By sports editor Russell Bennett
Garfield isn’t interested in merely making up the numbers in West Gippsland’s senior competition in 2020.
Hayden Stanton and his charges want to be shooting for the stars, and their club has already made significant strides forward in ensuring genuine, sustained improvement occurs.
It started with the re-signing of a number of crucial pieces from their 2019 nucleus, and was boosted with the signature of Matt Rennie – a swingman still in his mid-20s who was this year named in the Gippsland League team of the year after a particularly impressive season at Warragul.
Rennie is no stranger to most at the Stars, and in fact is the future brother-in-law of key position player Michael Wallace.
The former Dandenong Stingray and Casey Demon is set to take up a role inside 50 for Stanton’s side and, if all goes to plan in regards to the Stars’ off-season aims, he’ll be joined there by the equally versatile Wallace more often than not next season.
Another significant step forward for the Stars was securing the commitment of Stanton.
The highly-respected, much-loved coach put together a PowerPoint presentation on his future vision for the club and where it he sees it heading, and his vision is clearly one the rest of the Stars family shares.
In speaking with the Gazette recently, he pointed to the increase in professionalism of country footy – particularly in a competition such as the WGFNC, which only continues to draw increasing interest from players and clubs on the outside looking in.
“We don’t have a 21-year-old Lincoln Withers or Andy Soumilas running around Garfield anymore,” Stanton said of the Stars’ need to cast their recruiting net further afield in some cases.
“Every year this competition will continue to get better, because there’s not as far to travel – in comparison to other leagues – and the urban sprawl is continuing to push out this way.
“It’s easy to drive 15, 20 minutes from Pakenham or Officer to get here, for example.”
The Stars’ football department will have more of a defined structure in 2020 – including dedicated football manager, chairman of selector, and senior assistant roles.
The latter, Stanton hopes, will ultimately succeed him as senior coach.
But looking ahead to next season, Stanton is particularly bullish about what Rennie can provide.
“Matt has been playing in a swingman role at Warragul – sometimes back, and sometimes forward,” he said.
“Here we think he can be a real target for us leading out of the goal square.
“As we build other talent throughout the course of the coming weeks and months, we’re hoping we can potentially play Wally forward as well.
“Most of the good sides in this competition are strong in the middle and strong in their forward groups
“We’re falling in line, a little bit, in terms of where the comp is headed. We really need to increase our goal-kicking power – we know that.
“We think our backs are developing okay and they’re good enough to play roles for us. We’re trying to boost our midfield and our forward line.”
The Stars are now looking to bring in an exciting, agile forward who could play tall or small, in addition to a couple of quality midfielders and a proven ruckman.
“Everyone is on-board with the plan, and we feel like we’ll now have the opportunity to compete with the better sides much more consistently,” Stanton added.
“We have to be more aspirational, and we have to be prepared to raise more money through sponsorships, memberships, functions – whatever the case may be.
“That’s the challenge.”
And for any new players who arrive, the Stars will not only embrace them, but also wrap their arms around their families.
“That’s what we want at this club – we want to not just engage the players and their families, but the community as a whole,” Stanton said.
Garfield finished eighth on the 12-team senior WGFNC ladder in 2019 with seven wins, 10 losses, and a draw. Amongst their losses were two losses apiece to neighbouring arch-rival Bunyip, and Kilcunda Bass.