Illawarra Lions set for a fresh start


Rookie Illawarra Lions AFL coach Dave Nolen says building a better relationship with the local South Coast competition is a priority in a rebuilding season for his club.

The Lions take a step back from Sydney AFL's Premier Division to play in the second-tier First Division following two tough seasons that yielded just three wins, and only one win in 2013.

Nolen is excited about the fresh start in a new competition.

"We've lost a fair few players who wanted to continue playing in the higher comp and have joined other clubs, but we have a core of talented players looking forward to the challenge in First Division," Nolen said.

"I definitely expect us to play finals and would be disappointed if we didn't.

"In many regards it will be a rebuilding year with a host of new players in a new comp, but we want to establish ourselves again. The goal is to get back to the Premier Division.

"It may take a couple of seasons to build ourselves up again but we believe we can achieve that."

Nolen says to be successful long term the club has to build a better relationship with the local AFL community and specifically the South Coast AFL competition.

It's no secret the relationship between the Lions and South Coast AFL clubs has not been a strong one.

But Nolen wants to change that.

"We need to have a good relationship with the South Coast AFL," he said.

"They are our community clubs, our local clubs and we want the Lions to be the club that talented players from the local comp can come and play for and aspire to play for."

The Lions will field a senior team in Division 1 plus an Under-19s team in Sydney AFL in 2014.

Among the new signings is Ethan Hailey, who will strengthen the midfield.

Stuart Boyd brings the experience of playing in the elite North East AFL competition with Belconnen and will slot in as a key defender.

Former Canberra-based Sam Rooney has joined the Lions as both a player and an assistant to Nolen in conditioning work.

The Lions start the Sydney AFL season away to St George on March 29.

The South Coast AFL season also starts on March 29, with Port Kembla and Albatross joining first grade, while Wollondilly have left to play in a Sydney comp.

The South Coast AFL's annual Tom Smith Knockout is next Saturday.

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