“We’re a work in progress,” says Doncaster East Lions coach Steve Buckle, into his second year at the helm of the club.
After four rounds, and heading into a match against Scoresby this week, the Lions sit in a chase pack behind ladder leaders Croydon. A spate of new recruits have brought youth into the side, and Buckle says the re-appointment as head coach is allowing him to understand the players and club strategies to a deeper degree.
“When I walked into the club last year, I didn’t want to go in with any pre-conceived ideas. I needed to find all that out for myself…I’ve now got an idea of what the players are like, and how to handle their personalities a lot better.”
The commitment from Buckle to the players has allowed consistent strategies to be implemented, but with some players still becoming used to working alongside a new set of teammates, there is a steady as it goes type mantra.
“It’s a new group, and it’s going to take them longer to gel. We have to be on our game every single week, but time will tell, and the harder we train the better we are going to be.”
“We still have periods in games where there are concentration lapses, and that was evident again on the weekend (against Mulgrave), but we’re training our processes and structures every chance we get.”
Doncaster East showed their stripes and, despite the fluctuations, came home victorious by 44 points against rival Lions club Mulgrave. The win broke a hoodoo for the club, having not won against their opponents at Mulgrave in the Lions history, and was a big stepping stone for the club, declares Buckle.
“They (Mulgrave) were the team that exposed our deficiencies last year when they beat us by over 100 points. That’s when we knew we needed to top up in certain areas, but we still have a huge amount of respect for them.”
Bolstering the squad has seen the Lions grow as a unit across the field, and the timing couldn’t be better, with the standard of football in Division Two becoming more competitive and more demanding each year. The extended time in the role for Buckle has been beneficial in formulating game plans, which start from the defensive 50.
“We set up our attacks from our back half, where we have some real “generals” who can give us direction and get those up the field moving. Dylan Agnew’s been great playing in a high half-forward role, and Dylan Heath in the backline is another who has stepped up.”
The added experience of Shane Tennant, formerly of Montmorency, has provided another string to the bow of Doncaster East, says Buckle.
“We’ve got him pencilled in as captain…his leadership was written on the wall straightaway, and Dean Limbach, Michael Steven, and Dean Giles have been huge for us.”
Buckle will be without running midfielder Jared Marshall for a few weeks, after he suffered a knock to the head on ANZAC Day against the Waverley Blues. The setback didn’t deter the Lions on the most important day of the football season, second to the grand final, says Buckle of both the contest and his footballers.
“It’s a special day for myself personally. We set up all week, and played a few videos before the game, as it is a fairly young (playing) group, I didn’t know where their knowledge was at about the day. We drove home the message that the day is about sacrifice and working for your mates.
“It was a pretty serious head knock to Jared, but he was with us on Saturday to help us with board work and activities around the group. He is still questioning where he’s at with his footy, that’s how severe it was, he’s a great midfielder and ball winner, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”
A change to a new, darker-coloured jumper for the club has been truly embraced by the players and supporters, which is a huge plus for season 2015, says Buckle.
“I was worried about it a little bit, but it’s been really positive. As soon as the design was out, the whole club embraced the initiative, combining old with the new. The playing group sees this as a time to start fresh with a new look Doncaster East.”
Scoresby travel to Zerbes Reserve this Saturday as the next opponents for the Lions, but Buckle isn’t looking any further than the players in his circle.
“We go into every single game with the main focus on ourselves. We fell down against Doncaster by worrying about too many guys in other teams, in particular Heath Scotland, Ben Johnson and Aaron Fiora. When we went back to our style of footy, we were playing our best footy.”
With an average winning margin for the season of 30 points, it’s no surprise the side has high hopes for what’s to come. Wantirna South in round eight will be a battle of the unfamiliar for the Lions, with the Devils stepping up from Division Three. Buckle says the coherency of their opponents will serve them well come the clash at the end of May.
“They’ve been ready to play second division footy for the past three or four years,” says Buckle, who has been right in the mix during his coaching career with both the Devils and Heathmont. “They’re very well coached by Matthew Clark, and very well drilled and structured, with the playing group sticking together for five or six years. They’ve had to bide their time, and they play their ground very, very well.”
Balance in a football club is important, and the wheels are right on track for Doncaster East. With 14 rounds to go, the end is still to be achieved, but the leadership qualities will go a long way towards cementing a spot near the top of the ladder for season 2015.