SAM Tooley has a good feeling about the upcoming football season.
The 36-year-old Huskisson local has just been appointed as Southern Branch’s new under 20s coach and assistant first grade coach. Alongside first grade coach Brod Crighton, he has already thrown his
energy into elevating the club’s state league position.
“The quality of the players that are around means that we should be able to produce a team locally that is able to be competitive with some of the better teams in Sydney.
And last year Southern did pretty well, they came fifth, in the State League 2 and I think we can do a little bit better this year with the addition of some of these young players and some of the local players,” he said.
In 2012 Football NSW decided to restructure their boys’ and men’s competition where the men’s premier league was separated into a two tiered state league competitions.
Southern Branch has its future threatened and had to fight to allow their boys and men to play in a competition against the state’s and Sydney’s best.
The boys teams were able to play in the regional youth league up to under 15s, with the men’s under 20s and first grade team to play in State League 2.
Because of this restructure, Southern Branch is not allowed to enter an under 18s team unless the men’s team are elevated to the State League 1 competition.
But Tooley is unfazed by this feat and is positive Southern Branch has the quality of players to finish top two this season.
“What happens is that it is a club aggregate because there is promotion and relegation in state league. So if we are able to come in the top two clubs for the season then we get promoted to play against better teams, bigger clubs and better grounds,” he said.
“It’s not only a goal, it is something that we have set our sights on firmly.
“I think that there is real opportunity
for us to be able to get our club promoted into the next league which means that in turn we can then have under 18s back into the fold because in division two, which is what the whole club is in, they can’t have under 18s.
“Our real focus is that local players are given the opportunity to complete the pathway. The onus is on us at the management level to be able to get us through it and provide that gap with a stop fill to be able to go under 16s, under 18s, under 20s and first grade.”
Already Southern Branch has signed Gerringong’s Robbie Franks and Andrew and Joel Lockard, as well as Huskisson’s Gary Masterson, who won the Shoalhaven Football Association’s player of the year, and Jordan Godley.
“We are looking at recruitment of local players – guys that were some of the best players in the Shoalhaven competition last year, which was really strong. Every team had a couple of really good players. And so we have been successful in landing a couple of those guys so far,” he said.
“Now it comes down to us getting the right culture through the club to be able to produce the results that we are after.”
Tooley said he will not hesitate to give the younger players a run in the higher grades.
“Last year out at Husky for example, I had some games we started with four 16-year-olds. We don’t care if you’re 16 or if you’re 36, if you’re good enough to play first grade you will play first grade,” he said.
It is Tooley’s first year coaching Southern Branch, although he is no stranger to the club.
Tooley played for Southern Branch in his junior years before moving on to the Wollongong Wolves, Balgownie Rangers and other Sydney clubs, Shoalhaven City and Huskisson.
Tooley coached and played for Huskisson in the last three seasons.
Southern Branch’s season starts end of March and already the senior teams are busy training at Lyrebird Park from 6.30, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Tooley said he would like to see more local support for Southern Branch when they play at home.
This season Southern have drawn 13 home games with only five games away in Sydney.
“We are looking for more engagement from the wider footballing community. Last year the boys did really well with the support that they had and this year I think we stand a really good opportunity to have some local players that people will recognise, turning out, week in week out, playing against decent opposition, and getting results,” Tooley said.
“I have got a really good feeling that this year the squad is going to be able to deliver on playing attacking, exciting football and we look forward to putting some of the Sydney teams to the sword.”
Anyone interested in joining the Southern Branch men’s team should contact on 0400 762 770 or visit the website www.southernnswfootball.com.au/