Take it to the limit

Top performer: Scoresby star Chris Hoegel will be joined by his brother Jayden this season. Picture: Wayne HawkinsKnox footy is going in hard. Roy Ward looks at the rise of professionalism in the leading clubs.
Nanjing Night Net

OF ALL the examples of the countless hours football people spend on their suburban club, one of Knox Falcons coach Jon Knight’s weekly ritual stands out.

Every Wednesday night, after his children and wife head to bed, Knight watches a few hours of game video, assessing his players, their opposition and whatever else catches his eye.

He then presents each player with weekly feedback on their performance and conducts a team video session each Thursday as part of the club’s final training session of the week.

‘‘The video reinforces what I’ve been saying to the players,’’ he says. If they are not in right spot then you put it on the player to explain where they should be. Most of the time it’s a positive, a really good visual example.’’

The footballing bar is forever being raised in the Knox area. The leading clubs, based so close together, have been fighting a cold war of sorts to become the first club to snatch the Eastern Football League division 1 premiership.

Scoresby has twice gone close in the past two seasons, making the grand final before falling to two-time premier Noble Park.

The Falcons made big strides last season moving into the finals under Knight while Rowville has a burgeoning group of younger players on its senior list and rising from their junior ranks. Another division 2 powerhouse, Bayswater, has one of the best grounds in the league and continues to press for elevation to division 1.

The area’s quality was demonstrated by the drafting of former St Simon’s Knights junior Jonathon Patton going No.1 in the 2011 AFL draft. But the ambition in the area can’t be measured by one big talent — it’s shown by the results on and off the field in the Eastern Football League.

Anyone viewing a Scoresby or Falcons game can see some noticeable, elite-level touches with both sides employing very structured, systematic game plans.

The Magpies’ coach over the past two seasons was Dale Bower, respected across the league for his professional game plan and management of the club.

His replacement this season is former Victorian Football League assistant coach Scott Whyte, who has made it clear he will keep the club on a similar path, recruiting former VFL star Jayden Hoegel and Pakenham premiership captain Jared Goldsack, brother of Collingwood player Tyson.

Whyte arrives with an elite football background and strong commendations for his ability to analyse the game.

He has implemented a fitness program designed for Matt Hunter, who has done similar work with AFL cub Carlton.

Whyte says he is impressed with the hard work players put into their preparation and recovery.

‘‘Compared to the VFL it’s not that far off at all,’’ he says. ‘‘Most nights of the week the guys are doing something like seeing a physio or hitting the gym.

‘‘The difference comes during the season because a lot of players come down from the VFL as they don’t want to train three times a week, so I try to keep our training to two nights.’’

Knight believes the professionalism of the football clubs across the area is driven by a number of things but, when it comes down to it, the level of commitment is due to club and individual pride: wanting to be the best.

‘‘100 per cent, it is about pride,’’ he says. ‘‘Players know if they aren’t hitting the gym and doing the work then they won’t play senior footy. At Knox, they certainly won’t.

‘‘It is a pride thing because no one wants to do this training and then play in the reserves.

‘‘Footy is now a 12-month commitment. There are even certain players you ask to bulk up over the off-season and some of our players have done that.

‘‘At clubs like Noble Park or Vermont or East Ringwood it’s no different: every player is doing that level of work now.’’

Knight had to advance his young side during last season forcing the adjustment from a less sophisticated style of play.

After some tough losses at the start of the season his methods paid off. The Falcons stormed into the finals with a young side, often with veteran Paul Tredrea the only player aged over 24.

Knight says coaching a young group made it easier to teach his structured style of football.

‘‘I thought it was a pretty easy job when the team is so young and keen. The players were saying they never really had a structure to how they played.

‘‘The side was sold on it and brought into it. Once we beat Vermont in round 4 we kicked on from there. Each player needs to know our whole team structure. Some players will play four or five positions.’’

The Falcons not only train three nights a week, they are also expected to regularly do gym sessions and receive weekly video analysis from their coaches about the previous week’s game.

In Knight’s eyes, playing or coaching top-level suburban footy is a year-long commitment and only for those who truly love the game.

‘‘All coaches love footy. You have to, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.’’

Players across all division 1 clubs and many division 2 sides, put in a 12-month effort.

In the case of the Falcons, Knight expects his players to all be gym members and continue training outside the team’s weekly Monday, Tuesday and Thursday sessions.

‘‘Ideally, you would train every night but you can’t have players doing that when they work and study. But I would expect our players would do running or swimming or go to the gym on Wednesdays and Sundays.’’

Overall, the level of training has lifted the division 1 competition to higher levels and attracted more former AFL and VFL players into the league.

‘‘I reckon there is a big divide between second and first divisions,” Knight says.

‘‘Every division 1 side I saw last season was very organised and had a huge amount of support.

‘‘We are lucky at Knox in that way. When you see how many people stand out there each week and help the club, it’s a massive effort.’’