What’s the difference between the 2017 version of the Sebastopol Vikings and last years? Belief.
There has been some changes in personnel and Corey Smith has taken the reins as coach, but the feeling among the playing group is that the significant difference is not in the squad, skill or system, but rather above the shoulders.
"We actually believe that we're a top-of-the-league team, whereas last year it was all words,” second-year Viking Pietro Angeli said.
"The fact that we started really well this year, as opposed to last year where we started really slow, when the results start to go your way you start to believe it more yourself.”
The Vikings sit on top of the Football Federation Victoria state league four west ladder with seven wins, three draws and a loss. The progression from last year’s 10-win, sixth-placed season is clear.
If Sebastopol can maintain its position at the top, state league promotion is theirs. If it were to fall to second, the path to promotion would see it play second of state league four north with the winner to play third-last of state league three north-west for a place in that league.
Captain Marcus Lynch has been at the club since 2011 and has seen the transition from the Ballarat and District team it was then, to the state league four team knocking on the door of promotion it is now. He credits former coach Michael Busija for putting the “building blocks” in place and feels some impressive early-season wins instilled the required confidence in the group for it to take the next step.
"The core group of what we've got now started in 2015,” Lynch said.
"Our previous coach, Michael Busija, started the building blocks with this group and now Corey's taken over.”
Key factors to Sebastopol’s season have been its scoring ability and its considerable home ground advantage – two factors that have quickly made St Georges Reserve a place teams are hoping to simply get a point from.
The Vikings are the most damaging side in terms of goals, averaging three per game, while it has four wins, one loss and a draw to fellow contender Point Cook from seven matches at home.
Both Angeli and Lynch have noticed a change in attitude in visiting teams, many coming with a defensive mindset in the hope of registering a draw.
"I've definitely noticed that teams have come here to defend more than they did last year. I guess that's the reputation we've built up.”
Vikings now face the challenge of being the hunted rather than the hunter. At the halfway mark of the season, they are a contender and promotion is within reach.