By Luke West
MAIDEN Gully YCW is preparing for a season of development in the Loddon Valley league.
The experienced Wayne Mitrovic is back at the helm as coach having led the Eagles since 2018, but it will be a much different looking side to the one that finished sixth last year with a 4-7 record.
There is a lengthy departure list from the Eagles that includes Tori Ferguson, Tom Ferguson, Travis Mercadante, Nat McLaren, Sam Barnes, Sean Moyle, Matt Gray, Luke Gray, Brayden Aitken, former captain Cohen Kekich, Riley Hamilton and Darcy Graham.
"We're going to have lots of 18, 19, 20-year-old players in the side, so I think it looks like being a year of development for us," Mitrovic said.
"If we're not going to be winning the games we've been winning in the past then you've got to look at what you can get out of the year and for our young players it's they are going to get a lot more opportunities than they would if they were playing in one of the top sides.
"We'll need our young players to take advantage of those opportunities they'll get and learn from playing quality opposition.
We'll need our young players to take advantage of those opportunities they'll get and learn from playing quality opposition- Wayne Mitrovic
"The way some of our boys like Josh Worsley and Ed Crisp have been training has been really good, so they are a couple I'd expect to come on and play well for us.
"Nathan Murley who came out from Sandhurst was flying before hurting his ankle last season, so, hopefully he'll be able to pick up from where he left off and give us some run.
"And young Cooper Hale from the under-18s has hung around and is going to play senior footy.
"He has exceeded my expectations with his running ability and willingness to learn, so I think he could have a real impact out on a wing or in the back line."
Additions to the Eagles include midfielder Jessi Lampi, who has a decorated CV that includes winning back-to-back best and fairests at Macorna in 2016-17, as well as the trifecta of a senior best and fairest, premiership and grand final best-on-ground medal for Point Cook in 2018.
Lampi has previously been coached by Mitrovic at Macorna.
"Jessi is a big signing for us given quality midfielders like that are hard to come by. Over his career from under-18s to now he has continually been winning awards and standing up in big games," Mitrovic said.
The Eagles, who won their last flag in 2002, have added another on-baller to their list in Hamish Rookes from Kerang, while Jack Gallaher is also a midfield addition.
A former Brisbane Lions Academy player, Gallaher has played six games this season with St Marys in the Northern Territory league, while fellow signing Joel Dwyer, an inside midfielder, from St Kilda City is a premiership player with Point Cook and dual Hawkesdale best and fairest.
As for the prospect of Mitrovic - who kicked 10 goals in the final game of the season against Inglewood last year - pulling the boots on again: "who knows...when do you say enough is enough?"
The Eagles will field only senior and reserves football teams this year having withdrawn from the under-18s.
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Christie Griffiths.
Placing when season ended last year: Second.
First game: v Marong (April 2).
MAIDEN Gully YCW had more reason than most to be disappointed after a finals-less season last year.
The Eagles had pieced together arguably their best season since their last premiership in 2013 and had positioned themselves nicely to be the main challenger to Mitiamo's hold on the premiership cup.
That abrupt ending to the season, which came without a chance to test themselves in finals, is sure to have provided the Eagles with plenty of motivation to cap off last year's good work this time around.
Particularly with every single A-grade player from last year returning this season.
The Eagles will be coached by club stalwart Christie Griffiths, who did the job last season in tandem with Jannaya Webb, who has stepped away following a long involvement with coaching, predominantly at Sandhurst.
Griffiths will be supported by assistant coaches Leisa Barry and Kelly White.
The Eagles coach will qualify as one of the LVFNL's busiest participants in 2022 by also coaching the club's B-grade and under-17 teams while filling the club's netball operations role.
She views the retention of all of last year's A-grade team as an undoubted positive.
"We were playing really well towards the end of last year. I'm sure we can keep improving together," Griffiths said.
We were playing really well towards the end of last year. I'm sure we can keep improving together- Christie Griffiths
"We know there has been some player movement elsewhere around the league. I'm sure COVID has plenty to do with that, people aren't as motivated and it's hard to get volunteers, coaches and players.
"But we're keen. All grades did well last year, so we'd really like to build on that and hopefully get premierships in all grades.
"We were certainly heading that way in some grades last year, so hopefully we can take it a step or two further.
"But you can't underestimate anyone, until you get out there on the court. You can be a great team one year, but if the following year you don't click, who knows how it will go."
Maiden Gully YCW will start the season as reigning minor premiers in C-grade, C-reserve, 17-and-under and 15-and-under.
A brilliant A-grade home and away season last year for the Eagles included six straight wins to end it and 10 from 11 games in total.
Their top grade side will continue to have a nice blend of experience and youth, with mainstays Griffiths and Barry joined by exciting young talent in Tia and Jarrenhy Webb, Meg Patterson, Rachael Gray, Laura Butler and Tiarni Baxter.
The Eagles are hoping goal shooter Tia Webb can emulate her brilliant form of last season, when she finished second in the league's Helen Ward Medal count behind four-time winner Laura Hicks, from Mitiamo.
"I feel we have a good balance with a few older players and the exciting young ones," Griffiths said.
"We also have a very versatile squad, there's quite a few of us who can play in multiple positions.
"It's good having Tia as our dominant one in the goal circle and Leisa up the attack end, while Meg is very versatile too."
The Eagles will get a good indication of their relative strength with an intriguing and tough first-up match against a tough Marong under lights at Marist College.
With Inglewood not fielding an A-grade side and a general bye scheduled for Easter on April 16, Maiden Gully YCW will have a 22-day wait between its season opener and its second game against Newbridge.
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