NEW Heathcote coach Andrew Saladino is taking over a Saints team in a far different position to what he experienced the last time he was at the club.
Saladino's last year with the Saints was in 2008 when as a teenager he was a member of the Heathcote team that played off in the grand final, but was beaten by Colbinabbin by 22 points after squandering a 25-point half-time lead.
Thirteen years later Saladino returns to Barrack Reserve with the Saints having endured a sustained period of on-field struggle having last made the Heathcote District league senior finals in 2013 and won just 14 of 109 games since.
"When I was first getting into senior football at Heathcote when I was 15 they were a really good team and went on to play in four grand finals in a row (2008-2011) and win a couple of them," Saladino said at the weekend.
"To see them struggle over the past few years isn't something I'm used to, so I'm definitely stepping back into a completely different Heathcote compared to last time I was there.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. I grew up in Heathcote and have always loved the club, so it's really good to be back."
Since leaving Heathcote after 2008 Saladino - a former Bendigo Pioneer from 2006-2008 - has had stints at clubs including Burleigh on the Gold Coast, Hadfield, which included as captain, and Wallan.
Saladino will be a non-playing coach for the Saints having had to hang up the boots following five knee operations.
Saladino takes over as Heathcote coach from Wayne Primmer.
"The starting point is getting the list that has been there for the past few years to sign on again and look for that gradual improvement," Saladino said.
"The team won two games this year, so it's just about building on that, building a good team culture, getting all the guys to buy into that and, hopefully, seeing some improvement next year.
"There's no real high expectations, it's just about trying to improve on this year's results and style of footy."
Saladino has already been busy on the recruiting front, landing a trio of signings who are on the move with him from Wallan.
"Liam Birch is a forward pocket who played Riddell District inter-league for the under-19s a couple of years ago," Saladino said.
"He has been in and out of the seniors being a tough side to get into.
"He played six games in the reserves this year and won the competition goalkicking (with 33) and league best and fairest and is looking for an opportunity to play regular senior football and I'm quite confident he will do really well.
"Bill Direen is another signing for us. He has been a solid defender at Wallan over the past three or four years in the senior team.
"And Connor Hamilton (midfielder) is another who is coming on board. He has also represented the Riddell District under-19s in inter-league and was best on ground against Diggers Rest in the senior preliminary final in 2019, so he's an exciting prospect."
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