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Playing 201 games with Carlton over his 12 year career, Houlihan moved to Greater Western Sydney as an Academy Coach for the Giants in 2012, before returning to play local football in the Victorian Amateur Football Association for St Bernard’s Old Collegians last season.
Having recently started up a restaurant in the area with Australian Cricketer Clint McKay, Houlihan approached Deer Park at the start of the year as a potential sponsor, before deciding to join the club as player.
“Ryan has just recently started a restaurant called Rustique in the area and approached the club to be involved in a sponsorship capacity and then decided he wanted to play with us, which we are thrilled about,” Deer Park Vice President Matthew Pratt said.
Houlihan’s addition to the club sees the Lions recruit a total of four ex-AFL players during the off-season, including Bret Thornton (Carlton/GWS), Brent Guerra (Hawthorn) and Ryan Hargrave (Western Bulldogs).
Despite the high calibre of players recruited, the Vice- President says the Lions are no different to any other club in the competition.
“We’re like any other club, whilst Ryan and a few of the other boys have an AFL background, players who work hard and train consistently will be the ones who get game time and all players are aware of that.”
“The other ex-AFL boys have been training really hard over the pre-season and have blended into the club really well already, so I think Ryan will fit in just fine.”
Known for lurking along the wing and snapping a cheeky goal or two for the Blues up forward, the 32-year-old is set to be used as a utility player with the Lions this season.
“Ryan is such a resilient player and has a great attitude towards his football...no doubt he will be a great asset to the team as a utility player, having the ability to go forward and around the ground when needed,” Pratt said.
“We have a great coach in Marc Bullen who knows that no two players are the same, so he is confident that his strategy with his current playing list will work to the team’s strengths.”
Despite playing a combined 848 AFL games between Deer Park’s four ex-AFL players, Pratt says that it will have no weight in the team selection process each week.
“Like the other boys, Ryan understands what it takes to play at the elite level and thus already has an idea of the dedication needed in a football club, so he knows that his spot in the side is not a given and that he needs to earn his place like everyone else.”
Whilst the club has recruited heavily this year, the Lions have also lost a number of standout players
including 2013 Barry Priest Medallist Shannon Broadbent, premiership players Ryan Crawford, Luke
Buttigieg, Shaun Buttigieg-Clarke and sharp shooter Cameron Trewin.
“Having lost a few key players over the summer, we needed to fill the gaps they left behind,” Pratt said.
“Most people view us as a ‘put together’ club....a team made up of a mixture of players from all over the place rather than utilise ones that are home grown, but are not unlike other clubs in the league.
“We actually have a dozen players under the age of 22 on our senior list, some home grown and others who have joined up from different leagues who have all been exceptional at training and will be a real asset to the club this season.”
Taking home the Division One premiership by a solitary point last season, the reigning premiers are keen to ensure they are just as competitive this year and push for back to back success.
“We understand that being the reigning premiers, we are the hunted this year and we are doing
everything we can to not rest on our laurels.
“We want to have continued success not just in our senior teams, but our juniors and women’s teams and we are creating a culture where we’re not going to be complacent on and off the field and to continue to be better than the day before.
“Just because we have highly qualified players, doesn’t guarantee that we will win games... we still need to get the basics down pat and work well as a unit if we want success.”
Deer Park’s pre-season preparation continues next weekend, when they play the Strathmore Football Club in a practice match on Saturday March 15 at Robert Bruce Reserve.