By Russell Bennett
It may not be all that obvious to many outside the club just yet, but there’s something genuinely special brewing at the Nilma Darnum footy club.
It’s all too easy to look at the ladders across the seniors and reserves and notice that the Bombers have only won two games across those grades combined so far this season.
But the real story lies beneath that.
For the first time since the 2015 season, the club is fielding an under-18s side.
Let that sink in for a second – just what the lack of thirds crops season, after season, after season can do to a small club.
But this year, Bombers senior player Ben Lucas is playing a major role in helping to change the club’s trajectory – having taken on the under-18s coaching responsibility.
Players have come from far and wide, from a range of backgrounds, to play in his side. One group of them, incredibly, works together at the Drouin McDonald’s.
But they’re all united by the same cause, both under Lucas and senior coach Matt Shorey.
“We know that when you’re starting something lasting, it doesn’t just happen over one or two years,” Shorey explained to the Gazette recently.
“It’s got to be a four or five-year plan. These guys are bottom-age kids, so we’ve got another year with them – which is exciting, because we’ve already played quite a few of them in our seniors as well.”
In an impressively short space of time, Nilma Darnum has gone from having no more than a handful of under-18 players within its ranks, to being able to field a full side, to then even having some of those players play senior games on the same weekend that they line-up in the thirds.
Boosting their development as players is the aim of the game.
“Blake Cann was already a senior player for us last year – he played a few games – and Korey Carrison as well,” Shorey explained.
“Those two are looked at as the leaders of the ‘18s at the moment.
“We’ve also got young Bailey Pryor, who’s also played his first couple of senior games with us, and then there’s Haydn Burke who’ll be a key defender for the next five or six years for the senior side.
“Last year we never had this.
“Now we’re looking at really blooding a few more of these kids in the senior side for the rest of the season, and some of them might not be expecting to get their chance but I’ll surprise a few of them.
“For us, the scoreboard in the seniors doesn’t show some of the really positive steps we have made as a club.
Benny (Lucas) and I work really well together. Sometimes you see in clubs that the ‘18s coach won’t let too many players go up to the seniors, but we know where want to get to in the next few years. We want to be sustainable through these kids so you’re not chasing old blokes like me to play!”
“I know where we’re at with the ‘18s – we want to hold on to these kids now that we have them, and we want to make sure we develop them as best we can.
“But that said, we’ll always play these kids in the ‘18s first. We want them to have the best of both worlds.”
Shorey has a vision for the club moving forward, and he wants to see it through. The much-loved former Kooweerup mentor isn’t planning on going anywhere just yet.
“I’ve got a vision and a plan for this group. If I didn’t, I’d chuck it (the coaching job) in, but I want to coach these boys for years to come because I can see there’s some great talent coming through and we’re launching from a strong base now,” he said.
“Where we’re slightly lacking at the moment is just needing a little bit more on-ground influence.
“When it comes to our base, we’re looking at 21, 22-year-olds who still have another decade of good footy left in them at least.
“These are the guys who can take the club to the next level, and they have to influence the rest of the group.
“They’re good players – they just have to lead the club in the right direction.
“We’ve got a coach in Benny out there who really cares about these boys, and I’m the same with the senior guys.
“This club could be a real option now for kids looking to play their footy in a new environment.”