BLOODS ON COURSE UNDER AUSSIE RULE

BLOODS ON COURSE UNDER AUSSIE RULE

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Head Coach Gregory Bray roused his charges to new heights – on the field across the Swans’ culture – in an impressive 2018 campaign. PHOTO: KATE MATSON

The St. Petersburg Swans are on course for a raft of achievements in 2018-19 after a solid summer firmly under Aussie Rule.

One of the keys to the scintillating summer of footy in Florida – in which 26 consecutive weeks of head-to-head footy and nearly 100 combined practices (April-September) saw Aussie Rules take center stage at four venues across the region – has been the firm leadership of coaches Greg Bray and Matt Elliott.

The two Eastern Football League veterans (Bray hails from North Ringwood, Elliott from Waverly) stepped into full-time roles as the Bloods’ skippers, and immediately went to work building footy fundamentals that led to a 7-4 mark.

They also pulled the club light years along in establishing a St. Petersburg footy culture.

With the task of building and managing a group of players mixing Australian imports, Yanks fine-tuning their game…and also brand-new American players, the duo set out work in the spring on installing a wholly-new coaching regimen.

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Swans Assistant Coach Matt Elliott went the extra mile, inserting himself in the Bloods’ line-up when needed. His three goal performance in the Season Opener, April 14 vs Miami was a season highlight. PHOTO: KATE MATSON

Introducing new drills, emphasizing conditioning in the often-intense Florida weather and overseeing a rigorous competitive schedule, Elliott and Bray established a new standard that saw the club’s numbers increase to record levels as the season progressed.

Often joined in their efforts by South Australia native and long-time juniors coach Budgie Hombsch, the presence of solid and experienced footy veterans was akin to adding gasoline to the smoldering West Florida fire for footy.

Both traveling back to Victoria at various times over the summer did not slow the club’s progress, although Elliott did suffer a serious knee injury requiring surgery after inserting himself in a losing cause at Miami mid-season.

The challenges of building an independent football organization with a focus on a particular playing format that is definitely new territory to the duo, who as players of course came up on traditional 18-a-side footy on an oval, did present their own learning curve.

Finding the right mix to instill the principles and strategies of Australian football in an ‘export’ format of the game requires a bit of walking a tightrope for Victorian-born coaches a world away from home.

Likewise, playing virtually year-round presents its own set of nuances to be navigated.

And, after an incredibly successful summer, it appears that the Bloods will sail into yet new uncharted waters when the competition pivots to an October – March Premiership Season when the Swans take on Starfish FC in a rematch of last weekend’s Summer Final.

For footy players, fans and supporters in Florida, the right hands are at the coaching helm.

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