BY his own admission, Paul Chapman took on the Kyneton coaching job "blind" to the Bendigo Football-Netball League.
Twelve months on though it's very much "eyes wide open" for Chapman as he prepares to embark on his second season at the helm of the Tigers having now had a taste - albeit a severely disrupted one - of the BFNL.
"To be honest, this time last year I didn't know anything about the Bendigo footy league," Chapman said at the weekend.
"But after a year involved now I thought the standard, quality of players and ball movement was certainly as high as anywhere I've coached before.
"There's a lot of good people involved in the league and it's a strong competition.
"At the moment we're not strong and that's what's driving all of us to keep working hard, myself included, to keep getting better. It's a really strong competition and I'm happy to be a part of it.
"Going into next season I've now got an understanding of opposition teams and how they like to play, so I'm up to speed a lot more than I had been through this year and I'm not so blind as to what's going around me with the rest of the competition."
Although no longer playing, Chapman was the biggest name to join the BFNL for 2021 after taking over as Tigers coach in early October last year in a huge coup.
With his appointment the Tigers gained the experience of Chapman's 280 AFL games at Geelong (251) and Essendon (29) that included three premierships with the Cats in 2007, 2009 and 2011, plus a Norm Smith Medal, two All-Australian selections and a Cats' best and fairest.
The Tigers have announced the re-commitment of Chapman as senior coach for 2022, along with Jesse Grae as reserves coach and four-time senior best and fairest winner Rhys Magin as coach of the under-18s.
At the moment we're not strong and that's what's driving all of us to keep working hard, myself included, to keep getting better. It's a really strong competition and I'm happy to be a part of itPaul Chapman - Kyneton coach
"When I took the job on, to only come in and do it for one year wouldn't have been fair on the club," Chapman said of his decision to stick with the Tigers next year.
"Then when you meet the guys and see how passionate they are about their football and wanting to learn and get better, it was an easy decision to go around again and continue to develop our young guys and, hopefully, become more competitive next year against the better teams."
Chapman's Tigers ended the frustratingly COVID-impacted BFNL season in seventh position on the ladder with a 3-9 record.
The Tigers won all the games they would have expected to against Kangaroo Flat, Castlemaine and Maryborough, but were unable to defeat any of the six teams that finished above them, with the closest they came to claiming a scalp their 10-point loss at home to South Bendigo in round three in one of the most entertaining games of the season.
"We played 40-odd players this year (39) and a lot of them were young guys who were developing and they've now had a taste of what senior football is about and what they need to work on both as a collective and individually to be competitive against these better teams," Chapman said.
One of those young players to make a mark for the Tigers this year was teenager Ned O'Sullivan, whose consistent season playing a blend of midfield and forward was rewarded with the best and fairest, as well as earning a place in the Addy's BFNL Team of the Year.
"I didn't realise Ned was only 19 years of age, but his dedication to not only the footy club, but to be the best player he can be really stood out," Chapman said.
"He rarely missed a training session, he worked his backside off, he asked questions about the gameplan and how he can get better individually and then you would see him implement that feedback at training and in games.
"I've said to the group that if we're going to start to close the gap to the better sides then we need more guys like Ned who are committed to training, to do the hard work and to buy into the gameplan.
"He really caught my eye from day one with the way he wanted to improve himself and be the best team-mate he could be."
Runner-up in the best and fairest was tall Jordan Mangan, who was also named at centre half-back in the Addy's BFNL Team of the Year.
"Jordan was a real workhorse for us this year. He very rarely came to the interchange bench and was solid for us all year," Chapman said.
"He's another player who set a great example of wanting to play his role and wanting to win."
On the recruiting front for next season the Tigers have added defender Adam Bartrop and midfielder Dean Bartrop - both from Tullamarine in the Essendon District league.
Dean Bartrop won Tullamarine's best and fairest in 2019, the same season he was named on a half-back flank in the EDFL division one Team of the Year.
"We think we've got a couple of really good players there and we're still chasing a few more," Chapman said.
"We'd like another key defender so we can be a bit more creative with Harrison Huntley, a couple of midfielders would be good and we'd like another forward that could give Guy Dickson a bit of a chop-out."
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