Central Highlands Football League – 2017 Round 1 preview
THE Central Highlands FL has never started a season any earlier than this year with the race for the next premiership getting underway as early as is possible, 1st April.
This early start is not going to mean that it will be a case of gradually winding into action though with many really enticing local derbies and the grand final rematch from 2016. No club has ever won three CHFL premierships in succession since the leagues inception in 1979 but Springbank appear as well placed as any to achieve this. There will be at least two big changes in this round 1 match compared to the final clash at Alfredton last year, one key forward for each team has moved on. Springbank’s super forward Paul McMahon has transferred to Torquay in the Bellarine FNL and Buninyong’s Joel Ottavi has been added to Essendon’s VFL list.
Ottavi’s progression is particularly impressive as he has never played at any club other than Buninyong until this opportunity. Springbank will be relying on essentially the same list that they had in 2016 apart from McMahon. The major addition at this stage is co-coach Nick Couch’s brother Mitch. Couch brings good experience having played 20 senior matches in the strong Hampden FNL. Aside from this the Tigers appear to be relying on the continuing maturation of their many juniors who became important elements of last year’s premiership. Jesse Galea, Mitch Keighrey and prime mid fielder Joel Maher are sure to improve further this year. Buninyong meanwhile have been adding two quality players who will be vital in replacing some who have moved on. Fraser Russell joins the club after a number of seasons on Carlton’s rookie list and playing for the Northern Blues in the VFL. He was an elite junior athlete so should enjoy the open spaces of Buninyong. This appears to be a deliberate attempt by Jarrod Morgan to add some extra speed to a team which has found this area of the game a bit of a problem in some recent finals series. The depth of their strong bodied midfield has been added to with the recruitment of Isaac Baker from Torquay. Baker has played representative football with the BFNL and also played 25 senior matches at the dominant Geelong FNL club South Barwon. This is going to be a great start to the season for the league with a big crowd at Buninyong guaranteed. Two other 2016 finalists are going to square off early with Daylesford hosting Beaufort.
Daylesford made a superb late run at the finals last year and then caused an upset in the elimination final against Waubra before Gordon had to work hard to stop their finals campaign. Two key losses for Daylesford will be difficult to overcome, Michael Cummings and Jordan Alexander, have both transferred to other clubs and their influence will be missed.
It will be up to a number of returning juniors Will Austin, Zac Tisdale and Jack Nulty to attempt to fill this void. However they are going to be a young side again this year but the enthusiasm that comes with youth proved fruitful in 2016.
Beaufort meanwhile was very disappointed at being knocked out in the elimination final last year, the second year in a row this had occurred. They have made an effort to address their perceived weaknesses and in doing so have added two very good players who will have an influence in this league. Tom Stapleton arrives from Ballarat where he has a reputation as a player who has a very hard attack on the ball and provides teammates with many opportunities. Also the three Howard brothers have been reunited after their success at North Ballarat City in the BFNL with Sam joining the Crows.
He has been a player who expertly brings his teammates into the game with an excellent ability to select the correct option. These two will add to an already strongly competitive unit who may well be ready to move into the top four this year. A number of local derbies will also feature this weekend with Gordon and Ballan sure to be fierce clash even though Ballan appear to be undermanned with a number of players moving away from the club at the end of the year. The Blues biggest pickup has been the return of Ash Mullane to his home club from Lake Wendouree. Mullane featured in BFNL finals in 2015 but struggled to cement a senior spot last year.
Jason McNamara in his first year as coach is going to need to work hard at bringing though a good batch of juniors. Unfortunately the powerful Gordon will make the first lesson a hard one. The Eagles has one of the recruiting coups of the season with the addition of Cameron Richardson to their list. Richardson played eight matches for North Melbourne before 80 VFL matches at North Ballarat but it was his impact for Bacchus Marsh during the BFNL final series last year which highlighted the impact he will have in the CHFL.
He still showed the ability to dominant matches and impact on the flow of the game single handed. Bungaree have lost many from the strong teams of the past few years and may be tested by Dunnstown who were very competitive for much of last season. The Demons welcome Zac Denham back to the club after a couple of years playing in other leagues across the nation and have added promising Newlyn youngster Harry Russell. However they will have big shoes to fill with the departures of Chris O’Keefe, Marty Dufty, Jason Linke, Jordan Payne and Mitch Bruns.
Dunnstown meanwhile have added a number of youngsters who have been recruited out of the Ovens & Murray FL reserves competition. It will be very interesting to see how these fit into the Towners unit and where the club con find the improvement to move into finals contention. Newlyn had a slow start to their recruiting campaign but in the past few weeks Dan Wehrung and Chris Dwyer have added some very interesting players who will have opposition clubs keeping an eye out to see how they settle into CHFL football. Liam McGregor has played matches for NT Thunder in the NEAFL in the past year on top of four seasons in the NTFL senior competition. He will be joined by three players out of the Sunraysia Mallee region Nathan Hura, Dylan Fishwick and Alex Morrish all of who have spent the summer in the Northern Territory competitions. Hepburn on the other hand added a number of players from across the Northern suburbs of Melbourne to their list. Luke Stanton, Aaron Burns, Thomas Godsell and Sean Salmon have all played many senior matches across a range of competitions and will bring a great deal of experience to the Burras. The return of Daniel Rees to Hepburn will also be welcomed. Before three seasons of senior football with the strong Horsham Saints in the Wimmera FNL Rees was a key member of the Hepburn unit. Clunes and Skipton both found it difficult to get a victory last year and they will both be out to get an early jump for 2017. Neither club has been very active in recruiting during the preseason with possibly the biggest recruiting coup for either side has been the appointment of Greg Middleton as coach at Skipton. A CHFL premiership coach with Bungaree he will bring a fresh approach to the Emus and has an excellent crop of juniors to develop over the season. Clunes will again welcome back Lachlan Hind who will add some speed around the ground for the Magpies.
Carngham Linton is also welcoming back a number of juniors to the club. Alistair Francis has returned after a year back home at Harrow Balmoral and the return of Mitch Crosier after a strong junior career will be a bonus.
Probably the Saints biggest addition to the list is another junior Nick O’Brien who has nominated Carngham Linton as his interchange club if he doesn’t get a VFL match at Essendon.
O’Brien was runner up in the 2016 SANFL Margery Medal and if he gets the chance to play in the CHFL there will be a big crowd to welcome him home. The Saints will like their chances this week against Creswick who struggled last year and don’t look to have added many high end players to the list under the direction of Ryan Knowles for the first time this year. Sam Gibson played his juniors at Creswick but shifted to Buninyong in 2015 and was a good senior player so he will be an important recruit back into the Wickers midfield. On Sunday neighbours Learmonth and Waubra will clash next to the Lake. Waubra have recruited many who have come out of BFNL reserve sides and in recent years they have had some success with this strategy so they will be keen to see which of the recruits can step up to a higher level in senior football.
Learmonth meanwhile will welcome Jason Rae who up until 2016 was an important member at Gordon. They also are mainly adding former BFNL reserve players to top up their list. With Smythesdale not having a senior side in 2017 Rokewood Corindhap have a bye before facing Learmonth in round 2.