THE footy is back.
And boy, it’s back in a big way this weekend.
In years gone past the starting dates for our local footy seasons in central Victoria have tended to be staggered.
But this year local footy opens with a bang, with all four leagues under the AFL Central Victoria banner – Bendigo, Heathcote District, Loddon Valley and North Central – kicking off together.
Looking at the Bendigo Football League, there’s so many burning questions.
Perhaps the biggest is how will Kyneton perform in its first season back after last year’s senior hiatus?
I can’t wait to get down to the Kyneton Showgrounds on Saturday to watch the new-look Tigers take the field for the first time under coach Mark Adamson against Eaglehawk.
For mine, the Tigers are the ultimate X-factor heading into 2014.
Will the recruits they’ve added be good enough to steer the Tigers into the finals for the first time since 2003, or is September action in their first season back going to be too big an ask?
Whatever happens with the Tigers, it’s fantastic for the club, the town and the BFL to have them back in the senior ranks.
But most importantly, it’s great for the young kids at Kyneton to have the senior team back on the park to give them something to aspire to in the future.
How will Strathfieldsaye - a popular pre-season flag tip - handle the increased expectation on it this year?
The Storm were runners-up last year and have bolstered their list with the marquee signings of ex-AFL players Stephen Milne and Steven Baker.
For all the controversy that engulfed the Storm following the Milne signing in October, from a pure footy point of view, this is a 275-game, 574-goal AFL player who has joined the competition and is one of the great small forwards of the modern era. Very rarely these days do players of that quality and experience walk into the BFL.
I’ve backed Milney (pictured) for the Ron Best Medal, but I'll need him to kick a bit straighter than his 1.7 against Rochester the other week.
As for Baker, I can’t wait to see him lock horns with some of the BFL's hard-nuts.
Baker in his run-with role at St Kilda was renowned as one of the pests of the AFL. He’ll be the one being pestered this year, but he’ll have to toe the line with only two weeks worth of suspension up his sleeve or it's career over.
Can Golden Square cover the huge losses of Nathan Bell, Matt O’Toole, Travis Baird, Mark Lloyd, James Bristow and co and win a sixth flag in a row?
It will take a mighty effort, but the one thing about Golden Square is they have that culture of success that can never be under-estimated, plus a demanding coach in Nick Carter, who, even from the sidelines, I reckon is worth a couple of extra goals a week.
Hopefully, Square recruit Corey Jones is back from his fractured cheekbone sooner rather than later. The BFL doesn’t need players of that ilk out of action.
Can Sandhurst stand up and deliver on its potential under new coach Brett Fitzpatrick, while down at The Graveyard, Gisborne will be led by one of its stalwarts in Rod Sharp.
Strathfieldsaye, Golden Square, Sandhurst and Gisborne shape as the "big four" of the BFL this year.
Fifth spot is interesting. It looks like any of Kyneton, Eaglehawk, South Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat – despite losing its three best players from last year – will make a run at that.
Then again, Maryborough co-coach Jamie Bond – despite the Magpies’ challenges off-season to secure playing numbers – hasn't put a line through his side’s finals chances.
If that’s the case, the Magpies will certainly prove fools of all of us who tipped them for the wooden-spoon. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened.
As for the BFL’s other Magpies, Castlemaine, new coach Shane Robertson looks to have his work cut out for him this year, but as with all clubs heading into this weekend, a new year brings fresh optimism.