WHILE everybody at Preston City Oval has turned their focus to facing Richmond by now, the Northern Bullants players could be forgiven for walking into training with a spring in their steps and a smile on their faces.
Sunday's breakthrough 32-point victory over former alignment partner Carlton was ironic for who they defeated, it was also a massive reward for effort by everybody– the players who busted their backsides, the officials who worked so hard in 2020 to ensure Preston Football Club didn’t disappear into history, and the loyal supporters who flocked back to Cramer Street to "Join The March".
While coach Josh Fraser was fully focused on this Saturday’s clash with the Tigers by midweek, you could still sense the pride in what his young team had achieved – and the validation of the message from him and his assistants.
"It's really rewarding and the overwhelming emotion is being really happy for everyone connected to the club to experience that result," Fraser said.
"Walking off the ground and seeing our players return to the rooms and seeing the amount of support we had there – seeing the emotion on people's faces is something I won’t forget.
"I think the storyline of the footy club is so powerful in terms of where we've been and where we have to get to, and to get a result is a really good achievement and hopefully it fuels the fire to want more of it.
"We felt as a coaching group we were building towards a result. If you look at our season, we've played some really good sides who are entrenched in the top eight, so we've had a bit of a baptism of fire … but we’ve embraced that and it gave us a good idea of where we are at.
"To the players' credit and the coaches' credit we've continued to invest in our own growth and we've seen bits and pieces each week – the challenge is always to be consistent and we were able to put some of our best footy together for longer periods on Sunday."
Apart from the record loss to Werribee leading into lockdown, the Bullants have been competitive in every contest and Fraser said the impressive final quarter at Frankston the previous week, where they kicked five goals to one, provided the impetus for what was to come.
"That's probably the untold story of our year – I understand why because we’re not physically getting the wins, but we have been in most games for a long period of time and it has just been 15 or 20 minutes of footy where those more seasoned sides have been able to pull away from us," he said.
"(Frankston) gave us the chance to review the contrast – the stuff where we were a little bit reactive early and then the really good stuff late in the game.
"It just reiterated what we’re capable of and it gave the boys a little bit of confidence.
"So many of our players are still learning what VFL footy is like and the standard that's required - we're trying to get them there as quickly as we can, but no doubt quarters like the Frankston game gave us some belief that we were capable of matching it with any side.”
Fraser said there had been no focus on Carlton and the history between the two clubs leading into the game.
"People don't believe me when I say this, but we actually didn't mention them once during the week," he said.
"I'm pretty conscious of not getting yourself up for one game, I think it's important that you don't find that special edge, you need to bring your best footy every week.
"A group of our playing list are obviously aware of the history there but there's a large part of our playing list that don't have any attachment to Carlton at all, so we kept it pretty narrow, we focused on what we could do and focused on what they do as a footy club, and we backed our boys to go out and produce.
"In the occasion and the aftermath the irony wasn't lost on many people – everyone understood that a result against the Blues was a big one for us, but during the week we really didn’t mention it.
"Using external motivators, you have to walk a fine line with that … and for this young group, they're just interested in trying to play their best footy."
Fraser said backing up against a reigning premier in 11th spot and on the rebound after a convincing loss to Sandringham would be just another challenge in the Bullants' development.
"We spoke to them post-game about enjoying (the win), it is important that they do because they worked really hard to experience a win," he said.
"There's still obviously great energy among the group and has been all year even though we haven't got the results, but it is just as important to think through why they got the result and be able to harness it and go again – and the short turnaround doesn't allow you to bask in the glory for too long, so it's probably not a bad thing for us that we play Saturday.
"(Richmond is) a great club at all levels from their AFL to VFL ranks and are one of three or four clubs who have been a yardstick for a number of years, so it's a huge test for us to back up against an outfit like that.
"We understand in many respects we're fighting out of our weight division each week, purely from a resource perspective, but we embrace that challenge and we just want to go out there as a team and try to put our best footy forward and hopefully that results in some more wins along the way."