The feeling of running on freshly cut grass, the lingering scent of liniment oil as players prepare for a big afternoon of running and the grip of leather in your hands … ahh, footy on the North Coast is well and truly back for another year!
Seasoned veterans who come back for “one more season” along with the budding AFL players of the future have hit the ground running, ready for another huge year in 2017.
Players at the Sawtell/Toormina Australian Football Club have returned to Richardson Park, all saying a cautious “hello” to their old friend “pre-season”. What seems like never-ending running and the core strength activities older players battle with, are well and truly in effect as the start of the season looms.
2016 proved to be quite a momentous year for a club that doesn’t have a fully lit field, a clubhouse or pay any of their players. After forming just over thirty years ago, the club has deservedly etched its name in local AFL history. After winning a third successive North Coast AFL (NCAFL) senior premiership last year, the small club equalled the record of the now defunct Woolgoolga AFC, winning the most premierships of any club in the history of the league, currently flying nine flags. The reserves also proved to be quite successful, winning back-to-back premierships; hoping that the success continues in 2017 with a three-peat.
Boasting more than 250 members and without a solid avenue to generate sufficient revenue, the not-for-profit club relies heavily on the families of players, sponsors, volunteers, supporters and the local Sawtell and Toormina communities to ensure the club can remain viable.
“The players obviously do a great job on the field, but it’s the people off it who really contribute the effort to make our club what it is today,” President and Jim Woodlock medallist (grand final best and fairest) Alex Pearson outlines.
“We have received amazing support for many years from the club’s major sponsor, Greg Costello at The Sawtell Hotel, plus ongoing financial and in-kind sponsorships from our platinum sponsor Shine Lawyers, as well as our gold sponsors in Fuji Xerox Business Centre Mid North Coast, DentLogic, Hoys Physiotherapy, Beachside Radiology, Coffs Coast Health Club, Sawtell Dry Cleaners & Laundromat, Allways Party Hire and Programmed.”
As a standalone competition, the North Coast AFL league currently has four teams competing in the senior grade level of the competition. As well as the Sawtell/Toormina Saints, the Grafton Tigers, Port Macquarie Magpies and Coffs Harbour Breakers round out the competition. The introduction of the cross-conference playing fixture throughout the 2016 season has allowed Australian Rules football to grow exponentially right from the Mid North Coast, all the way up to the border of NSW and QLD.
“It gives us the opportunity to play against different teams in the most northern part of the state. Travelling north to play different competitions every few weeks helps us adapt to different team playing styles and allows us to test our game on a variety of different opponents. Their league (Northern Rivers) is quite strong, with teams like Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed all very competitive. Although the travel can be arduous at times on the way there, we always have a great time on the bus trips back.”
This year sees a slight changing of the guard at the club, with extra coaching staff, new players and supporters coming on board. Long time senior stalwart, multiple premiership winner and the undoubted inspirational leader of the club Luke Matthews will this year be sharing the coaching reins of the senior side with 2016 leader Jim Angel.
“I’m stoked to be able to help lead the next generation of players coming through this proud club,” Luke says.
“We’ve been successful in recent years with some of the boys winning two, three, four, even five premierships. It’s great for the older guys like Matthew Flynn, Daniel Johnson and Mark Couzens to be so successful, but there are younger juggernauts like Callum and Lachlan Day, Dylan Darby, Brandt Lee, Leif Stuart and Hamish Bird coming through that are also hungry to win … It’s exciting, because it keeps you motivated for more success.
“There’s something about Aussie Rules in this area … Traditionally being Rugby League heartland, both the local league and the AFL have placed a huge emphasis on growing the game at the grassroots level.
“The extremely popular Auskick program is a coup by the AFL for the younger demographic, but it’s the other successes that puts AFL on the map in this area.
“Having the Sydney Swans come up and use the Coffs Coast region for pre-season training, the ability of AFL clubs to engage with families through open training sessions and the emerging success of the QBE Sydney Swans Academy is continuing to ensure AFL will remain successful in our area.”
When asked about predictions for 2017, Luke wasn’t having a bar of any speculation.
“You can’t predict anything in this competition … Look at us last year; we finished third out of four teams and stormed back to win the premiership … It’s really a mixed bag.”
Sawtell/Toormina AFC are always looking for new members to join the club. If you’re interested in playing either Under 18s, Reserves or Senior grade Australian Rules football in 2017, please contact the club via their Facebook page (SawtellSaintsAFL), email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0432 588 121.
Similarly, interested sponsors are welcome to join and support the successful club. If your business or the business you work for are interested in joining as a new sponsor, feel free to contact club President Alex Pearson on 0438 403 008.