EFL: Panther Pit’s red and black roar

Blackburn players run out in the final v Balwyn, August 2014 (photo: Davis Harrigan)
Blackburn players run out in the final v Balwyn, August 2014 (photo: Davis Harrigan)

Such is the roar from the mighty Panther Pit and Morton Park, people have to stop for a second to listen.

This year is important to Blackburn, as they look to consolidate what was a very impressive season 2014; one that ended in a 22-point loss to Balwyn in last year’s elimination final.

In perhaps what was one of the most passionate games of the finals series, no holds were barred as Blackburn worked hard through contests and stoppages simply to get the ball into the forward line.

Season 2015 brings new experiences and training methods, and at the helm of the Panthers once again is Peter Banfield.  Experience is key in such a demanding season, and Blackburn’s young group continues to improve heading into round one.

“We were a really young group last year, and still are again this season.  In the final against Balwyn, we played some tremendous footy…we were in front for a long period of that day. Six or seven in our side were under the age of 21, and I’m hoping they’ll improve from having played Division One last in 2014 and the experiences they gained will help them to grow.”

Helping those young players grow are senior players at the club who have experienced the full rough and tumble at the top level, and Banfield says they’ll play a crucial mentor role in the chase for silverware.

“They can help fast-track the development of the younger players, and I think that making sure the balance is right between youth and experience is important for any football club.”

Banfield says Blackburn haven’t gone out and recruited heavily, but will continue to place the emphasis on training up the “next generation” that will play against names including former Collingwood AFL star Kyle Martin.

“We don’t spend the money that some other clubs spend.  Noble Park and Balwyn have gone and recruited and targeted experienced players from other clubs and leagues with higher level experience.

“We’re not into that, we develop our young players.  I think we can play finals, and when the ball’s bounced, it’s game.  I’m just hopeful we can get a solid year out of our whole group and try and challenge the teams up the top.”

Fourteen players are on VFL lists for Blackburn this year, which highlights the talent running around in the red and black, but is an obstacle the club must tackle to ensure they put the best side on the field.

With April 11 just about upon the Panthers, stamping a mark early is perhaps the most pertinent way to jump back on the wagon to a premiership, with the mantra to play finals footy.

“We competed really strongly, and we want to experience finals football again.  Lilydale is round one, and that’s my whole focus at the moment.”

One significant highlight on the fixture is the South Croydon ANZAC Day match, but Banfield says no-one’s focusing any further ahead than the Lilydale game.  Blackburn have the mentality, the support, and the drive to hit finals again this year, and to go one step further after the heartbreak in 2014.



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