Coach: Denis Grinton (2nd year)
Last year: 4th - 12-6
Arrivals: Patrick Andrews, Ben Daley, Alex Daniels, Brent Devereaux, Tori Ferguson, James Fox, Bailey Jones, Brett Quin, Patrick Slavin, Reyd Thorpe, Jordan Waldron.
Departures: Braidy Dickens, Josh Dickerson, Chris Gleeson, Luke Mann, Ryan Semmel, Rhett Sutton, Doug Thomas.
Player points: 43
Last flag: 1940 (Bendigo District Football Association)
R1: v North Bendigo (a)
R2: v Elmore (h)
R3: v LBU (a)
R4: v Heathcote (h)
Past five years:
2018: 4th - 12-6
2017: 3rd - 12-7
2016: 3rd - 13-6
2015: 5th - 9-8
2014: 7th - 6-10
Last year’s MVP top 5:
Ryan Semmel - 52
Jack Daley - 33
Harry Whittle - 27
Stacy Fiske - 26
Doug Thomas - 23
Last year’s top five goalkickers:
Chris Gleeson - 47
Harry Whittle - 38
Luke Mann - 31
Rhett Sutton - 21
Ryan Semmel - 20
Q and A with coach Denis Grinton
Given the calibre of talent you've lost, do you consider this a re-set year for Huntly after being right in the thick of the action at the top end in recent seasons?
"It's a bit of a re-set in that the club has gone with that Melbourne contingent of players for the past five or six years, but those players wanted to move on and the club has tried to recruit in some young blokes around that 18 to 21-mark looking to the future.
"We have a lot of juniors coming in, so it is a bit of a re-set for the club in a lot of ways to get some youth in from our area to try and follow a bit of a model like that at Strathfieldsaye."
Chris Gleeson, Ryan Semmel and Luke Mann were all avenues to goal last year kicking 98 goals between them, but all are no longer at the club. How will you structure up the forward line this year?
"We've got Matt Jeffries who can play forward, but hasn't had a lot of opportunity to do so in recent years.
"Patty Andrews, one of our recruits, can play centre half-forward. James Fox, another of our recruits, can role through the forward line as well.
"Reyd Thorpe is a bit of a livewire up forward and we've still got Harry Whittle, who kicked 40-odd last year.
"It will be a bit of a different look forward half, but it will have a pit more pace and youth."
Do you feel the shackles are somewhat off at Huntly given there's not the expectation of previous seasons in terms of challenging for the flag?
"We've still got an expectation that we can finish in the top five, but it's all about developing kids who can be five-to-10-year players for the Huntly footy club."
For the meantime the premiership window looks to have closed on the Hawks with a list of outs that includes three-time Cheatley medallist Ryan Semmel, key forward Chris Gleeson, ruckman Rhett Sutton, gun midfielder Doug Thomas and former captain Braidy Dickens.
The Hawks' playing list will have a far more local flavour to it in what shapes as a re-set season where their position in the top five looks in jeopardy given the expected improvement out of the likes of White Hills and Mount Pleasant.
Among the new recruits for the Hawks is ruckman Alex Daniels, whose arrival has Grinton excited for the impact he can have, while one of the biggest differences to the Hawks this season will be how they impact the scoreboard inside 50 given four of their top five goalkickers last year - Gleeson, Mann, Sutton and Semmel - are gone.
Recruits James Fox and Pat Andrews have the capacity to play at both ends of the ground, while Grinton expects Jayden Cordy and Stacy Fiske to get more midfield time and the reliable Steve Kairn to be released from some of the key defensive roles he has had in recent years.
The Hawks are set for an early baptism of fire - their first game is against rivals North Bendigo at Atkins Street: a venue the Bulldogs haven't lost at since midway through 2015.
Practice matches - v Calivil United (March 15 at Epsom), v Wedderburn (March 23 at Huntly), v Lancaster (March 30 at Huntly).
Related: HDFNL season preview - Heathcote
Related: HDFNL season preview - Elmore
Related: HDFNL season preview - Colbinabbin
Coach: Emily Eliades (third year)
Last year: Fourth
Arrivals: Laura Hamilton, Samantha Nelson, Chloe Fletcher, Shelby Webster, Stacey Saddlier.
Departures: Laura Philbrick.
Coaching panel: Emily Eliades (A-grade and A-reserve); Lisa Clohesy (B-grade); Marijike Harrison (B-reserve); Tara Sanderson and Rae Baker (17-and-under and 15-and-under); Jenna Baker (D primary).
Last five years: Fourth (2018); fourth (2017); fifth (2016); sixth (2015); seventh (2014).
Q and A with Emily Eliades
How has your build-up to the season been?
“We had a practice match against Bridgewater (and against Pyramid Hill) and I walked away pretty excited. Both of our shooters (Chloe Fletcher and Ash Jenkyn) shot at 90 per cent and with half of the team being new, the girls gelled really well. Things seemed to click quickly. Even in our A-reserve team, we have a few young girls Alyssa Evans and Gracie Sladden, who’s joined us from Golden Square, who have helped boost our depth and competitiveness.
Fair to say you have your sights set on a top-three finish after consecutive fourth place finishes?
“Honestly, it’s going to be a tough year, with the recruiting that has gone on around the league, which is really great for the league. I know Elmore and North Bendigo have worked really hard on their recruiting and I know Heathcote have been out and about trying to recruit players. But we really want to challenge the top teams and really want that third spot.”
You must be happy with your recruiting, especially at the defensive end of the court?
“Really happy. Obviously we talk mainly about the A-grade, but we’ve also recruited well in the lower grades. This year we have a lot more depth and quality in that depth. In the next few years we’ll be looking to elevate from within(our teams) as we believe we have the junior players coming through, who will be able to step up. Ultimately that is what you want.”
Fouth is a dirty word around Huntly after a pair of identical season finishes in 2017-18, underpinned by consecutive first semi-final losses to Mount Pleasant.
The Hawks were at least able to break one hoodoo by winning their first final in many seasons, after qualifying for finals for a third-straight year.
A succession of injuries to defenders Montana Kekich (ACL) and Alex Waterman (Achilles) and goal shooter Laura Philbrick (back) conspired against the Hawks and their plans to progress deeper into the finals.
It’s a scenario third-year coach Emily Eliades was desperate to avoid repeating, hence the Hawks emphasis on bolstering its defensive end during the pre-season.
The Hawks feel they have come up with a solution by adding Maiden Gully YCW pair Laura Hamilton and Samantha Nelson, while Kekich is expected to return sometime during the season.
They have also picked up former Northern Territory player Chloe Fletcher to fill the void at goal shooter left by Philbrick, who will not be playing in 2019, and welcomed back their 2017 season captain Stacey Saddlier after a year off, and Shelby Webster from Newbridge.
That likely adds up to an improved Huntly, but whether it’s enough to get past powerhouses White Hills and Colbinabbin and an eager cast of finals hopefuls, time will tell.
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