What makes the Tigers tick?

By David Nagel Just between you, me and the gatepost – Dromana didn’t play last week so we’ve decided to run an eye over what makes the ladder-leading and undefeated Tigers tick in 2018. Victories over Rye, Somerville, Devon Meadows and Karingal have the Tigers sitting pretty as they put their feet up this week... View Article

By David Nagel

Just between you, me and the gatepost – Dromana didn’t play last week so we’ve decided to run an eye over what makes the ladder-leading and undefeated Tigers tick in 2018.

Victories over Rye, Somerville, Devon Meadows and Karingal have the Tigers sitting pretty as they put their feet up this week ahead of games against Chelsea and Hastings leading into the Interleague bye on May 19.

They may be unconquered, but Rikki Johnston and his boys haven’t had things all their own way in their four victories to date.

Scores were level at three-quarter time against the Demons, before conceding a fast-start against the Eagles and then rallying strongly after brave third-quarter comebacks from the Panthers and the Bulls.

Winning ugly is one thing, but doing it with a plethora of new faces is something that Johnston is proud of in the early part of the season.

And, he believes, they will only get better as they become more accustomed to each other’s traits.

“We need to remember we’ve got six or seven new faces in our starting 22 so when the boys get some continuity we should get more consistency in our performance,” Johnston said.

“Having said that I’ve been rapt with the way the boys have fought games out this season because a couple of our games have really been in the balance heading into the last quarter.

“But right now it’s not about playing pretty, it’s more about getting wins on the board and our will to win has been first class over the first month of football.”

Johnston’s own career began in 2004 at age 23, when the now 37-year-old put his baseball mitt away and started a football journey that is still running strong today.

He spent two years at Langwarrin but made his name at Dromana, being a premiership player in 2013, a captain for many years, and making his interleague debut at the age of 27 in 2008.

He captained the MPNFL in last year’s AFL Victoria Community Championships clash against Geelong at the MCG.

But his focus at the moment is all around team and getting the classic blend of youth and experience to gel together as a unit and earn promotion to division one.

Exactly half of his starting 22 against Karingal last week were aged 21 or under, creating a nice mix with players in their thirties like Ben Holmes, Matt Price and Beau Cosson. The Tigers average age against the Bulls last week was 24.32.

Holmes has played his role to perfection up forward this year, allowing exciting youngster Ethan Johnstone to take the competition by storm, leading the league goal-kicking list with 14 goals for the season.

“He’s a young bloke who played in our 2015 under-19s flag and he’s come along in leaps and bounds this year,” Johnston said.

“He’s got a lot of tricks and kicked one of the best goals I’ve ever seen on the weekend. He gets along well with the boys and is becoming a really important member of the team.”

Johnston also acknowledged the improved consistency across the board, with players like Zac Muschialli and Ryan Smyth joining youngsters Billy Quigley, Sam Geurts and Dean Waugh on the list of big improvers.

“Those blokes (Muschialli and Smyth) don’t get the plaudits they deserve, and the young blokes are becoming super-reliable performers at a very young age,” he said.

“You can’t ask for more than that as a coach and it’s creating a depth that we’ve never really had before.”

Johnston believes the implementation of a two-tier divisional structure has been a huge positive for football in general on the Peninsula.

“The whole divisional concept has been a fantastic initiative from our point of view, it’s really evened things out and we’re getting good contests right across the board,” the Tigers’ leader said.

“And it’s come at the perfect time for us, we don’t want to get pigeon holed as a division two club – division one is our aim – and it gives us a chance to get more development into our players if we do get to that next level.”

There’s no doubt about it, the Tigers are right on track – but just keep that between you and me.