By Charlie Goodsir (NEAFL Media)
Injured captain Tim Barton believes Students can go all the way in 2018
It was a disappointing end to season 2017 for Sydney University after they lost their third consecutive Preliminary Final.
It was apparent that something needed to change for Sydney Uni if they were to make the next big step to the NEAFL Grand Final and attain that elusive first flag.
At the Sydney Uni season launch on March 23, head coach Tom Morrison said season 2018 will be the year the Students make great leaps and “reach the summit” – a mantra injured captain Tim Barton said has been embraced by the playing group.
“We use the analogy of (Mount) Everest. At the end of pre-season, we’re at base camp and throughout the year we move up the mountain,” he told neafl.com.au
“That’s the analogy that we have used for setting up our goals for this year and to reach those targets.”
The first target of the year for Sydney Uni was to reach their first bye undefeated; one in which they achieved but perhaps with not the dominance they would have liked.
After a hard fought eight-point win against the Canberra Demons, the Students then went on to defeat Redland, NT Thunder and then ladder leaders Southport.
Impressively, Sydney Uni was challenged in each one of those games but as good teams do, found a way to win even when they weren’t playing their best footy.
After a very promising pre-season and with expectations for the season reaching critical mass, Sydney Uni began the season with an unconvincing victory against Canberra in which they kicked an inaccurate 11.25.
Barton believes that the Round 1 game against the Demons was a lesson to be learned for the remainder of the 2018 season.
“There may have been some guys who thought that we would cruise through,” he said.
“It makes guys really think that we weren’t where we thought we were and that we still needed to work very hard to get where we wanted to be.”
Sydney Uni had their best ever start to a season last year when they won their first six games. The Students have now surpassed themselves and have won their first seven games of the year, which has now made them current team to beat.
“We’re definitely playing better footy this year than we were at the same stage last year” said Barton, who credited the professionalism of the younger players coming into the squad as the reason for the Students improvements.
“The younger guys that came into the pre-season ended that period in better quality so we were able to end the pre-season in a really good spot… these young guys aren’t trying to learn the trade because they are already training at such a high standard and they are just ready to play.”
Another contributing factor to Sydney Uni’s improvements are the excellent recruits that have come into the Students side, in particular former AFL players Shaun Edwards and Craig Bird.
Edwards has been averaging 27 disposals per game along with 6.2 inside 50s, 5.8 clearances and 2.2 tackles. Bird has also been averaging incredible numbers with 28 disposals per game, 10 clearances, 5.3 tackles and four inside 50s.
The inclusion of these two players have not only been invaluable for their contribution on the footy field, but also the immense experience they have from playing in the AFL and the leadership qualities they have.
“They’ve been fantastic to have in the group bringing in the AFL experience. They know how to train and being on an AFL list which is very important for a lot of the younger guys… they take that in and possibly get drafted because that is one of our targets as a program – we want to get guys drafted.
Sam Fong is one of a few players who is consistently producing strong performances every week. Fong has stood in for Tim Barton in the captaincy role after Barton broke his hand in the Round 6 clash against Canberra.
After a year out of the game, Fong has again been exceptional by leading from the front, averaging over a goal a game, 6.1 tackles a game and 18.6 disposals.
“He’s a class act” Barton said, in reference to Fong’s performance as stand-in-skipper.
“One of the things we really believe in at the club is being a good person and he is a good person and he has shown a lot of the guys how they should be. He played himself into that captaincy.”
Although Sydney Uni sit two games atop of the NEAFL Ladder, Barton says that the Students are not getting complacent and know that there is still a lot of hard work needed if they are to go all the way in 2018.
“We are happy to be in this position but it’s the perfect example this week as we come against the Sydney Swans who are on fire and are arguably the in-form side in the competition right now.”
“It’s good having that little buffer we are not happy with just resting on our laurels because if we drop a few games we do right down with the rest of the pack.”
Sydney Uni will look to assert themselves at the top of the table as they face their bogey side in the Sydney Swans on Friday night at the SCG.