By Matt Fotia
Cranbourne is the place to be in 2020 according to Senior coaches Steve O’Brien and Donna Wilson with the Eagles boasting a bunch of returning stars and some juniors on the rise.
Cranbourne’s 2019 pre-season was interrupted to say the least.
The club was denied in its application to enter the MPFNL and was the last of the former SEFNL clubs to officially join the AFL Outer East. The limbo the club found itself in saw a number of star players leave the club, with heavy hearts.
But after an impressive 2019 season, which despite some severely tested depth, saw the club make the semi finals, the Eagles have welcomed a host of players as they look to return to the top perch.
Club legend Marc Holt returns from Karingal along with Brandon Wapshott, Rylan Smith and Troy Tharle have jumped back on board after some time at Cora Lynn, whilst Mitch Lindsay (Pearcedale), Curtis Baker (Seaford) and Ryan Goold (Glen Waverley) will also pull on the Blue and Yellow in 2020.
Coach Steve O’Brien thinks this healthy injection of experience will boost the Eagles ahead of the 2020 season.
“Getting a few of the old boys back will be good, we were a very young outfit last year, so to get a bit of experience back, it’ll hold us in pretty good stead.”
O’Brien says the promising results from 2019 and a desire to end their footballing careers at their true home were the main reasons for the influx of returning stars.
“A lot of them came down and watched us in the finals last year and probably got a bit of a kick out of seeing the young guys who had progressed,”
“And at the end of the day, Cranbourne is their home, some of them are life members of the football club so they wanted to come back and make sure they finish their careers here at Cranbourne.”
The added depth will allow O’Brien to manage his list and avoid injury – and holiday – driven slumps.
“It gives us a bit of depth, which we really struggled with at times last year, especially when we had half a dozen blokes go overseas for about seven or eight weeks, which won’t be happening again,”
“But yes, it gives us a bit more depth if we do have injuries or if we want to rest blokes and manage the list.”
It hasn’t just been good news on the transfer front for the Eagles. Two Anthony’s (Burr and Vella) have crossed over to Eastern Football Netball League Premier Division outfit Noble Park for varying reasons.
“Burry wanted to try and test himself at Eastern Premier level and take on a new challenge at Noble Park and Vells might’ve been pushed by Casey VFL to head across with him,”
“He thinks that might help him get more games at the next level, so it sort of forced his hand, which is a bit unfortunate for us.”
2019’s tumultuous start didn’t just have an impact on playing personnel, it also hindered O’Brien’s long term planning as he took a year to reconsolidate his list. But with some more certainty ahead of the 2020 season the Eagles will be back on course.
“We’re looking to expand on what we did last year, we had to take a step back in terms of my plan because we lost a lot of players and we had a lot of new players in,”
“So it’s probably just about taking that next step, making slight little adjustments to how we want to play and then obviously 12 months in the competition and seeing the other sides and some of the other grounds and then making the necessary adjustments there.”
The impressive list of ins, along with some promising performances in the back half of last season sees a number of people touting Cranbourne as a challenger to Narre Warren’s throne.
And O’Brien is open to the possibility.
“We’re open with it (their goals for 2020),”
“We see no reason why we shouldn’t be playing finals and we think if we put our best foot forward plus a bit of luck, we think we could challenge,”
“That’s got to be our mindset, thats what we’re here for, blokes like Marc Holt and that have come back to win a premiership at the Cranbourne Football Club and we want to challenge.”
2019 was another strong year on the netball court for Cranbourne. Another A Grade Grand Final appearance, a C Grade Premiership and plenty of junior success. For Head Coach Donna Wilson that momentum has carried forward into 2020.
“We had a very successful year as a whole club, rather than just A Grade and pretty much 100 percent of our list has been retained which is really good and it’s creating a really good feeling around the place,”
“The whole club is building not just A Grade.”
This whole club approach has been a major focus for Wilson for as long as she has been in the role, as she looks to make sure Cranbourne are always a prominent netball force.
“When I took over the focus was building from the bottom up so that we had players ready for A Grade and that focus has really paid off – we’ve got so many young players up in the seniors now,”
“With Cranbourne the four senior coaches all take a junior team as well so we can build them ready to transform into the seniors.”
Even though the season is just a little over a month away, Cranbourne are still well and truly in the fitness block of their pre-season as they look to build a core of endurance amongst the squad.
“We are still in the fitness part of the pre-season, we’ve been on the court maybe 10 minutes this year and the rest has been strength and conditioning, the girls are working hard and the results are showing.”
With 2019 still leaving some room for improvement across all grades, Wilson is making sure that there is consistency in the personnel turning up each weekend for their A Grade side and that they don’t leave themselves to much work to do in the back half of the year.
“Each team is different, but the main focus in A Grade is to have a full season with a consistent squad of players, which we haven’t been able to do that recently with injuries and holidays,”
“We also want to start building momentum from the start rather than waiting for the finals to kick start us,”
“There is no point looking ahead, we are definitely taking it one week at a time and it’s a long way away, but we got so close last year (in A Grade) so of course we want to take it out this year.”