By Luke West
INGLEWOOD coach Darrell Billett heads into the 2022 Loddon Valley league season with genuine optimism the Blues can finally make inroads as a competitive side on the field.
When the Blues take to the field on April 2 against Calivil United it will have been 1435 days since the senior side last won a game.
Admittedly, there was no season played in 2020, but the Blues haven't savoured a senior victory since beating Calivil United by five points in round three of 2018.
Despite the enduring battles of the Blues, who last played finals in 2003, the club has been able to attract an injection of new talent that can bolster each area of the ground.
Charlie Ingham (forward), Alex Lowe (back or forward), Bregon Cotchett (midfield), Charlie McGaw (midfield/wing), Jed Rouse (forward/ruck), Cody Wright (forward), James Woods (defender) and Campbell Love (mid/forward) are all new players who have signed on with Inglewood for 2022.
McGaw has joined the Blues from De La Salle in the Premier B division in the Amateurs and previously been on the Sandringham Dragons list in the NAB League.
Forward Ingham's CV includes winning the VAFA's Premier division under-19 best and fairest in 2019 with Caulfield Grammarians, while Lowe, like McGaw, is also a former listed player with the Sandringham Dragons.
And midfielder Cotchett joins the Blues after winning the reserves best and fairest for Eastern league club Balwyn last year.
"I'm confident we'll be a hell of a lot better this year," Billett said.
"Obviously, our first aim just has to be becoming much more competitive and then pinch a few wins along the way, which I believe we can.
Obviously, our first aim just has to be becoming much more competitive and then pinch a few wins along the way, which I believe we can- Darrell Billett
"We're happy with the recruits we've been able to bring in, but we've also now got a group of young kids who have also had a taste of senior football last year."
Crucially for the Blues in their quest for improvement, they will go into this year with a far more stable squad given they had lost 52 players between the end of the 2019 season and the resumption of the competition in 2021.
"It's the first time for I don't know how long that we've been able to hang on to our top four or five in the best and fairest and, apart from Cody Stobaus, who won, they are all kids," Billett said.
"It was obviously hard work last year, but we got through it and we'll have a lot more depth with the recruits we've brought in.
"I'm reasonably bullish about what we can do this year, but being competitive is what's key for us because we want to get the community coming back and watching us play footy."
While it was hard yards for the Blues last year with an average losing margin of 156 points, Billett labeled the performances of Jasper McClelland, Taj Rodwell, Matt Rowe, Tom Alexander, Jed Edlin, Cameron Martin and Kyle Simpson as some of the shining lights to build on for 2022, while not only did defender Stobaus win the best and fairest, he was also the winner of the league's El-Vee Award.
Departures from last year's Blues' team are Josh Taig, Tynan Hywood and Connor Logan.
Inglewood is one of only three clubs in the Loddon Valley league that will be fielding all three football sides - seniors, reserves and under-18s - this year.
"Through the pre-season we've seen a lot more numbers and engagement in training, particularly the past few weeks as the season gets closer," said Billett, who was a member of Inglewood's last senior flag in 1986.
"We know we're coming from a long way back, but I'm genuinely confident we can improve.
"It's just a matter of how much we can improve."
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Not fielding an A-grade side; B-grade - Tegan Phillips.
Placing when season ended last year: Eighth.
First game: at Calivil United (April 2).
A PLAYER shortage has forced Inglewood to make the heartbreaking decision to withdraw from the A-grade competition this season.
The club informed the league of its intention last week and was granted approval by the LVFNL executive earlier this week.
It's the second time since 2018 the Blues have sought and been granted an exemption not to field an A-grade team.
Having struggled to lure players in recent seasons, Inglewood has retained fewer than 10 of about 40 players from last season.
Blues netball operations manager Shasta Maher said the club would instead focus on filling its B-grade, C-grade and C-reserve teams and was confident of having enough numbers to tackle the season.
"It's a bit disappointing, we have done the hard yards over the last few years, but unfortunately girls have moved away, or have had babies and other things have popped up. There's not much you can do," she said.
It's a bit disappointing, we have done the hard yards over the last few years, but unfortunately girls have moved away, or have had babies and other things have popped up. There's not much you can do- Shasta Maher
"We could really do with a few more players across the board.
"We probably have eight, eight and seven (players), but we've got about four girls we've yet to see hit the court because of university placements and things like that.
"But we are still looking for players - ideally we'd love another five or six."
The Blues last did not field an A-grade team in 2018, but returned a year later under the guidance of Mandy Burrill-Grinton to win three games, two against Pyramid Hill and one against Marong.
The Blues came close to nearly scoring a fourth win, going down to Bears Lagoon-Serpentine midway through the season.
Heading into 2020 with plenty of momentum, COVID could not have come at a worst time for the Blues.
They did not win a game last season when competition resumed.
This year's B-grade team will be led by playing coach Tegan Phillips, who coached the A-grade team in 2021 and has remained steadfastly loyal to the Blues throughout the years.
Phillips and Grace Christensen are the only two A-graders remaining from last year's team.
"We're hoping B-grade will be relatively strong with Grace and Tegan and we have a few new recruits, who will be handy in B-grade," Maher said.
"They are only young, but they have to start somewhere in seniors to get a bit of experience.
"Then hopefully we can build around them in the future."
With a number of under-17 girls stepping up to fill spots at senior level, the Blues will be without a team in that competition also.
The Blues will have teams in the under-15s, under-13s and minis.
Maher said the Blues were intent on being back in A-grade by next season.
Coaches include Shasta Maher (C-grade and under-13), Tracey Skinner (C-reserve).
ROUND 1 - April 2
v Calivil United (a)
ROUND 2 - April 9
v Maiden Gully YCW (h)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Bridgewater (a)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Newbridge (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Mitiamo (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Marong (h)
ROUND 7 - May 21
ROUND 8 - May 28
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (a)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Pyramid Hill (h)
ROUND 10 - June 18
v Calivil United (h)
ROUND 11 - June 25
v Maiden Gully YCW (a)
ROUND 12 - July 2
v Bridgewater (h)
ROUND 13 - July 9
v Newbridge (h)
ROUND 14 - July 16
v Mitiamo (a)
ROUND 15 - July 23
v Marong (a)
ROUND 16 - July 30
ROUND 17 - August 6
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (h)
ROUND 18 - August 13
v Pyramid Hill (a)
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.