By Mikayla Van Loon
When Brendan Fulton took on the senior coaching job at Lilydale Football Club he never expected to be going into a season 21 players down.
During the lockdown in 2020, a number of regular senior players made the decision not return to playing footy at Lilydale.
Some of those decisions were based on lifestyle changes and saw the co-captains move interstate to Queensland and New South Wales.
“I think there were probably 12 or so that had gone and then once I started just a few more who gradually decided that because their mates weren’t there they’ll leave,” Mr Fulton said.
“So it sort of left us with, I would say 12 regular senior players and the rest are probably all the young guys.”
Although a bit daunting at the start, particularly during preseason, Mr Fulton said the coaches all sat down to discuss how they were going to move forward as a club and make some really positive changes to how things were done.
Having some experience in coaching and having had a few roles with Richmond VFL, Mr Fulton was prepared to take on a side that finished 2019 pretty well for his first senior coaching role, not a new team of young players, most of whom would play their first senior football game in the 2021 season.
Calling on the help of his assistant coaches, who he brought with him from Blackburn Football Club and a friend from the strength and conditioning team at St Kilda Football Club, Mr Fulton focused on preparing his new team for senior football.
“Because 19 of them have played their first game [of senior football] we needed to make a huge focus on preparing them both strength and fitness wise, so that was a huge focus but then also made a huge focus around the development side of things,” he said.
Not only did Mr Fulton want to help develop a strong team, he wanted to create a club that people wanted to be a part of.
“We want to deliver a football program that is envied by other clubs and other players and a program that people want to be a part of but we’re also trying to make a huge focus around quality people.
“For me as a coach and for the assistants that I have, we talk about we’re not just here to educate young people how to play footy, we’re here to educate them how to be quality people.”
And in wanting to create a good club culture, Mr Fulton said he does not want to purchase players but rather have players who want to be there.
After lockdown and being separated from football, Mr Fulton said it highlighted how a football club can be the centre of some communities and in people’s lives.
“We’ve talked about the simple things like when you see those people, yes we’re young and we might be shy around the place but when you see people who are volunteers or members of the football club, don’t walk past with your head down, say hello, have a conversation with them because it makes there week,” he said.
“Just little things that we’re trying to do to make a football club a community club that is inclusive.”
Although six rounds in and only one win under their belt, Mr Fulton doesn’t want to put lofty expectations on his team and is only aiming for improvement this season.
“We’ve kind of talked about the fact that we’re unpredictable to opposition because they don’t really know us because we’re so new and different that we can, if we get things right, we can potentially surprise a few teams.
“We talked about early on just embracing the underdog status and trying to do the best we can.”