At long last.
It’s now April. The Academy is like a drought-cursed farm upon whom the rains have finally fallen.
Sally Tanner and Eliza Goulding, the latter of whom is tying the laces on her boots ahead of playing her first game of Australian Rules in the Redbacks’ practice match against South Morang this Saturday, stand on the boundary line at Bundoora Oval and look around at thirty-five players warming up for training or learning and refining techniques with newly-appointed running and kicking coach Chris Falcke.
All around Bundoora Oval, there is the feeling of things happening. At the McKimmies Road end of the ground, an electronic scoreboard has been installed and is awaiting its first call-up on Saturday. After mud and dirt was tracked into the change rooms, the RMIT groundsmen paved a concrete path from the ground. Now, there are the players. It’s all coming together.
“We’re going to need to make two teams,” says Sally to Eliza, her grin a combination of delight and disbelief. The landscape has changed under her feet once again.
After scraping and striving for enough players to make up a single team all summer, the executive committee can now register for two teams across VAFA’s Premier B and Premier B Reserves. If they get caught short on numbers, it will create endless headaches and take the Redbacks’ legs under from under them but at this point there are too many players for one team and Sally doesn’t want to turn prospective footballers away.
The Redbacks need a further 20 registered players to be confident of having two full teams on a weekly basis (injury, work, travel and, inevitably, the Redbacks’ residential students returning home at the end of semester will all factor into Thursday night selection).
They will also need a Reserves coach.
The executive committee could put the feelers out to advertise for a new coach. However, time is against them.
And, at any rate, they have an excellent candidate in current assistant coach Gezim Zenili.
Gezim has wasted no time in establishing season goals for the Reserves.
“We will focus on developing and growing the girls as individuals and as a team,” he says.
“It’s always going to be about tenacity, about mental strength, about overcoming obstacles and life skills as well. As a goal, what I want, as an expectation, is that they stand up and be accountable as individuals and as a team.”
It is almost certain that Gezim’s players will have precious little football experience and knowledge to draw upon when they take to the field against the Caulfield Grammarians in a few weeks’ time. Not that their new coach is concerned: Gezim is a believer that if there was ever a place where new footballers could develop at senior level, it is the Academy.
“We’ve been given these state-of-the-art facilities. And if we’ve been given these facilities, we should start to create a legacy. It won’t matter the opposition in front us, we’re going to have a crack and be a team that is formidable to play against us, regardless if we have a full side or not.”
In the lead up to Round 1, Gezim’s training sessions have focused on the basics of Australian Rules. Understanding rules is the first step but by late April, his players are positioning across all three lines, handling the ball, kicking, handballing and transitioning out of defence.
“We’re looking to always to be competitive, but most important is individual growth,” says Gezim.
“If we grow as individuals we’ll grow as a team but we need to work together to make that team structure. I’ve always had the mantra that no one is bigger than the team. Everyone works together and my expectation is that we’ll be competitive.”
Gezim has been quick to embrace and build upon the Academy’s nascent family-oriented culture. Even at this time of year, without a match having been played, parents, siblings and partners can be seen dotting the fence watching training. Soon, they will not only be match day supporters but team volunteers, waving flags as goal umpires, keeping up with the play as boundary umpires and even, in the case of Amanda Goldring (mother of RMIT captain April), match day team manager.
“Respect comes from trust and trust is paramount in any relationship,” says Gezim as he reflects on the club’s burgeoning culture.
“It embodies who we are as a club that we trust each other, we believe in each other, we work for each other and that’s what will create a legacy for us. Always do what you say and as a coach, don’t ask anything that you wouldn’t do yourself.”
As the Redbacks prepare for their first ever match, Sally Tanner says that it was Gezim’s positivity that struck her first and foremost as being the decisive quality in his selection as Reserves coach.
“Gezim is overwhelmingly positive. All the time. His enthusiasm for developing people and growing the Academy and getting it to where the vision is, made him an obvious choice. He was on board right at the start, he is one of the visionaries who got the potential, was excited about the potential and is in it for very intrinsic, internally motivated reasons.”