Crystal balls and clichés

Jonty and Marcus make best-and-fairest winner predictions this week. 320081

JONTY: Alrighty, we’re back for another episode of LTS and we’re still missing our trooper, our boss, David Nagel.

MARCUS: Any contact from him this week?

JONTY: I think I saw a photo of him with ocean in the background?

MARCUS: Maybe some golf, too?

JONTY: Some alcohol as well.

MARCUS: If I could draw up a Dave Nagel holiday, that is how it would look.

JONTY: He’s certainly enjoying himself and we were enjoying ourselves back at local footy on the weekend.

MARCUS: We were the real winners.

JONTY: I was at Cheltenham to watch a grand final rematch, and you were…?

MARCUS: At Kalora Park to watch Narre Warren v Pakenham.

JONTY: It was a night fixture?

MARCUS: It was a nice occasion under the lights. But moreso, I was driving around on Saturday and saw some local games being played and a huge smile came across my face. It’s one of the key Melbourne Winter elements. We’ve got the sense that footy’s back.

JONTY: Footy’s on, footy’s here again.

MARCUS: Thanks, Greg.

JONTY: I had a Greg Champion moment on Saturday so I’m glad you bring that up. I was reversing out of my driveway and this was the first Saturday of the year where I’ve gone to the footy and felt like I’ve needed to rug up – a fitting day for local footy to return. And I’ve had the song stuck in my head for six or seven days because I heard it on The Front Bar last week. I was singing it in my head as I got halfway up my street and people who know how the song starts, it’s ‘I’ve got my scarf, got an old coat, got a footy game to go to.’ I realised I didn’t have an old coat so I went back into the house to get a coat and luckily I did because it was a chilly day, so thanks Greg for reminding me to get my coat!

MARCUS: There you go.

JONTY: But best action on-field?

MARCUS: It was a very impressive game of footy for round one – generally you can anticipate some sloppy skills and it had been raining earlier in the day. But that didn’t seem to affect the ball-handling. It was a high quality and fast game. It was intense. The ball was flying from end to end. Hamish West is one player who play a big role this year. He’s a clever small forward who is nimble and can dodge tackles well. Sam Toner kicked into the man on the mark from 40 out but West was the first to pick up on it, he gathered it cleanly, stepped around one tackle and snapped on his left foot and it only had a fine margin to curl around and he did it perfectly.

JONTY: You’ve described that eloquently. My best action goes to Nick Darbyshire from the Cranbourne Eagles. In the third quarter when Cranbourne was clinging on, he got to the fall of an important ball. There was emphasis on bringing the ball to ground given the departure of Marc Holt and his front-and-centre was so clean and then he slotted a dribbler from a tight angle to silence the Cheltenham crowd. Ultimately they got the last laugh, but impressive nonetheless.


JONTY: Who needs to make a statement in the Outer East Football Netball League, Marcus, and I’ll tell you who did make a statement on the weekend.

MARCUS: I’ll start with who did make a statement. Narre Warren was fantastic. A lot has been made of the players they’ve lost but the ones still there are quality footballers. Kurt Mutimer, Will Howe, Peter Gentile, Tom Toner, the list goes on. A lot were expecting Narre to fall away and Pakenham is seen as a team on the rise. I had Pakenham finishing above the Magpies, which caught the attention of president Peter Lindsay. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon if they continue plying the way they did on Saturday. We’ve also got Berwick Springs against Gembrook-Cockatoo on Saturday and that’s going to be massive for both clubs even though it’s round one. Berwick Springs were exceptional last season but poor in the grand final. You hope that’s not a performance that will stick with them for too long, and you think it wouldn’t with the leaders they have there. And they’ve recruited experienced players so they will have a point to prove. Likewise, Gembrook-Cockatoo. They won Division 1 to come up then really battled in 2023. I think if they don’t get a win on Saturday, it could shape up as a long year. It seems strange to think this will be so big, given it’s the first game of the season, but both teams will want to take advantage of it, since they’ll both probably be towards the bottom-end of the ladder.

JONTY: Interesting. A tip?

MARCUS: Berwick Springs.

JONTY: A Titanic performance awaits, we hope. Now, Endeavour Hills v Highett. An interesting one to assess given Endeavour Hills had 13 fewer scoring shots but won 8.2 50 to 5.18 48. Ultimately, their pressure in the back half was a positive and they matched it with Highett for most of the day. There was so much positive to come out of it and they did it against a team expected to make finals. There were some questions externally about how Endeavour Hills would go, given they didn’t welcome anyone big in and are relying on youth, but those players repaid the faith and made a statement in round one. The depth is clearly there when you match it with a team like Highett.


JONTY: There’s always themes and ingredients when speaking to coaches and clubs in preseason, different clubs say similar things in different ways. But what have been some trends you’ve picked up on that multiple clubs are discussing?

MARCUS: The prevailing theme I have heard from a lot of coaches is about youth. Even clubs like Noble Park in the Eastern Footy League that haven’t needed to rely on young players, Steve Hughes spoke about their enthusiasm and energy. He talked about some significant roles young players will play. It’s similar down at Berwick, Ashton Williamson, their vice captain, is 21-years-old. Clint Evans expects to have an average age of 20-21 when they run out for round one. Gembrook-Cockatoo will have young guys. I think pressure on selection is something all clubs will be looking towards. As far as ingredients go, buy-in as another huge one. I’ll go back to Steve Hughes who said something to the effect of ‘you can have all the running programs and extra sessions you want but if the players aren’t bought in then it doesn’t mean anything.’ It’s very obvious watching a game, which clubs have bought in and which haven’t. Talking to a couple of assistant coaches who were spectating the game on Saturday, they were extremely impressed with the Pakenham players’ focus on Paul Carbis at three-quarter-time, every single player had their eyes glued on the coach. Unfortunately they didn’t kick a goal in the final quarter so maybe the message didn’t quite sink in as well as they wanted it to, but certainly they look a much better team than last year. Narre Warren is a well-oiled machine and have people who have a strong desire to do well for the club. And Wandin last year, they trained on Tuesday and Thursday but it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to have a team-wide zoom session on a Wednesday to talk through some vision and tactics. That buy-in is a crucial ingredient.

JONTY: Yeah, you’ve touched on two really good ones. The youth promotion is certainly something that has come up a few times for me. Endeavour Hills as I said, relying on youth, Cranbourne, for so long so experienced, played six teenagers in round one. And then, Hampton Park have talked about rewarding the players who are committed at training, over talent to some degree. The other two I would touch on would be speed. They all want to get speed come finals time and several coaches have spoken about fresh legs and pace and burst away from stoppage. And the other one is height. Local key-position players are always at a premium but it seems to particularly be plaguing a couple of my clubs at the moment. Endeavour Hills are undersized in the ruck, Cranbourne don’t have a true key forward and Hampton park lack height in all thirds of the ground.


JONTY: Go through your teams and who wins the best-and-fairest, with a very short justification.

MARCUS: There’s going to be more midfield time available at Narre Warren with guys like Tom Miller not available and I’m expecting Tom Toner to fill that breach. An explosive, goal-kicking midfielder who is super consistent and will drive Narre this year.

JONTY: I’ve got Tanner Stanton winning Hampton Park’s, a really experienced and consistent winger who always buys in. His ball use will be crucial.

MARCUS: Over at Officer, Daniel Charles could not be more impressed with Brenton Hillard’s impact. He missed last season through injury and has been named vice captain in his first season at Starling Road. He’s made an impact on the track and has lifted the standards. His experience will be important for Officer in the midfield.

JONTY: For Endeavour Hills, I’ve got John Rafferty winning it. He would’ve won the Division 3 league best-and-fairest last year as a star midfielder if not for suspension. Should Endeavour Hills compete hard all season, he’ll need to fire.

MARCUS: I’ve picked a lot of midfielders in this mix so I’m going to give a shout out to a key defender in Riley Hillman. He has been a team of the year defender for two years running. Just an exceptional player behind the ball. If Berwick Springs are going to be under pressure this year as a team coming up to Premier Division, he will be relied upon to take intercept marks and handle big monsters. I’m thinking guys like Clint Johnson, Will Howe, Myles Wareham and Jesse Davies.

JONTY: Devon Meadows, Paddy Ryder. I don’t need to say much more. He was outstanding last year and struggled for fitness, obviously has AFL experience so if he gets a full season, he wins it.

MARCUS: Very exciting. I think he finished second in last year’s count which was a surprise to me with all due respect to Jordan Stewart, but Jake Barclay wins Pakenham’s best-and-fairest as long as he doesn’t miss time through concussion protocols. He is always in and under and seems to get whacked a lot, putting his head in the wrong spots. He’s a talismanic leader in the midfield who provides drive.

JONTY: I’m giving Cranbourne’s to Zak Roscoe, the consistent midfielder who catches the eye and now has a leadership title which I anticipate will see him elevate to the next level.

MARCUS: At Emerald, I’m giving it to Josh Rich. A big-bodied midfielder who will be better suited to Premier Division than many of his teammates. When the heat was on in the finals series last year, he consistently stood up. He could win the big ball in the middle, get it to the outside players and generate a lot of scores.

JONTY: Okay. My pick at Doveton is Ricky Johnson who I understand will play on the wing. Took a big step forward last season and outside of a concussion in preseason, has been firing. He runs so hard and is so brave, would be a dream to coach.

MARCUS: Finally, Gembrook-Cockatoo. I’m going to go for Damien Volta. He’s played a lot of footy at a higher level. He’s very highly regarded at Gembrook-Cockatoo and will play a big role in a midfield with guys like Aaron Firrito and Josh Tilly who are young and impressive talents but still finding their way. He’s probably their best midfielder. I’m expecting him to step up to the responsibility.

JONTY: That wraps it up for another Dave-less edition of LTS, we’ll feel less naked with his return next week.