By Nick Creely
Cranbourne coach Steve O’Brien anticipates his side will be a tough one to break into in 2021.
The return of club legends, a stable senior core, a swarm of youngsters who took great strides in 2019, as well a moving into its new home base – the Eagles are certainly one happy and hungry club.
It’ll make them one daunting Premier Division task for opposition clubs in 2021.
The list of Cranbourne returnees and recruits make for some impressive reading, considering that the Eagles have retained almost all of its senior list from 2019, with Brandon Osborne once again locked in as skipper.
Star ex-skipper Max Gearon, Mitch Lindsay (Pearcedale), Jake Carosella, Michael Richardson, Chris Ramac, Nick Russo, Adrian Russo (Oakleigh District), Ryan Davey (Karingal), Troy Tharle, Brandon Wapshott (Cora Lynn), Curtis Barker (Seaford), and Anthony Fishcer (Kooweerup) are all back and add so much across all lines, while Cora Lynn’s Rylan Smith and Ryan Goold from the Glen Waverley Hawks have signed on and are good players expected to make an impact.
O’Brien said there was an air of excitement about the return of so many favourite sons.
“It’s huge for our club – we obviously didn’t want any of them to go initially, but just the change of comp probably forced that on the guys,” he said.
“Sometimes when you step away from the club you realise how much that club means to you, and I think that’s been the case for all of these boys.
“They wanted to finish their careers at Cranbourne, because that’s what they are, Cranbourne people.
“It’s great for them, but great as a club, they bring back so much experience with them.”
The injection of club premiership heroes only adds to the selection dilemma faced by O’Brien’s group this season.
“I sat down with each of those guys and welcomed them back with open arms, but told them there was no guarantees,” he said.
“We put a lot of work into a lot of younger players in my three, coming into four years at the club, and we can’t disregard what they’ve done and the progress they’ve made, so everyone has to fight for their spot.
“It’s really exciting for us as a club.”
And then there’s the return of former premiership skipper, 1000-goal sharpshooter and legendary local footy figure Marc Holt.
There’s definitely a sense of romanticism about his return back home.
O’Brien said the beloved Cranbourne legend is in good nick, and wants to finish his career in the famous jumper, with plenty more goals and hopefully another premiership.
“He’s tracking well – his training’s a bit more modified than other guys, but he’s totally committed,” he said.
“He wants to go out on a high if this year does happen to be his last, and he wants it to be a successful one, he’s got some personal goals he wants to achieve.
“Moving to our new ground, he wants to make that a real success, and stamp his name on it as you can imagine.
“He just brings excitement – as soon as he walks into the club everyone steps up a notch. When he talks everyone listens.
“It’s really exciting.”
The Premier Division season will look different than its inaugural season in 2019, with O’Brien one of many coaches with the same mindset – it’s going to be a tough, even and incredibly competitive competition in 2021.
The Eagles – who made a semi-final in 2019 – will understand that despite its strong list and exciting youngsters, other clubs have rapidly improved around them.
“We’ve learnt a heck of a lot from 2019, it was a massive adjustment playing against teams you haven’t played before,” he said.
“For the sides up the hills and for us, it was playing on grounds totally foreign to us, and that was a huge adjustment particular for us, we really struggled early days playing on those smaller grounds.
“To have that experience and knowing what you’re up against is a big learning – and that’s the same for the sides up there, we play on big grounds and play a pretty fast brand of footy.
“From what I’m reading, seeing and hearing, all of the clubs up there in the hills have gone out to address that and bring more run and speed into their games.
“It’ll be very even I reckon – Woori has brought back a lot of guys; Olinda look like they’ve recruited really well so I expect them to make big moves this season. Even Upwey have brought in a few, so the competition is going to be even, which is what we ultimately want.”
And for the Eagles, they will meet Woori Yallock in Round 1 away from home in what will be a huge test for both highly fancied sides, before what will be a memorable home game in Round 2 against Beaconsfield, where the club will play its first game at its new Livingston Estate facility.
The Eagles are excited to call the facility home for many generations to come.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with Casey Fields, it did serve its purpose for us, but things like not being able to take gate takings, to all those little things it put pressure on the club,” he said.
“So to eliminate those issues is going to be so helpful for the club moving forward.
“It’s an exciting time, it’s a great facility and the ovals are just magnificent.
“We’re doing a fair work on it now with the leadership group about it being an opportunity to put our imprint on the footy club, setting new standards and what the future will look like for future Cranbourne people.
“We want to create a great culture at our new Cranbourne facility.”