By Russell Bennett
Just like that – footy season is back.
Long gone are the days when the cricket grand finals lead into a pre-football and netball break.
This Saturday, after day one of the West Gippsland Cricket Association grand finals, Cora Lynn will host West Gippsland Football Netball Competition newcomer Tooradin-Dalmore in a season-opening blockbuster under lights.
And fans are salivating at the thought of one of the most action-packed weekends on the local sporting calendar.
The fourths will get things started from 2pm – an hour after the scheduled start of play on day one of the WGCA grand finals – while the opening bounce of the thirds is set for 3.30pm. The reserves game will start at 5.10pm, with the seniors to follow from 7pm.
Cora Lynn senior coach David Main said his group was looking forward to the new challenge that the Seagulls would provide – straight out of the now-defunct South East Football Netball League.
The Cobras will field a side with a very similar nucleus to recent seasons, along with a series of key additions – such as Troy Tharle and Nathan Gardiner from Cranbourne, and Brent Urwin from Narre Warren. Key position players Nathan Langley and Mitch Wallace have also returned to the club in a massive boost – figuratively and literally.
Main said his group had been particularly impressive over the pre-season, and will enter the season-opener in “great shape” fitness-wise.
He also spoke of his excitement of the Seagulls joining the competition.
“Geographically, it’s the perfect fit,” he said.
“And it’s exciting for them that they’ve got an opportunity to really challenge for finals.
“It’s the unknown for them (this season) – like the WGFNC was for the rest of us in its opening year.”
Main said there were real similarities this weekend to the season opener of the inaugural WGFNC campaign when the Cobras hosted Inverloch-Kongwak under lights in March 2017.
The Cobras are determined to enter this weekend’s game with their eyes open – to expect the unexpected.
“The message is no different for our guys,” Main said.
“If you don’t respect them, opposition sides will really push you to the limit and results won’t go your way.”
Of the Cobras’ returning players, skipper and key defender Tim Payne has started the new campaign in fantastic physical shape – having shed around 10 kilograms – while the likes of Jai Rout and Brady White are also poised for strong seasons.
Rout will be one of the beneficiaries of the Cobras’ added firepower up forward, while important midfielder White has benefited from his first full pre-season in more than seven years.
“Our competition is just going from strength to strength,” Main said, looking at the overall on-field state of the WGFNC.
“You’ve got ex-AFL players (such as Cam Pedersen at Phillip Island, Lachy Hansen at Nar Nar Goon, and Ben Ross at Bunyip) as well as well-established players from the South East (SEFNL) venturing on to other clubs.
“Look at a side like Bunyip – it was a bit of a rebuild year last year, and this year with their ins they should jump up the ladder a fair bit.”
The quality of the competition in 2019 will be reflected in the strength of the sides that miss out on a finals berth.
In speaking with the WGFNC in the lead-up to his side’s debut in the competition, Tooradin-Dalmore senior coach Lachie Gillespie said his players – and club alike – have really embraced the move.
“We’ve kept the majority of our list and this group has worked hard together for a number of years,” he told the WGFNC website.
“The reaction has been really positive, and a lot of our players are leaders now.”
The Seagulls pride themselves on a defence-first, pressure brand of footy but also have plenty of belief in their scoring prowess.
While they’ve lost Patrick Chin and Dean Warry from last year’s side, their focus has been more on retention than recruitment when it comes to list management in a competition with a reduced salary cap.
Reigning best fairest winner, versatile defender Luke McKenna is set for another strong season, as is his former Emerald team mate and now Gulls skipper Matt Livermore, and forward Andrew Dean.
But there’s plenty to look out for on the youth front, too, with Cooper Shipp – the son of Gembrook Cockatoo legend and former Fremantle player Andrew – earmarked for a number of different roles. Lewis Hill, a teenager who’s made the move from Berwick, is also one to keep an eye on as a handy midfielder or small forward.
Footy and netball is back – and it all starts on the local front this Saturday at Cora Lynn.