Missing out on finals this year still hurts at Ganmain-Grong Grong Matong.
It’s a pain that burns – in the thighs and the arms; the chest and the calves – as the Lions punch through a December pre-season session for the first time in as long as anyone can remember.
New coach Luke Sicker won’t move to the Riverina until after Christmas but he’s made a special trip for this particular training run.
Under the watchful eye, barking voice and imposing presence of fitness trainer John ‘Horner’ Lawton, players are put through the sort of session that will bring on cold sweats and nightmares.
But 2016 might as well be called Operation Fightback at GGGM and Sicker lets his players know they need to be ready for the start of the season given they meet reigning premiers Collingullie-Glenfield Park and runners-up Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes in the first few rounds.
“It’s those first three weeks – that’s why we’re running now,” Sicker tells his players.
“That’s our finals. Everything we’ve got goes into them.”
Sicker joins GGGM from Mildura club Imperial, where he played in three straight premiership deciders, for one flag.
The 25-year old midfielder said he learnt more than the fact that it’s better to win than lose on grand final day.
“When I moved down there, they’d won two wooden spoons,” he said.
“We went there and just had that fearless take-everyone-on attitude and went from the wooden spoon to a flag in one year.
“That’s what I’ll be looking to bring here. (GGGM) didn’t play finals last year but there’s no limit to what we can do this year.”
Encouragingly, ruckman Jacob Olsson took part in most of the fitness activities, after being hampered by a knee injury during his two seasons with SANFL club Central District.
“They reckon he was alright before he went and now he’s played good footy for a couple of years so I can only imagine it would’ve made him stronger,” Sicker said.
Olsson and Sicker are the Lions’ only two signings, while former coach Jayden Kotzur (Thurgoona), defender Andrew Clarke (TRYC) and best-and-fairest Nathan McPherson (retirement) won’t be there next season.
Sicker is hopeful ruckman Matt White will play for the Lions again but he will get a better idea of their list when he sits down with the club in the new year.
He’s counting a on a big year from his cousin, James Lawton, who is keen to take on more responsibility in his second season back home.
Sicker said motivation won’t be a problem for the entire playing group.
“This is the sort of club that doesn’t usually miss out on finals so the boys have got that drive to get back to where we want to be.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.