FOR a team looking to make an early statement in its return to BFNL A-grade netball following a four-year hiatus, round one could not have played out any better for Castlemaine.
Not only did the Magpies score their first A-grade win since early 2017, but they scored wins in all five grades of netball.
It is understood to be the first time since the inception of the BFNL competition in 1991 that the Magpies have prevailed in every grade on the one day.
For new A-grade joint-coach Gary Cooke, who is leading the rebuild of the club's netball program alongside former Super Netball star Fiona Fowler, the importance of starting the season on a winning note could not be underestimated.
"We were talking about that at our final training session on Thursday night, and I made it clear (on Saturday) before we started that we really wanted to get off to a good start," he said.
"It's a new era for the club, we have a whole bunch of new players and a whole bunch of returning players.
"Looking at the line-up, there are so many people who used to be with Castlemaine, or were from Castlemaine but had been playing with other clubs around the area.
"It was just important that we got off to a good start.
"We won every grade and apparently the club has never done that before, so it was a big day for the club."
The last time Castlemaine had won an A-grade game was in round three of 2017 against Kyneton, when the Magpies prevailed 43-30.
It followed winless A-grade seasons in 2016 and 2015 and two victories in 2014.
Saturday's win came over the same team the Magpies got their solitary win against in 2017.
Their 48-27 victory over the Tigers was led by players at opposite ends of the experience spectrum in young midcourt ace Caitlin Richardson and goal shooter Jane O'Donohue.
Runner-up in last year's Maryborough Castlemaine District league A-grade best and fairest as a 17-year-old while playing for Newstead, Richardson excelled at centre in her first BFNL A-grade game, earning lavish praise from Cooke.
"She can play nearly any position on court, but she was an absolute star," he said.
"Amazingly, she has to leave halfway through the last quarter because she had to get to Melbourne for a basketball game.
"She was phenomenal, but all over the court they were good.
"Jane O'Donohue, our captain, in goals had a very strong game; Mikaela Vaughan played really well and both of them have only just come back from COVID, which knocked them around pretty badly.
"Everyone did their job. But leading up to the week we were a little worried as we have so many people away."
The Pies were without star recruits Maddie Carter, who got married in Tasmania on Saturday, and Kelsie Rainbow and Georgie Rodger, who were in attendance.
None of them are guaranteed to be back on deck for this Friday's clash at Maryborough.
Cooke anticipates the Magpies will have a near full line-up for their testing round three clash against Gisborne at Gardiner Reserve on April 23.
The win was further highlighted by a strong performance at goal defence from Bridie Semmens, who has returned to her home club after playing at Harcourt last season.
While the Magpies were pushed all the way by the Tigers, Cooke felt the Magpies had controlled the game.
"We made them chase us all game, but we put our foot down at different points in each quarter," he said.
"We made some big changes in the last quarter and tried a couple of different line-ups and popped a couple of the young players on.
"We had Kyla Byrne out there, who is only 14, but she did really well.
"She's not in the A-grade team, but I gave her a run to see how she'd go and she did well."
While the arrival at Castlemaine of a bunch of high-profile recruits has brought some lofty expectations, the immediate challenge is to build on the momentum and belief gained from Saturday's first-up win.
Cooke is confident the Magpies can.
"It was a history-making day in a sense as Castlemaine hasn't had an A-grade team for so long and haven't won an A-grade game for so long," he said.
"We've been training since January, but we just needed to start and get going.
"After an exciting pre-season, it was finally good to get the first game under the belt."
A red-letter day of sorts for the Magpies included wins in the under-18s and senior women's football, delivering Castlemaine the Challenge Cup.
The clash under lights marked the women's team's official debut in the senior football ranks.
A-grade: Castlemaine d Kyneton 48-27.
A-reserve: Castlemaine d Kyneton 47-30.
B-grade: Castlemaine d Kyneton 36-24.
B-reserve: Castlemaine d Kyneton 50-29.
17-and-under: Castlemaine d Kyneton 46-31.
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