By Hugh Maclean
With only one win on the board coming into Round 6 of the 2016 season, Clayton were looking at another season without involvement in September. However, a much-improved effort thereafter, highlighted by a withering burst of eight wins in their last nine matches, brought finals football and much optimism to Haughton Road.
Having been swamped by a rampant East Malvern in the Elimination Final, the upheaval began with many players, led by coach Nick Scanlon, headed for the exit door. Expectations from the wider football community are thus fairly low, but in turn this allows Clayton to fly under the radar to a somewhat greater degree than is usually allowed to existing finals sides, whilst also enabling a backs-to-the-wall mentality to be employed by the black and white battlers.
New coach John Saldatos has been drafted in to mould the new-look Clayton for 2017. The list has been coming together via a gradual process, but as skipper Jayden Gilmour says, “we’ve just in the last few weeks started getting better numbers on the track. It started a bit slow, but we still have players coming in for meetings. We’re not looking too bad.”
There has been a big emphasis at training on making Clayton the fittest side that they can be, and the feeling is there amongst the long-term personnel that they come into the season in better nick than they have been in quite some time.
President Greg Collins is approaching 2017 with a healthy degree of optimism.
“We’ve got a very good committee, working hard behind the scenes to get everything together for the season”, he said.
To that end, the majority of existing sponsors have been retained, and new sponsors are still being attracted to ensure the long-term stability of the club.
Clayton has also retained the two netball teams that it fielded last season, with both teams having also played in summer-season tournaments. The Clays had several new players to the club go through its two sides last year, and the 2016 campaign, coupled with the summer play together, has assisted the cohesion and given the girls a lot of confidence that 2017 could be quite successful for them.
Clayton are one of the harder sides to get a read on in terms of how their season will pan out. Much will depend on how quickly their new recruits can gel, on and off the field, and coach Saldatos’ ability to impart his game plan onto a new squad.
The early draw has not been particularly kind, with a trip to Oakleigh followed by a visit from East Malvern opening proceedings, and the early going could well be a portent of events to come.