By Nick Creely
As Doveton steadily prepares for the challenge of stepping up to the top-flight of the AFL Outer East competition in 2021, it knows it’s going to be faced with some quality football sides.
But the 2019 Division 1 premiers are not a club that ever takes a backwards step, and will back itself to do some damage against some new opponents.
The last time the Doves took to the footy field was back on 22 September, 2019 – a day written into the folklore in club history when they took down Pakenham in a classic grand final by six points.
It’s a day no one associated within the four walls of Doveton will ever forget.
Doves coach Daniel Charles told the Gazette that it’s going to take time for everyone, even clubs coming off premierships in 2019 to build back into footy after a year off, and said the key was just for the community and clubs to once again get back to playing.
“As far as momentum goes, it’s hard to gain it when you haven’t played for a year, but for us its just about re-energising everyone, and getting back to what we do best, and that’s enjoying ourselves being back playing footy” he said.
“Once you enjoy yourself, the results will come.
“But all I can go off was the last time we played, and I’m expecting very similar to 2019 – it’s going to be a building process, we’ll get better as the year goes on.
“We’re learning how each other plays, and how I want them to play, so I think we’ll be thereabouts, but it’ll be hard to know without knowing about the opposition, but we’re looking forward to challenging ourselves against the best teams in the league.”
The 2019 premiership side will look somewhat different, with the Doves welcoming back two familiar names – Michael ‘Pickles’ Henry and ex-playing coach Shannon Henwood back from Hampton Park.
Both are well known, and revered Doveton figures who will add tremendous class both on and off field once more for the club.
The Doves have also welcomed back forward Jake Mullen from Somerville, and will have highly-regarded 2020 recruits Austin Deneys and Mark Seedsman at its disposal, with both expected to be significant additions.
Charles said its been a tough time building its list after Covid, but is confident the Doves have recruited quality footballers, and more importantly quality people.
“We were a bit devastated that last year, coming after a terrific 2019, we recruited really well for 2020 but Covid hit and we lost a lot of our recruits that we picked up,” he said.
“Obviously it was not the fault of anyone, it was one of those things – blokes got used to doing other things other than football.
“But leading into this year, we’ve got a few, a few ex-Doveton players in ‘Shanny’ and ‘Pickles’, and Jake Mullen as well which is great.
“However, at the end of 2019 we got Mark Seedsman as well, so he’ll be a great asset for the club, a big-bodied midfielder in Austin Deneys and we’ve got a few young kids that we look forward to seeing them at senior level, in particular Kai Suparta.
“We’ve also picked up some other young kids in Dylan Bayley and Bailey Mills, and they look like lively types.”
The Doves have been a dealt a bit of a blow, with star premiership trio Mitch Cotter (relocating to South Australia to play SANFL), Lachie Batten (signed at Devon Meadows), and Matthew Boyd (relocated to Perth to become an AFL assistant coach at Fremantle) all departing the club.
While Charles acknowledges that the trio departing isn’t ideal, the Doves have recruited to fill the voids left in the midfield and up forward.
“We’re rapt for Mitch to go to SA and have a crack, I’m always about promoting these kids to play the best standard of footy they can, and hopefully use Dovey as a stepping stone to go to another level,” he said.
“With Boydy, how are you going to replace a 300-game bloody superstar? You can’t do it, but we’ve gone for blokes we needed.
“We’ve got inside mids in Shannon Henwood and Austin Deneys, so they’ll help fill the void.
“And Lachie Batten, he wanted to move on to coach, so good on him, but we feel like we’ve got a really good replacement up forward, a different player in Jake Mullen, who we’re expecting a really big year of.
“The positive thing for us is, yes we lost those three blokes from our grand final team, but I think Boydy played eight games so we had to learn to win without him, and Mitch Cotter didn’t come back to the end of June, so the blokes we’ve picked up will be good players for us for the whole year.
“If I had the choice, I’d have them all, but that’s not possible and those blokes are going on to bigger and better things.”
The Doves have also lost premiership ruckman Michael Sikora to Pascoe Vale, but have brought back ruck Andrew Parker after he initially signed with Devon Meadows, with Charles excited by what he can bring to the table.
“We’re excited by Andrew, he’s got a lot of development and showed a lot last year,” he said.
“Our main focus is to develop him, and the work he’s done since coming back has been really impressive.”
Doveton will test its squad in a series of practice matches, with the Doves to take on The Basin on 20 March, Upper Ferntree Gully on 27 March and Upwey Tecoma on 10 April.
The Doves kick off life in AFL Outer East’s Premier Division with a Round 1 clash against Wandin at home on Saturday 24 April, where the club will also be unfurling its 2019 senior football premiership flag in front of its home crowd.