A unique buzz and excitement surrounds South Belgrave on the eve of its 2018 pre-season campaign as it expects to play finals next season.
To the average EFL pundit, finishing 10th on the Division 3 ladder in 2017 may suggest otherwise, but a face-lift of the club’s home-base, along with a strong injection of youth and on-field prospects has the Saints longing for the upcoming season.
The Saints have overseen a $2.4m upgrade of facilities, unveiling new club rooms featuring social and meeting rooms, industrial bar and kitchen along with a gymnasium and sizeable change rooms for both home and away teams.
In a joint-effort by local council and government, along with donations from the Saints’ staunch supporter-base and cricket club, the upgrade is complemented by the club’s LED lights installed in season 2017, which saw it host Ferntree Gully in Round 3.
The lighting is expected to have a significant impact on support and revenue in 2018, according to football operations manager Danny Blomeley.
“It’s been a project that’s been underway for probably over 18 months now, but I think we’re still the only club in Victoria with LED lights,” he said.
“The crowd was three-deep all the way around the ground (in Round 3) and there was a record gate-taking for the club.”
Aside from revenue, Blomeley believes the upgrades to have a significant impact on South Belgrave’s bid to become a destination club of the competition.
“Third division is still quality football of course and now with state-of-the-art-facilities as well as the lights, we’re hoping to get probably two or three night games,” he said.
“I’ve been around a few footy clubs and the facilities are as good as I’ve seen in a suburban-regional type setting.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for a third division club.”
Senior coach Robert Johns has been reappointed and will oversee a three-year football department plan developed for 2017-2019 along with executive committee structure from 2018.
“2018 is about playing finals and playing consistent football and 2019 is about playing in a grand final in Division 3. I think it’s robust and achievable,” Blomeley said.
“He (Robert) was brought in to provide that stability and required culture to be a successful club.”
Alongside Johns will be the Saints’ recently appointed playing assistant coach, Brad Neurath.
Neurath (pictured below), a ruckman standing at six-foot-six hails from Sebastopol in the Ballarat Football League, having also played at North Ballarat, Lara in the Geelong Football League and most recently East Malvern in the Southern league.
While season 2017 may have only netted four wins for the club, Neurath will be plying his craft with a plethora of young talent.
The Saints blooded up to 11 under-19 players with six or more senior appearances to begin their three-year plan in 2017. Among the debutants was 16-year-old Jay Robertson who played 13 senior games rotating in the ruck.
“The club’s one year into a three-year football department plan,” Blomeley said.
“Starting in 2017 it was really about a bit of a reboot.
“We were fortunate enough to play 11 of our under-19s (and) we’ve got a real purple patch of young kids coming through.
“They’ve now got a taste of senior footy and they know what it’s all about.”
The club has signed ex-Rowville Hawk Jake Kidd, who returns home from Division 1 to his junior club.
Meanwhile, the Saints have managed to maintain the bulk of its playing list and is expected to announce new player signings in the coming weeks.
South Belgrave kicks off its pre-season campaign on November 13.