GISBORNE coach Rob Waters hopes the return of 2019 Bendigo Football-Netball League Rising Star winner Liam Spear from injury can help to offset the loss of gun defender Tim Walsh.
Walsh - who was named in the back pocket in the BFNL's 2010s Team of the Decade - is headed to Riddell District league club Riddell next season.
The departure of Walsh leaves a big hole in the back half for the Bulldogs, but one Waters is confident Spear can fill after he was restricted to just five games this year because of shin stress fractures.
Walsh returned to Gisborne in 2019 following three years at Riddell between 2016 and 2018.
"Tim has been a superstar player for our footy club... he's a Bendigo league Team of the Decade player and been very important for us," Waters said on Wednesday.
"It's a huge loss for us because it's not just what Tim does on the field, but he's a great bloke around the club, so he ticks all the boxes.
"I've already said to him I'd really like to touch base with him again in 12 months about coming back on board for 2023.
"With Tim on the move we'll look to Liam Spear to step up and play his role down back.
"He's still only a young player, but very important to our structure and Liam only playing five games didn't help us this year, but he's right to go for the start of pre-season."
As well as Spear returning from injury, the Bulldogs' backline will also have versatile tall Jaidyn Owen as an inclusion.
Owen, a returning Gisborne player, spent this year playing with Bacchus Marsh in the Ballarat league.
"I'll look to play him at centre half-back in a similar role to that which Lachie Ross has played at Sandhurst," Waters said.
"He played a little bit behind the football in his junior days and TAC Cup, but he has the ability to play a number of roles with his flexibility."
The Bulldogs - who were fourth on the ladder with a 9-3 record when the season was called off - are yet to hold their best and fairest count, with the club hoping it can be held as an in-person event rather than online like many clubs have done in recent weeks.
The leading contender for the best and fairest award would be star midfielder Brad Bernacki, who also would have been strongly tipped to poll well in the Michelsen Medal had a count been held.
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