Rising from the ashes for three eastern league sides

Lilydale Football Club returns under the leadership of Luke McCormick for its 2024 season. Picture: ON FILE.

With the Eastern Football Netball League (EFNL) about to get underway for the 2024 season, here’s a look at what can be expected from Lilydale, Mooroolbark and Croydon.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a few years for Mooroolbark Football Club’s seniors, coming from a dominant 2022 and grand final opportunity to a missed finals chance in 2023.

The Division 1 side lost two of its star players at the end of 2022, with Aaron Mullet and Jai Jordan leaving the club.

Last year didn’t get started much better, with the Mustangs losing 35 players and debuting 10 players from the Under 19s.

Returning senior coach Bret Lavers told the EFNL the team would like to “start fresh” with a focus on development to “make a push for finals in 2024”.

“Our best is definitely up there, we want to push for finals and compete with the teams in the division,” he said.

Ryley Monkhorst, Kane Noonan and Austin Smith again topped the best players, with Smith taking out the division’s best and fairest.

“Our leaders (Noonan, Smith) have really driven the group during pre-season and are aiming to be the best that they can be,” Lavers told the EFNL.

Mooroolbark’s women’s team is also gunning for an excellent 2024 season after winning the Division 4 grand final, moving them up to the third division.

“Coming into season 2024, we know we are going up a division and we know it’s going to be much harder and the girls are looking forward to the challenge,” coach Domemic Ciancio said.

Rebecca Gallagher is at the helm having been appointed captain, alongside Lily Peacock and Jordyn Doevelaar as vice captains for the season.

“We have a few players from our junior program that have impressed me with their pre-season and are looking forward to seeing them in the side,” Ciancio told the EFNL.

Mooroolbark’s senior men’s team is set to take on Park Orchards in the opening round on Saturday 6 April, with the women still a few weeks away from their opener against Coldstream on Saturday 20 April.

Lilydale Football Club will also be looking for a fresh start this year after a poor 2023 season saw them relegated to Division 2.

Luke McCormick returns as the senior coach with a positive outlook for getting back into the finals, with key recruits like Ben Hickleton still helping lead the team.

“Injuries weren’t great last year with not being able to put together a full team and having to rely on our big recruit Ben Hickleton,” McCormick said.

“(Hickleton) helped us with our ruck stocks and we know that Ben plays as a forward and when down there he was dominant in that position, and will push to be a more full time forward.”

A couple of standouts for the Falcons are young guns, Ryan Haley and Lachie Cox.

McCormick said he has really enjoyed what he has seen from these players over the pre-season.

“They haven’t missed a beat and I’m excited to see how they go.”

Lilydale will meet Boronia in round one, playing at home on Saturday 6 April.

Croydon also saw relegation into Division 2 but has gained new leadership this year, with former junior player Rhett Jordon taking on the role of senior coach, as well as player.

Having most recently played at Norwood as a premiership player and former captain, Jordon said he would bring his experience as a player to his coaching.

“It’s really exciting, I’ve been lucky enough to learn over the last ten years under quality coaches like Dennis Knight, Marty Pask, Pat Bowden,” Jordon said.

“Getting a taste of coaching in 2016 really helped as well, so it’s exciting to take the reins myself but it’s something I’ve been building on and working on for a long time.”

Coming off the back of just five wins last year, Jordon will be looking to put that behind them and focus on the opponents ahead.

“From top to bottom, it’s not like there’s massive discrepancies so it’s a pretty even comp,” he told the league.

“[We] get a chance to play everyone twice which makes every home game important and getting on the road, even more important as well.”

Jordon has seen real commitment from his list to learn and grow both on and off the field.

“We’ve run a couple of education sessions around structures, and ball movement and positioning and things like that, so it’s so good that they’ve engaged in that as well as training on the track,” he said.

“It’s all good to train and be fit but if you don’t know where you’re running, why you’re running there, then it’s sort of pointless so it’s been really positive to get that buy-in on and off the field.”

Taking the position of coach came with the requirement of having a strong junior side to continue to grow Croydon as a dominant club in the eastern league.

“I think the club has always been in a really strong spot in terms of standing, the development of the club itself, the ground, the new lights, club rooms are awesome so it’s a really strong family club,” Jordon said.

“Finals is a focus, long-term stuff is going to be building the club back up and see if we can climb back up the ladder of the competition.

“Perfect world, one day Croydon is back up in Premier Division footy – we obviously understand that’s a process and nobody is going to climb the ladder year after year after year.”

Croydon begins the season away at East Burwood on Saturday 6 April.