By Marcus Uhe
Daniel Charles is bullish about Officer’s prospects in Outer East’s top division of football next season and wants his players to embrace the opportunity afforded by the league’s structural review.
Officer joins 2023 Division One grand finalists Emerald and Berwick Springs in making the leap to the 12-team Premier Division for both senior football and netball, with the league selecting the Kangaroos on the basis of a “number of measures, including but not limited to, football and netball, facilities, junior club pathways, geographic, economic and growth factors.”
Officer was relegated from Premier Division at the end of 2022 on the back of a one-win season, before finishing fifth in 2023 in Division One in Charles’ first season as senior coach to narrowly miss finals.
While the ladder may suggest the Kangaroos are not up to the standard, Charles is confident that the evolution and growth of his side, plus a handful of senior heads from other clubs, will hold his club in good stead.
“It did not worry me one bit,” Charles said when he learned of the decision.
“We’ve got enough development in the squad to actually improve and grow with the league.
“Once we found out, we knew where we needed to recruit from so we’ve done pretty well with our recruiting so far.
“We’ve got natural improvement from some of the kids who played senior football this year in Ryan Hutton, Taj Beddows, Brodie Snooks, Tyler Canute.
“It’s going to be tough going, but that’s why you play football, you play for the challenges.
“There’s a lot of positives at the club, so I’m excited for next year.”
Among the new names in the door at Starling Road include two-time Cora Lynn premiership player Jeremy Monckton and versatile tall Jake Gains from Noble Park, while Brenton Hillard’s return will be a homecoming of sorts, having played his junior football with the Kangaroos before before plying his trade at both Casey and Frankston VFL programs, along with Noble Park.
Inside midfielder and much-loved club stalwart Anthony Bernardo, however, has signed with Seville, on the back of a season in which he was named in the Division One Team of the Year and finished fourth in the club’s best and fairest count.
Officer got the better of finalists Seville (twice) and Healesville this season, while its biggest losing margin to Berwick Springs in the three times they played was just 27 points back in round 11, to show that in a clustered jumble in the lower rungs of the top four, they were not far away from the benchmarks.
In a year of many firsts and learnings under Charles, the club learned plenty, and even saw Luke Smaluch tie for the league best and fairest award.
Charles said his timeline for the club’s future doesn’t change despite the promotion, keen to build on the foundations set in place in 2023.
“This year we had a new coach and a whole new team learning a new structure,” he said.
“I spent pretty much the whole year teaching 70 blokes how I needed them to play.
“Next year we’ve got 60-70 blokes teaching 5-10 blokes how we need to play, (who are) senior heads with a lot of experience that know that the stuff I’m teaching.
“It isn’t new to them, because when you play at a higher level of football, it’s what you get taught.
“Are we going to get it right 100 per cent of the time? Hell no, but I think we’ve got enough experience there with the recruits we’ve picked up, enough enthusiasm with the playing group that’s excited, and if nothing else, it’s going to be an exciting year.”