Juniors help Eagles to soar

Corio's juniors. (Supplied)

Corio Soccer Club has gone from having zero kids registered at the club to a thriving junior base. Janakan Seemampillai finds out how the Eagles made their mark on the Geelong football community

How does a sports club go from zero juniors two years ago to 120 in a COVID-impacted year?

Just ask Corio Soccer Club president Mario Gregorio, who recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of his reign, by praising the enormous work done by volunteers at his club to grow his club.

The Eagles are one of Geelong’s most community minded clubs, and now boast nearly 200 members after working closely with locals to grow their brand.

“Firstly, it has been extremely positive to see new individuals joining in the activities of the club,” praised Gregorio, in a heartfelt message to club members.

“Whilst there has always been support around the fringes of games, what was encouraging to see this year was how an increasing number of individuals have stepped up even further to help with canteen and bar activities during junior and senior games.

“This has enabled myself on senior match days to focus primarily on player welfare before and during games.“

Gregorio highlighted the likes of Dom Schillings, Ant Andrianos, Serge Di Blasi, Slavko Pantelic, Zoli Luczo, Pauli Grull, Miki and Eleanor Potara and Tanya and Jay Critchley as key players in running the club.

The Eagles have traditionally struggled to attract juniors and as recently as two years ago, had only senior men’s teams.

Led by Gregorio and his committee, the club made a concentrated effort to attract young players – boys and girls – and their families to Hume Reserve, with a focus on making football accessible and welcoming.

The club has especially embraced the local refugee community, who have thrived at Hume Reserve.

With the cost of playing football spiralling out of control, Gregorio ensured playing for Corio was affordable which was a key selling point for a club who is based in a low socio-economic area of Geelong.

“With an increasing number of members and juniors, along with promotion to state league 1 for our seniors, we have seen our sponsorship grow 300 percent in the last five years,” explained Gregorio.

“Sponsorship has been used to ensure our fees are kept as low as possible for our junior base to continue to grow.”

The plan has reaped rich dividends, with Corio now boasting an impressive junior base, one of the largest in Geelong.

“There has been a marked shift in increased junior participation at Corio,” explained Gregorio.

“From zero juniors in 2019 to 120 in season 2021, it has been a tremendous effort by the junior committee involving Slavko Pantelic, Mika and Eleanor Potara, Tanya and Jay Critchley as well as our dedicated junior coaches.”

One of the other challenges the Eagles faced in getting families to Hume Reserve was the dilapidated state of their facilities.

The club have long struggled to obtain funding to improve their Bell Park based-home, but thanks to the work done by the committee, they secured nearly $3 million this year to build new facilities which will be ready early next year according to Gregorio.

“Great strides have been underway between the club, City of Greater Geelong and the Victorian state Labor government to ensure we have the funds to complete our $2.8 million clubroom and change room development, which will be completed on time in mid-March 2022,” he said.

“The club has done a miraculous job in securing funds in different capacities throughout the year to ensure the funds are available to ensure the development will be completed.”

With the popularity of the Matildas and the 2023 World Cup coming down under, Gregorio is also keen to build the club’s women’s program, which will be significantly easier now with better facilities.

The club has tried to get a women’s team up and running for a number of years but has always fallen short on numbers.

Gregorio though is keen to use the same philosophy that has been successful for them over the last two years, building their girl’s program at the Mini Roos and junior level, with the plan for those girls to form the core of a women’s team in the future.

“We are going to concentrate from the bottom up. Our goal is to get more female junior teams in Mini Roos, under-9s, under-11s and under-13s.

“We have tried unsuccessfully in the last five years to put together a women’s senior team, but the committee has decided the best way forward is to build a senior team from our junior girl’s program.

“If we get inundated with requests for a senior women’s team, then yes we will definitely look at it for 2022.”

Gregorio expressed his deep gratitude to everyone at Hume Reserve, and insists the future is bright as the Eagles continue to soar as a community leading organisation.

“Once football is back up to full speed in 2022, we can look back briefly to this shortened year, but predominantly forward, with the hopeful knowledge that players, mums & dads, supporters, sponsors and our local community, have a wonderful club to acknowledge and enjoy.”