The Kangaroos turn in the spotlight
The focus of the SEFNL football community zooms in on Starling Road on Saturday for the Match of the Day between two undefeated teams in Officer and Narre Warren.
Gaining a share of the headline space has been a constant battle for the Kangaroos since the then Casey Cardinia Football League began in 2005.
While Doveton, Narre Warren, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Beaconsfield and Berwick have all racked up premiership success, and Tooradin-Dalmore paved a preliminary final path in 2012, the Kangaroos have sat out and watched the September action unfold.
Thirteen years of competition with not one finals campaign.
But this could be the year when that finals dream is fulfilled, with the Kangas sitting three-zip and high-rolling it at the top of the table.
But for coach Doug Koop the battle has only now just began.
“It’s great for the club that we’ve started the season so well but we totally understand that we’ve still got a stack of work to do,” Koop said.
“We’ve had three good wins, but until we start being competitive on a consistent basis with the better teams in the competition we really haven’t proven anything.
“We need to challenge the front runners and Narre Warren is certainly the front runner at this early stage of the season.”
Koop, who was coach of Cranbourne when the Eagles had a bitter rivalry with the Magpies from 2010 to 2013 – the Golden Years of Footy some might say – took over at Starling Road in 2017 with some very basic measures of improvement.
“I think our main focus was to improve the culture around the place, and we’ve done that this year by bringing in some experience from other clubs,” Koop said.
“We also needed to improve the general understanding of how the game is played, the basics of playing football, and we needed to do that if we wanted to participate in finals footy.
“We’re certainly not there yet but the door is open and the opportunity is there if we’re prepared to work hard and grasp it with both hands.”
Koop, who is the second year of a three-year term, said his team was still learning that taking risks is the only way to head to the ultimate destination in football.
“They had basically forgotten how to attack and were too scared to make mistakes,” Koop said of his first season at the club last year.
“But that’s what footy is, a game of mistakes, and it comes down to who manages their mistakes best and can capitalise on the oppositions.”
The Kangaroos had a tough day at the office on Anzac Day against Pakenham, but found a way to win a game that probably would have eluded them in the past.
Recruits Stephen Hawkins and Jayce Valentine chimed in with three goals apiece while Blair Allan, Matty Clarke and Michael Thompson were also productive with two each.
James Waldon continues to grow his reputation as one of the most improved defenders in the business, while Sean Roach has taken on the number-one ruck role with renewed enthusiasm.
Koop said Roach has played a key role in the Kangaroos impressive start to the season.
“He’s a different footballer this year, he couldn’t run or kick too far last year but has really improved his mobility and it’s had huge effect on the team,” Koop said.
“He’s gone from filling gaps last year to certainly being one of our most valuable players and has been exceptional in every game. I think we’ve got more out of him this year in three rounds than we did from our two ruckman all of last season.”
Koop said the final piece of the puzzle had been the buy in from the existing group of senior players.
“Last year we were trying to sell a message, but it only sunk in some of the time, where this year the core group of players have taken everything on board.
“There are a lot of elements that need to happen to improve, but that buy in from the senior group certainly can’t be underestimated.”
The Kangaroos take on a Narre Warren outfit that could hardly have been more impressive in the opening three rounds of the season.
The Magpies appeared to have the toughest draw in the business with games against Cranbourne, Berwick and Beaconsfield – but have emerged unscathed to set the early benchmark for 2018.
Nick and Stewie Scanlon and Aaron Wilson have been dangerous up forward while Brad Scalzo, Hayden Stagg and Trent Cody have been providing plenty of drive through the midfield.
Jesse Davies has been exciting while five-time premiership player Col McNamara is rejuvenated after a lack-lustre 2017.
Koop said his team is excited to take on the challenge.
“I watched them last week and they were super-impressive and it’s going to be a great test to see where we’re at,” Koop said.
This one should be a cracker – the Kangaroos, with an average age of 24.84 and with 15 players in that 22 to 27 age bracket, can no longer use the “young group” mentally to camouflage failure.
This is their biggest test – and they’ll go down, but go down fighting by 13 points.
In other games, Tooradin-Dalmore and Beaconsfield will look to bounce back from disappointing last-round losses at Tooradin, while Berwick should be too strong for Pakenham at Toomuc Reserve.
Cranbourne and Doveton have the afternoon off after playing their round-four encounter on Good Friday.
Grab a copy of this week’s Footy Record for full previews of both games.
Tune in to the ‘Sound of the South East’ - 97.7fm Casey Radio – for full game coverage and commentary from the best in the business Kain Pollard.
Casey Radio will also have an interview with Officer president Nick McLennan between 9am and 10am on Saturday morning.