By Luke West
MOUNT Pleasant has further bulked up its list as it continues to strive to win its first Heathcote District league premiership in 16 years.
It has been another productive off-season recruiting campaign by the Blues, with Mount Pleasant's new additions headlined by three former Bendigo league senior players.
Former Sandhurst ruckman Chris Down, Strathfieldsaye 2019 premiership player Will Wallace and ex-Golden Square and Bendigo Pioneer player Zane Keighran are among the new arrivals at Toolleen.
Keighran, who has also been on Geelong's VFL list, will slot into the the Blues' midfield alongside his former Golden Square team-mate and co-coach Adam Baird, while Wallace, who is on the comeback from a knee injury, will play in defence when cleared to resume.
The Blues have also added key forward Dean Tydell from Pascoe Vale, Zac Featherby (forward/mid), Reardon McIvor (wing/half-back) and Jack Craig (on-ball), who is the son of Mount Pleasant premiership coach John Craig.
Mount Pleasant will also regain Luke Marchesi after an injury-ruined 2021 to add into the backline.
On the move from last year's Mount Pleasant team that was 7-5 and finished fifth are reigning best and fairest Liam Collins, who has returned to Kangaroo Flat, Rhys Deacon (25 goals), Fraser Cole, Joe Whiting, Daniel Davie and veteran defender Dale Young, who has retired.
"We've lost a few players, but in saying that, Rhys Deacon, Joey Whiting and Dan Davie didn't play a lot of games for us last year," Mount Pleasant co-coach Darren Walsh said.
"Overall, I think we've recruited really well in terms of our durability... Chris Down is obviously a top-line ruckman who never stops working and Dean Tydell gives us another big body in the forward line.
"We're going to have the luxury of having a tall forward line this year given last year we probably relied a lot on Ben Weightman and Rhys Deacon, but they weren't tall.
We're going to have the luxury of having a tall forward line this year given last year we probably relied a lot on Ben Weightman and Rhys Deacon, but they weren't tall- Darren Walsh
"Now with some more height down there with Dean Tydell and Mitch Bennett alongside Ben, and Zac Featherby also has some height at six-foot-three, we will be a bit more predictable in our forward line.
"As a collective we're expecting improvement from the group; our numbers and buy-in has been brilliant over the pre-season.
"And a big positive this year is going to be having Adam Baird available from the start of the season. He missed the first five games last year, but he's ready to go for round one."
Mounts open their season against Elmore.
"Our aim is to be pushing for the top three and then see what happens from there," Walsh said.
"We were depleted by injuries early last year and then got going before the season came to an early end.
"The big focus for us in the pre-season has been improving our defence and contested ball work, so hopefully, that pays off."
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Carine Comer.
Placing when season ended last year: Fourth.
Arrivals: Liv Slattery, Chantal Moore.
Departures: Maddi Wild, Katie Walsh, Charlotte Webb, Paris Bickley.
First game: at Elmore (April 9).
A MAJOR contender for the past four seasons, Mount Pleasant plans on being the same again in 2022.
The Blues played in back-to-back preliminary finals in 2017 and 2018, but unfortunately for them could not find a way past Colbinabbin on both occasions.
Their 2019 season ended with a gut-wrenching one goal loss to Huntly in the elimination final, while the Blues were possibly headed for another top three finish last year, finishing the abbreviated season 7-4-1, one win behind White Hills, who claimed third with an 8-4-1 record.
The 'one' at the end of both teams' record served as a key to just how close the race was between the Blues and Demons, as they drew their round six match 41-apiece.
The teams did not play each other a second time, with four rounds spread throughout the season being cancelled due to COVID.
Close losses to Huntly in round three and North Bendigo by three goals in round seven ultimately cost the Blues a top-three finish.
Mount Pleasant will start a season filled with promise with a new coach, with Carine Comer taking over the reins from Chantal Moore, who was first appointed in 2020, but did not get to coach her first actual game until 2021.
Encouragingly, for a Blues team which has lost four players - goal shooter Maddi Wild (Kangaroo Flat), Katie Walsh (Queensland), Charlotte Webb (taking a break) and , Moore will return to the playing court this season after being a non-playing coach last year.
The loss of Wild, One of the Blues' top performers in 2021, has been offset by the arrival of goal shooter Liv Slattery, originally from Echuca.
The newcomer has impressed her new coach and team-mates at training and in practice matches.
Comer, who will be a non-playing coach after a long career with Mounts, said the first goal for her side was to be competitive and then to see what flows from there.
"Hopefully we can match and with a bit of luck improve on the last two years," she said.
"With the players we have coming in, I feel we can - without wanting to put too much pressure on anyone.
"Obviously it's tough being able to compare the last two years with what they have been.
"We were tracking towards third place if the full season had went ahead (in 2021), so I feel like we are putting ourselves in a good position."
Comer is excited to see what some of the club's talented juniors can produce, among them Eden McInnes and Lara Bish.
A talented squad still boasts last season's best and fairest winner Hayley Martiniello, runner-up Aish Tupper and quality shooter Megan Baird, with last season's B-grade best and fairest winner Maeve Tupper shaping up for more permanent A-grade duties.
"It's a pretty strong A-grade squad, so we certainly hope we are around the mark," Comer said.
It doesn't get much tougher for the Blues than their season opener at premiership favourite Elmore.
A tantalising match-up against White Hills follows in round two in a game likely to reveal much about the strength of both teams following last season's draw.
The practice match schedule has included Pyramid Hill, Golden Square and Strathfieldsaye.
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Elmore (a)
ROUND 2 - April 16
v White Hills (h)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Heathcote (a)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Leitchville-Gunbower (h)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Huntly (a)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Lockington-Bamawm United (h)
ROUND 7 - May 21
ROUND 8 - May 28
v North Bendigo (a)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Colbinabbin (h)
ROUND 10 - June 11
v Elmore (h)
ROUND 11 - June 18
v White Hills (a)
ROUND 12 - June 25
v Heathcote (h)
ROUND 13 - July 2
v Leitchville-Gunbower (a)
ROUND 14 - July 9
v Huntly (h)
ROUND 15 - July 16
v Lockington-Bamawm United (a)
ROUND 16 - July 23
ROUND 17 - July 30
v North Bendigo (h)
ROUND 18 - August 6
v Colbinabbin (a)
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