By Nick Creely
Olinda Ferny Creek understands that even though it placed seventh in 2019 with five wins and 11 losses, it wasn’t truly reflective of the competitiveness, hunger and development of the group.
The Bloods banked some super wins, and pushed some of the Premier Division’s top sides, and in those 11 losses learnt valuable lessons that it will take into 2021.
Bloods coach Brendan Donovan said that 2019 was a season that he looks back on as a crucial one in forging the path forward.
“We broke it down into 10-to-20-minute passages of bad concentration through lack of depth, and probably lack of talent,” he said.
“But we thoroughly enjoyed the challenged – we managed to beat Cranbourne, pushed Berwick hard, and had a reasonable push against Narre at Narre.
“And then Cranbourne absolutely torched us down there, it was probably the best opposition we played for the year that day.
“But we now know we need to be more attacking, and I think our defence was solid, but it was a whole different way of thinking about our footy.
“At 5-11, we had nothing to lose, so we were trying things in games, and if we were fighting for a finals spot we probably wouldn’t have tried.
“We’ve recruited well over this summer – we’ve tried to change our list demographic a bit.”
The Bloods have recruited sharply in the off-season, namely in 25-year-old ex-Collingwood defender Matt Scharenberg, who has arrived at the club after playing 41 games at AFL level, but was cruelled by knee injuries throughout his seven years at the level.
Donovan said the club was thrilled to land the prodigiously talented defender.
“The biggest thing with Matt straight off is how polite, and well-mannered he is,” he said.
“His first session, he went around and introduced himself to all the players on the ground.
“He’s unassuming – he doesn’t really like the limelight, so we’re treating him like anyone else at our club, and he’s enjoyed that.
“We’re really lucky – it was bloody exciting behind the scenes, and we were so thrilled to get it done.”
The Bloods have also brought back South Croydon star Pat Crosier alongside his brother Mat, Ben Watson from Upwey Tecoma, as well as recruited Trent Falzon and Alex Mackinnon from North Ringwood, and James Royal-Young from Upper Ferntree Gully, with Donovan also saying that 2017 premiership players Dale Rohrmann, Jay Rankin and Brendan Cooling – as well as potentially a few others to return.
Sean Atkinson, Mitch Low-Morris and Dylan Arnold are also expected to return from injury.
The only notable departures are star big man James Charge to Eastern footy outfit Mooroolbark, and Ethan Greenall who has signed with Monbulk in Division 1.
He said that the list demographic has shifted somewhat, with the youth expected to get chances throughout the season.
“We think we played our best side in Round 18 in 2019 against Wandin, and my gut feel is there will be some who will retire or not play,” he said.
“We’ve increased our senior depth by about 12 or 13 players.
“Pat will be a massive addition – he was in South Croydon’s Team of the Decade and one of the premier EFL defensive forwards in the league, so he’ll come back with his brother (Mat) and add plenty of speed to the outside.
“Overall, its looking good, but it’s the kids coming through, we’ve got a couple of them at Eastern which is great for them, and our Under 19s are going to be a really solid side as well.”
A huge away clash against reigning premiers Narre Warren awaits Donovan’s group in the season opener on Saturday 17 April.
It’s an almighty challenge – but one Donovan’s group will not take a backwards step from.
“I think Narre are still the benchmark,” he said.
“When we were offered the opportunity to open the season, we didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.
“What better way to set up your season than to take on the reigning premiers – I don’t know any footy club in Australia that doesn’t want to take on the team that unfurls the flag.
“We’ll have a look at them, they’ve lost some absolutely stars, but at the same time, good clubs evolve, and it gives more kids a go – they’ve got so much talent, they’re the most skilful side in the competition.
“Narre are going to be at the top of tree I think.”
But overall, Donovan expects the Premier Division to be a closely-fought season where anything can happen.
“Every game is going to be huge,” he said.
“You only need to lose a bit of cohesion, or have a bad run with injury and you can fall away, or the opposite to that, if you have a good month of footy you can really set yourself up.
“It’s exciting, and its good for the league – Pakenham and Doveton come in, and they’re good grounds to play at.
“The old Valley sides are really building and stepping up the challenge nicely I think.”