By Nick Creely
As Leroy De Alwis prepares for his first season as coach of North Dandenong, he wants the club to make its home base of Lois Twohig Reserve a fortress for opposition clubs.
But even more so, the incoming coach wants fierce but fair competitiveness, and a unity among its sides that will ultimately result in success.
It’s shaping as a crucial 2020/21 season for the Maroons after finishing last in the strong DDCA Turf 1 competition, but the club will once again remain in the top-tier after the departure of Dingley to Cricket Southern Bayside.
Like all clubs in Metropolitan Melbourne, it’s been testing times in recruitment and generating excitement without meeting face to face or training, and for De Alwis as he embarks on his first season as coach of the club, it’s been an almighty challenge.
“It’s been extremely hard, mainly because I don’t know 99 per cent of the playing list, so I’m just relying on information I’m getting from the president, and other members of the club,” he said.
“It’s frustrating, but I’ve made contact through Messenger, WhatsApp and a couple of phone calls, but it’s not the same as meeting face to face, seeing them in the nets and trying to find their strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to be doing.”
But despite the challenges, the Maroons are shaping nicely, retaining the majority of its core first XI list, and adding former junior Javed Khan, who played 69 first XI games at Premier Cricket level with Kingston Hawthorn, as well as gun all-rounder Buddhika Janith from Springvale. An announcement is also expected to come shortly on the first XI skipper.
De Alwis played three seasons for the club two decades ago, before going on to coach multiple premierships and enjoying finals success in the SECA with Kingston Heath, Omega, Le Page Park and Mackie.
But he always felt a strong need to return to the club and give back.
“To be honest, I wasn’t as mature as I should have been playing at North Dandy – I was more interested in the social side of things at the time,” he said.
“After I became a coach myself, did the level one and then the level two, and left to coach, I realised there was more to this than see ball, hit ball.
“I’ve always wanted to come back to North Dandy, I always felt like I never gave the club the best I could as a player, so I’ve always had that urge to come back as a coach.
“I’m 51 now, and I’ve learnt a lot about what to do to get the best out of players.”
With the Maroons once again facing the daunting challenge of Turf 1 cricket, De Alwis said the message was simple to his playing list – fear no one, and make sure you give the opposition a tough, but fair game of cricket.
“When you think about the big three, Springy South, Berwick and Buckley Ridges, and how powerful they are, all I can ask of the guys is that we prepare well,” he said.
“And especially when we play at home, we want to make North Dandy a fortress for the opposition, and whoever plays against us, whether its our first XI or our fourth XI, the expectation of the opposition is that they have to play really well to beat us.
“We want to give everything we have – when we walk off the field every game, we want to know we couldn’t do much more. We won’t go out there and play stupid cricket, we want to play cricket where we accept the responsibility of our actions.
“My thing is, no matter where you play, you play to the best of your ability – I’ll put my hands up to captain the twos, and the twos will be pushing the ones every step of the way.”
De Alwis said that the focus at training, and on game day this season will be simple, ensuring that the game is broken down to little moments.
“One thing I want the club to do, is that if you’re picked in the ones or in any side, if you’re a batsman you bat, if you’re a bowler you bowl, otherwise you’re playing with only nine players,” he said.
“When you boil down the game of cricket, it’s all about the next delivery – if you break it down simply, don’t fear anyone, it plays a big part.
“When you go out and play blokes like ‘Spolly’ (Steven Spoljaric), he’s a great player at this level but he’s just a human being and you’ve got to break these things down.
“And you’ve always got to hold your nerve – you could be 8/70 chasing 90, but if you’ve got mental strength you can overcome technical deficiencies.”
North Dandenong president Jason Shaw said that the proud club is prepared for a tough season, and will relish the challenge of remaining in Turf 1.
“The consensus from the senior core players is that they wanted to stay, and if you’re going to be there, you’re going to be challenged,” he said.
“We as a club have never been relegated – we went up from Turf 2 around 1985, so we’ve been up for 35 seasons, and never besides the last two seasons have been close to being relegated.
“So that’s something to hang your hat on.”
Shaw said that the club is looking to regenerate itself with home grown talent, and while conceding that it will come with its challenges, is confident it will hold the club in good stead in the long-term.
He also pointed to the relationship with the Masala Dandenong Football Club, who are now based at Lois Twohig Reserve as a major positive for their sporting community.
“We want to develop our home growns – we have to put games into our players, so we understand it’s going to be tough,” he said.
“But we’ve got some blokes that can really play, but performances haven’t justified their ability, and that comes down to a lot of things, but we’ve got some great growth.
“For a Dandenong club, we’ve got seven players playing Premier Cricket, and we don’t want them to come back just yet, and they’re 18 to 25.
“But all have indicated they want to come back at some stage, aside from Yash Pednekar, we want him to go even higher.
“It proves that even though we aren’t a large club anymore, we are still generating 17 to 19 year olds in that bracket that are more than capable players.”