TAREE Wildcats are on the cusp of returning to the upper echelon of the Football Mid North Coast Premier League.
That’s the opinion of this year’s coach Rod Bartley, who gave his players a pass mark for their efforts.
The Wildcats were bundled out in the minor semi-final of the first and reserve grade competitions this season. A top four finish in both grades was a vast improvement on the 2015 when the club finished last in firsts and reserves. The reserve grade didn’t win a game.
“From where the club was last year we’ve made great progress,’’ Bartley said.
When he took on the job Bartley said the culture in the club had to change if the Wildcats were to be successful. He repeated this a number of times before the 2016 campaign began. To a point he believes this was achieved, saying there’s a great camaraderie in the club at the moment.
'The players enjoy each other’s company and we like having a beer together,’’ he said.
However, Bartley said improving the club’s depth will be the main priority for next year.
“We have to take a leaf out of Wallis Lake’s book,’’ he said.
“They weren’t minor premiers in first and reserve grade by fluke. They were probably the only club in the competition that had strong bench players in first and reserve grades.’’
He said the Taree hierarchy is already looking at improvements in the pathways from the junior grades to the premier league teams.
The Wildcats were in a position to secure a top three spot early in the second round, but fell away towards the end of the season, eventually grabbing fifth place on a countback. Bartley said a failure to captailise on goal scoring chances contributed to the decline.
“We were too complacent in front of goals,’’ he said.
He remains furious at the suspension handed down to leading goal scorer Jackson Witts late in the season. Witts was cited by Camden Haven after the second round game, won 7-5 by Taree at Omaru Park for an incident that occurred after fulltime. Bartley stressed there was no illegality involved. Witts was suspended for three games and took no part in the finals series.
“The way the whole thing was handled was a joke,’’ Bartley fumed.
This was his first appointment in the premier league, having coached extensively in the youth National Premier League (NPL). Bartley was generally impressed with the standard of the premier league. However, he wasn’t as complimentary about the behaviour of some spectators from rival clubs.
“Some of them don’t go to the games to watch football, they go there to be idiots,’’ he said.
He couldn’t fault the commitment from his players.
“We had 70 training sessions – that’s 20 more than the previous season,’’ he said.
He’s keen to be involved again in 2017.
“Now I’d like to see the job through,’’ Bartley added.
Meanwhile Wallis Lake completed a dominant season when winning the first grade and reserve grade premierships following grand finals played at Port Macquarie. The first grade won 1-0 over Camden Haven after a goal to Ethan Perry in extra time while the unbeaten reserves downed Macleay Valley 4-1.