It’s time to get the pie warmers fired up, the goal-post pads wrapped around the big sticks, and get all the wonderful volunteers ready for action as we begin another fantastic season of MPNFL football and netball.
We begin with our first footy preview of the season, with Rye hosting Pearcedale on Saturday and Devon Meadows rolling out the red carpet for Karingal in what promises to be an exciting Sunday showdown.
Don’t forget to download the GameFace App where you’ll find footy and netball previews, all the team lists, club notes, and so much more.
On behalf of AFL South East…have a great 2019 season!
By David Nagel
Rye and Pearcedale will share the privilege of breaking the summer-football drought when the Demons and Panthers square off in the 2019 Chisholm MPNFL Division Two season opener at RJ Rowley Reserve.
Saturday’s stand-alone game begins an exciting time for both clubs, with long-time assistant Adam Kirkwood taking over the senior reins from Josh Moore at Rye, with Justin Hamilton replacing Leigh Stewart at Pearcedale.
Both teams won six games in 2018, with Pearcedale adding a draw to finish seventh while the Demons suffered injuries and slipped to ninth after a four-two start to the season.
Kirkwood concedes there are teams with better credentials heading in, but refused to rule out a strong showing from the Demons this season.
“Obviously Red Hill heads in off the back of a great year and Langwarrin was a smoky last year and has added a touch of class, and then there are teams like Chelsea and Karingal who will also have high expectations,” Kirkwood said.
“But we’re not putting a ceiling on what we can achieve, we’ve recruited very strategically to fill some holes that we recognised from last year and our under-19s did play in a preliminary final.
“We’ll definitely get games into those kids and build on what Josh (Moore) has put in place, but I think the ability is there to be really competitive against all opposition if we bring our A-Game.”
The Demons pin-point recruiting policy began in the ruck, with injuries to key talls causing the undersized Matt McIndoe to battle bigger bodies last year. The Demons have filled the void by signing 31-year-old Sorrento premiership player Ryan Williams, who joins good friend Tyrren Head at Demonland.
Head, Kirkwood, McIndoe and Williams will be relied on heavily this year, while new skipper Harry Whitty is entering the prime of his career as a 28-year-old. Josh Curren is an interesting recruit from Mt Eliza after splitting his time between the seniors and reserves last year.
The Dales, well they’re going to be a new-look outfit this season.
Hamilton, a premiership player at Cranbourne and former coach of Cora Lynn, has lost a wealth of experience with 2018 captain Dan Heijden making the move to Brisbane to further his working career.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Hamilton, with star midfielder Luke Dalmau leading a pack of former Panthers to Division-One champions Pines.
Also heading to the Pythons are Troy Jacobson, Billy Kennedy and Damien Scully, while star ruckman Harry Prior has Hamilton’s blessing as heads to the Frankston Bombers.
“We’ve lost some good talent, there’s no doubt about that, but we’re not going to stop players from playing a higher level of football,” Hamilton said.
“We’ve had great numbers on the track and have a group of players that are really prepared to listen, and some of the players we’ve brought in are pretty handy as well.”
Headlining that list is Cranbourne premiership player Max Gearon, who had an interrupted season at Mornington last year, while Daniel and Jordyn Baker, Jordy Leinmueller and Chace Struth are other former Eagles to have flown the coup at Casey Fields.
Luke Adams is a classy prospect from Officer, while Declan O’Donnell (Doveton) and Trent Robertson (Stony Creek) will give Panthers’ supporters something to cheer about on a weekly basis.
The Panthers have played patches of good footy against Doveton and Oakleigh Districts in the lead-in, with the bedding in of a new game plan the top priority.
Hamilton and new skipper Travis Bravo take on a Demons outfit that will be well prepared for their round-one engagement.
After a solid preparation – taking on Division One hopefuls Edi-Asp and Rosebud – Kirkwood can’t wait for the season proper to finally roll around.
“We’ve had a good preparation, keeping some history alive against those two clubs, but this is what it’s all about, playing for the four points,” Kirkwood said.
“Pearcedale is in a similar position to us, with a new coach and no-one expecting much from outside so it should be a pretty good contest. It’s exciting to be opening the season and we can’t wait to put our best foot forward.”
The Demons have a terrific record at home against the Dales, having last conceded premiership points in a 13.20.98 to 15.8.98 draw in round 16, 2013.
It’s the Demons to win by 23 points.
Devon Meadows v Karingal
Former Cranbourne champion Marc Holt will make his long-awaited debut for Karingal when the Bulls open their 2019 campaign against Devon Meadows at Glover Reserve on Sunday.
It’s hard to keep a lid on this recruiting coup with the 33-year-old one of the great full-forwards in the recent era of country football.
After 1000 goals and a decade of dominance with the Eagles, Holt’s vice-like grip of the football is sure to thrill fans from right across the Peninsula.
Returning coach Brendan Dunne – who coached the Bulls from 2010 to 2013 and was an assistant coach last year – said his star recruit had already made quite the impact on his new club.
“He’s built himself a wonderful reputation as a footballer, but deep down he’s just the ultimate club person who loves winning games of football,” Dunne said.
“When you sit down and talk to him you realise he has a very high football IQ and a great knowledge of the game. He’s definitely brought an air of excitement to the club that’s for sure.”
While Holt is the prized possession, the Bulls have also been strengthened by the return of Dale Alanis, after five years at Hastings, while Matt Robinson (Rowville) and Connor Leslie (Whittlesea) have made strong first impressions.
Alanis and Robinson will join forces as deputies to new skipper Andy Mathers.
Devon Meadows, well it also has a new coach with Neil Craig taking on his first senior coaching role after being an assistant at Mt Eliza last year.
The Panthers lose Kyle Beveridge to Red Hill but replenish their stocks with a wide range of recruits.
Following Craig from Mt Eliza to Glover Reserve are Anthony Cleary and Riley Thorpe, with Lachlan Moss making the move from Bayswater to add some strength to the midfield. Harris Elkasovic and Simon Hallsworth will add strength to the big-man department, while Mat Fletcher takes over as captain after a standout first year at the club.
“The pieces of the puzzle are all there, it’s just a matter of getting it all to fit together,” Craig said.
“We just want to see improvement from last year and be in contention until very late in the season. If we could sneak a final or two that would be a great result for the club.”
Dunne expects the MPNFL Division Two competition to have improved depth in 2019.
“I think it’s a lot stronger competition than last year and probably bats seven or eight deep,” he said.
“The ultimate aim is to play finals and grab that double chance and anything can happen from there, but we’ve got a tough start because Devon (Meadows) can play some very good footy at home.”
It will be a battle for the Bulls – but they’ll bank their first win of the season with a 17-point victory.