Just 10 weeks after the club’s final match for the 2017 TAC Cup season, the Bendigo Pioneers pre-season training campaign started on Monday night.
More than 100 male and female players hit the training track at Epsom-Huntly Recreation Reserve, while other large groups of players also started training in Mildura and Swan Hill.
Overall, the Pioneers have invited 143 players to trial for the under-18 male squad, 55 for the under-18 female squad and 53 for the under-16 boys.
Pioneers head coach Rick Coburn oversaw the male training on Monday night, while Shawn McCormick is in control of the female program for the second-straight season.
“We officially gave the boys three weeks off where we hoped they did nothing, but I’m sure some of them did stuff because they are so keen,’’ Coburn said.
“They were given a five-week program to do in the lead-up to pre-season training. The program was a slow build so that they’d be ready for the first phase of our training.”
The Pioneers train until December 17 before the players get another three-to-four week break to prepare for phase two.
Coburn wasn’t appointed coach of the Pioneers until December 1 last year, so he felt he was better prepared for his second pre-season in charge.
“Even though it feels like we just finished last season, we feel as though we have a bit more control this year and we’ve been able to plan things better,’’ Coburn said
“I have my head around the list and training program better this year.”
The first phase of the Pioneers’ training is not all about fitness. The players were put through several skill sessions on night one.
“We gets the footballs straight out and we are into the offensive and defensive components of our game,’’ Coburn said.
“The players have their fitness and weight programs they need to do on their off nights.
“We’re really not that far away from playing intra-club practice matches, so we need to get straight into ball work to help us sort out the list.”
No cuts will be made to the squad until February, with the club’s final list of 50 to 55 players announced in March.
“In the first week of February we have a super Sunday day at Swan Hill where we play some simulated matches and we’ll make some cuts after that,’’ Coburn said.
“The boys that stay in the squad will get the chance to play two practice matches before we make our final cuts.”
The nine-week TAC Cup under-18 girls season starts in early March next year.
The popularity of AFLW is starting to rub off on younger age groups, with a quarter of the Pioneers’ girls squad new to football.