Updated: Apr 15, 2021
By Joseph Arthur
2019 saw South Belgrave go undefeated on its way to securing a convincing premiership in the Division Three Grand Final against Waverley Blues.
Hoping to carry its momentum into Division Two, the club was very active in the recruiting market during the 2020 preseason and senior coach Luke Galliot said his sides fitness was at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 put an end to the EFNL’s 2020 season and in turn, South Belgrave’s momentum.
However, with the return of local footy on the horizon, South Belgrave will finally get its chance to go back-to-back.
Galliot said his men are looking forward to the challenge presented by Division Two but admitted they aren’t yet where he needs them to be, both physically and mentally.
“It’s probably been a slower start for us, and I’ve deliberately designed it that way,” Galliot said.
“We didn’t do a lot before Christmas, I just thought guys, with having the year off and with everything that went on the world, with pay cuts and everything, I thought they deserved that little bit more time off.
“Albeit a risk with fitness and things, but I had a fair bit of belief in the group that they’d do the right thing away from the club.”
Now back in the swing of things and training three nights a week, South Belgrave needs to utilise the next six weeks as best it can to ensure its ready come round one.
Galliot said that he’s confident in the group’s ability to achieve this, but recognised the players aren’t yet where they were at the end of the 2020 preseason.
“In 2020 I think we ended up getting the one practice game in and we were really ready to go,” he said.
“I thought we were going to be very, very hard to beat last year.
“I don’t think anything’s changed in that manner but there’s certainly a little bit of momentum that’s been lost.
“However, I think now footy is back and the guys are really invested, it’s (momentum) going to come to hand pretty quickly.”
The prolonged offseason has seen a couple of retirement’s among South Belgrave’s list.
Club Stalwart Tim Riseley won’t be going around again, leaving a difficult hole to fill and it looks likely that experienced defender Todd Burley will hang them up too.
Yet, the majority of the club’s list remains intact and its new recruits will serve as the main point of difference to ensure it continues its winning ways.
“We’ve recruited really well,” Galliot said.
“Getting in Tim Smith from Melbourne…Ryan Silver I think will be a huge in for us…and Corey Wakefield’s come across. I had a fair bit to do with him during my time at Upper Ferntree Gully, as with Darcy Wilson who we’ve picked up too.”
“Probably a little bit of the depth might have fallen out of it…but I think we’re ahead of where we were. Our best 18-22 sort of thing, but yeah, time will tell.”
Another important aspect of South Belgrave’s growth is coming from its youth stocks, both from within the group and from Lysterfield’s juniors.
Galliot said a number of exciting prospects are training with the seniors and will likely find themselves in contention for spots sooner rather than later.
“I think those young kids will certainly help our depth and our strength as well,” he said.
With the season fast approaching and following and admittedly sluggish start, Galliot said his expectations remain “lofty”.
Not one to undershoot the mark, the South Belgrave coach expects a strong showing from his outfit this season, with a pass mark set at a finals berth.
“We play to win every week, simple as that,” Galliot said.
“We will play finals; I think there is no doubt about it.
“The best part about this competition, as opposed to 2019, is that there is going to be no bad sides, I couldn’t tell you who the bottom two or three teams are.
“It’s so even and it’s going to be fantastic footy every week, so really looking forward to that part of it.
“We will be ready by round one, no doubt about it.”
Unlike their male counterparts, according to South Belgrave’s senior women’s coach, Simon Mehegan, his side has shown no signs of COVID related sluggishness.
“The girls themselves have been really keen through COVID,” Mehegan said.
“They were doing a lot of personal training in small groups, really working on the fitness side of things.
“In November, as soon as there was an opportunity to get back into groups of ten and work more on the football side of things, they were.”
With preseason getting underway almost two months before Christmas, you would be hard pressed to find an EFNL outfit more excited to get back into footy.
And with strong numbers at training and enough girls confirmed for the season, Mehegan can afford to put all of his focus into match preparation and game planning.
Part of his sides strong numbers has come from South Belgrave’s extremely effective recruiting during the hiatus from footy.
Following the departure of six of the sides more mature players, Mehegan has been able to plug those holes with an exciting batch of experienced and highly skilled youngsters.
“We picked up some girls from Cranbourne,” Mehegan said.
“One highly experienced player in Areeb Hassan, she’s played six years for Cranbourne and is still only 26-years-old. She’s taken on a leadership role in the team because of her skills and knowledge of football – a really good recruit.
“We picked up another 19-year-old from Cranbourne in Quinn Watson and two girls are coming in from Berwick football club, Maddi Clack and Payton Tucker – 18 and 19-years-old respectively.
“Payton, last season she played for our under 18s and won the best and fairest as a full back.”
“The girls that left were all over 30 and they’ve now been filled in with girls between the age of 18 and 24, so really positive in that regard.”
Coming off an incredibly successful inaugural women’s campaign in 2019, Mehegan said his side’s mix of experience, youth and skill should serve it well for the season ahead.
However, with this year marking the side’s first foray into Division One, Mehegan is staying cautiously optimistic.
“Are we confident that we’ve got a good and experienced team? Yes. But we’ve also jumped up into Division One,” he said.
“We can probably be competitive but I don’t know how competitive.
“Let’s just see where we are at for this year and if we are better than what we think we are, fantastic. If we’re not, then that’s okay because we are still really young.
"We have got an ambition to get our senior women’s team into Premier Division but we want to earn our way there.
“We’re looking to establish ourselves in Division One and build.”
South Belgrave start their Division Two season with an away trip to Mulgrave, whilst the Women’s fixture was still TBC at time of writing.