By Luke West
WITH only one departure and nine arrivals, new Heathcote coach Andrew Saladino has ticked the box for achieving his first goal of improving the Saints' depth.
Saladino has taken over the coaching reins at Heathcote from Wayne Primmer, returning to the club he last played with in 2008.
That 2008 season when Saladino was a teenager was a grand final year for the Saints, but he returns to a club that has battled on-field for the best part of a decade having last played finals in 2013 and won just 14 of 109 games since.
For the incoming Saladino, the starting point for 2022 hopefully being the beginning of a Heathcote revival has been to boost the club's playing stocks, which he has done after a productive recruiting campaign.
"Our depth looks to be really good... the first thing I wanted to do in coming to the club was improve that depth," said Saladino, who will be a non-playing coach.
"I saw some games Heathcote played last year and they were right in a few of those matches against the good sides, but when they got injuries their depth fell away and they brought in guys who probably weren't up to it.
"This year with the guys we've got coming in, there's a lot who have played senior footy over the past few years, so we expect our depth will be really good."
This year with the guys we've got coming in, there's a lot who have played senior footy over the past few years, so we expect our depth will be really good- Andrew Saladino
From last year's Heathcote side that finished 8th with a 2-11 record, the only departure is Jackson Bailey, who has moved to Sydney.
Joining the Saints are three forward recruits - Braden Padmore, Liam Birch and the returning Jackson Conforti, who has senior Bendigo league experience with Kyneton.
Padmore kicked 42 goals for the Moonee Valley under-18.5s in division two of the Essendon District league last year, including 13 in one game
Shaun Harrison and Connor Hamilton are a pair of midfield recruits, Henry McCarthy and Luke Baron are additions on the wing, while the Saints have also added two defenders in Bill Direen and Rhys Bolton, and Brent James is also joining the club.
Birch, Hamilton and Direen have all been recruited from Riddell District league club Wallan, while Harrison has signed with the Saints with a highly-decorated CV behind him.
Harrison has played in four Western Region league premierships with Deer Park in 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2019, as well as a Riddell District league flag with Macedon in 2017, is also a three-time Riddell District league Team of the Year representative (2015, 2016 and 2017) and won Macedon's best and fairest in 2015.
"Shaun has also played some VFL with Werribee... he's about 32 now and still a very good player who obviously brings with him a lot of experience in big games," Saladino said.
"Braden Padmore is going to be an exciting player for us; he's that X-factor type of player who can both forward and in the midfield.
"We also had some players who missed quite a bit through injury last year who we'll get back.
"Jackson Jones only played three games because of a foot injury and will be pretty much like a new recruit, as well as our captain Codie Price, who only played a handful of games last year."
As well as boosting the depth of the list, a focus of Saladino in the off-season has been to ensure more bang for buck inside 50 given the Saints averaged just 61 points per game in 2021.
"I wanted to bring in some forwards and we've been able to do that with Braden Padmore and Liam Birch, getting Jackson Jones back and Shaun Harrison will also go forward," Saladino said.
"We want to have more variety in our forward line this year and think we have a good spread of guys who will be able to kick some big goals throughout the year."
By Kieran Iles
Coaches: Brooke Bolton and Kelsey Price.
Placing when season ended last year: Seventh.
Arrivals: Isobel Caughey, Annalyse Carroll, Chelsea Harrison, Jen Van Neutegem.
Departures: Tyler McKeown, Danni Jeffery.
Season opener: v North Bendigo (April 2).
HEATHCOTE showed plenty of signs of progress in 2021.
The challenge now for new coaches Brooke Bolton and Kelsey Price will be to maintain that improvement and build on it.
Bolton, the league's best and fairest in a stellar first season for the Saints in 2021, and Price take over the coaching reins from Tyler McKeown, who has moved to Queensland.
The pair have overseen an exciting and intensive pre-season, fuelling optimism of an ultra-competitive season ahead.
Heathcote won four of 13 games last season and was in a position to win at least two more, including a nail-biting three-goal loss to North Bendigo early in the season.
With a handful of handy recruits on board and only a small number of player losses, the Saints will look to raise the bar again in 2022 and target a few more wins in a bid to challenge for a finals spot.
They have regained Annalyse Carroll after a few seasons off and have added recruits Isobel Caughey, Chelsea Harrison and Jen Van Neutegem.
Apart from former coach McKeown, Danni Jeffery is the only other major out.
Midcourt ace Bolton - a two-time A-grade premiership star with Sandhurst - believes there is no reason why Heathcote should not be aiming for a top-five finish.
"I think finals are a realistic goal for A-grade and from there hopefully more wins across the board would be nice," she said.
"I feel the last few years here have been on the up, so we'd like to continue that momentum and get a few more wins."
I feel the last few years here have been on the up, so we'd like to continue that momentum and get a few more wins- Brooke Bolton
By the time the pre-season ends, Heathcote will have played practice matches against Marong, Newbridge and Riddell District league club Macedon.
"They will give us a good test to see where we are at. It's hard to get a good gauge until you start getting a few games under your belt," Bolton said.
"But we're happy with the turnout that we have had for pre-season in all grades.
"Everyone has put in a really good effort, so we're happy with that."
The Saints will certainly get their chance to build some early momentum, opening the season against North Bendigo, which finished last season one spot higher on the ladder in sixth, before a home clash against Huntly (fifth) and an away game against Lockington-Bamawm United, which finished in last place in 2021.
After a brilliant 2021 that culminated in an Esther Cheatley Medal win as the competition's best player, Bolton is looking forward to combining playing with coaching this year.
Especially alongside her partner Codie Price's sister Kelsey, who won't be playing in the early part of the season.
"It's a good challenge - different. It's hard coaching while playing as I want to be able to do things myself, but you also have to be watching and keeping tabs on everyone else," she said.
"But it will be good having Kelsey on the sidelines. She won't be playing for at least the first couple of weeks, so it will be great getting that perspective from off the court."
SEASON OPENER - April 2
v North Bendigo (a)
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Huntly (h)
ROUND 2 - April 16
v LBU (a)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Mount Pleasant (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Colbinabbin (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Elmore (a)
ROUND 7 - May 21
v White Hills (h)
ROUND 8 - May 28
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Leitchville-Gunbower (a)
ROUND 10 - June 11
v Huntly (a)
ROUND 11 - June 18
v LBU (h)
ROUND 12 - June 25
v Mount Pleasant (a)
ROUND 13 - July 2
v North Bendigo (h)
ROUND 14 - July 9
v Colbinabbin (a)
ROUND 15 - July 16
v Elmore (h)
ROUND 16 - July 23
v White Hills (a)
ROUND 17 - July 30
ROUND 18 - August 6
v Leitchville-Gunbower (h)
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