM success.