The time for talking is over. Step up and walk the walk in 2023

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Joe Pignataro

I’ve got my scarf, got my old coat, I’ve got a footy game to go to. 

I’m sure I’ve heard those words muttered, said, and sung many times over the years. 

As Saturday fast approaches it’s great to have VAFA footy back in 2023. 

It’s now time for the teams in the top flight to stop the talk, and start the walk. I’m looking forward to seeing what the 131st year of the competition puts up for us all to assess, analyse and discuss. 

This pre-season has brought much change to William Buck Premier, will 2023 see a new Premier crowned or will the golden era of St Kevin’s continue? 

Either way, all 10 clubs enter this opening weekend with plenty of hope. 

Four Grand Finals in a row, three premierships. SKOB are a genuine force and this run is one of the all time greats. A playing group that is 95% from the College. Home-grown talent led by a club-champion has been a key pillar of sustained success for the boys of T H King. 

The addition of Mitch Wallis, and the return of brother Josh Wallis to the line-up make this team even more irresistible. 

The reigning premiers went through 2022 as the #1 side for attack (85.1 points per game), and #1 for defence (a measly 51.1 points conceded). The 18-man press was in full swing on Grand Final day, as they kept Old Brighton to three goals for the afternoon. 

On the road in round 1, they’ll face the Premier B premiers Old Haileybury to open their campaign. More of the same for St Kevin’s in 2023, and will look to start this year the way they’ve started every season since 2017 – An opening round victory. 

Significant off-field change at the 2022 runners up. Xav’s legend, Dan Donati is the new coach of the Tonners. The master coach of local footy has found his way to Brighton Beach Oval. 

Number one in so many areas through 2022, can they keep their grunt, and composure in check throughout this year as they look to climb the mountain and go one step further this year? 

No Anthony Zimmerman to excite us this year. While Darby Hipwell, Felix Flockhart, Max Kennedy are a few players we’ll expect to see playing in the VFL as the year unfolds. 

The return of a fully-fit Lochie Filipovic is a sight for sore eyes at BBO. On his day, he is close to the #1 ruckman in William Buck Premier. Supported at his feet is the #1 midfielder in the competition, Harry Hill. Last year’s dual Woodrow Medallist. 

What will Donati do with Will Lewis? He finished the abandoned 2021 season atop the goalkicking list with 33, the Tonners found more strings to the Lewis bow during the finals run of 2022 he was playing at fullback.

The first challenge that awaits the Tonners are the boys from Uni Blacks, who have spent the summer smarting over what might have been in the Premier B Grand Final. 

Collegians, the Collingwood of the VAFA in 2022. At the end of the abandoned 2021 season, they were languishing in ninth spot. At the beginning of round nine last year, they were seventh. 

From 19 games, they’d won five. And, it all changed. 10 wins in a row, one after the other. They became the “fun team” to watch, the competition’s entertainers under Jared Rivers. The club took us on a journey that all associated with the purple army hopes to continue this year. 

Alex Lukic (former Old Scotch) has aligned himself with the Lions, when he’s not playing VFL he’ll make the attack look even more potent with Dave Mirra, and Ed Greene

The midfielders of King Kenny Ong, never-say-die Sam Hibbins, smooth-moving Vic Michie, led by big-time Singleton in the ruck. 

Of course, Jared Rivers is one to tone down the excitement, despite my willingness to pump them up. His favourite players in the Collegians line-up come from the back half of the ground, Matt Warren, Luke McCleary, Tyler Atkinson, and Ben Howard

A well-balanced side that is unstoppable on their day. Round 1, against the long-standing Premier rivals Old Xav’s is where we’ll be for the first RSN Extra match of the day, clear the diary Collegians fans, this will be fun to watch.

Old Xaverians will be an intriguing watch throughout 2023. With Toorak Park being redeveloped and out of action, the club will play the majority of their home games at Xavier College in 2023, with five games scheduled at the school and the remaining four currently listed as TBC.

The ‘nomads’ go into this year’s campaign with an added incentive. Celebrating 100 years of red and black excitement. Key inclusions have aligned themselves with the red and black mafia this year – Sam Naismith, Dan Hannebery, Billy Gowers, Josh Green.  

There’s an aura about Old Xav’s, there always has been. Every club builds themselves up for the contest against the dominators. 

First up, Collegians. These sides are the two longest-serving sides in the VAFA’s top-flight. Old Xaverians have featured in every A-section season since 1992. In that time, Xav’s have played off in 16 Grand Finals, winning 13. Collegians since 2006. If anyone knows how to win a Premiership in their centenary season, it’s Collegians. 

Both sides are continuously around the mark and preach excellence from the top down. Their most recent encounter was a classic that put the run to the finals wide open. 

2022 was there for the taking at OM’s, and it all came crashing down on the eve of September. 

Key personnel changes with retirements of Tom Paule, Nick De Steiger, Oscar Hosking. Sam Dunnell opted to change leagues. A large chunk of experience leaves the old dark navy blues.

A summer of recruiting has welcomed handy inclusions in place of those departing. Dylan Clarke (Essendon), Ben Harding (WA), Harry Prendegast (Old Carey) and Jacob Thompson (EDFL) have all joined the club. 

Jackson Paine voted in as club skipper, they’re looking to a new dawn with Josh Freezer taking one step back from leadership roles. Freeze will still be planted in the defensive 50 and facing the opposition’s number one forward every week. 

Reigning Woodrow Medallist Gus Borthwick will miss the opening part of the year, recovering from an ACL tear. Opportunities await the younger midfielders under Paul Satterley’s watch to step up and make the midfield spot their own. 

If you listened to Grumpy Brian Waldron throughout 2022. The Cardinals window of opportunity has just opened. 

They have the blueprint, the players, and the coach to propel them from the middle of the William Buck Premier ladder, into the top four. 

Senior experience with Andrew Jelbart, Aidan Franetic, Ben Hays, Brodie Easton, Arion Richter-Salter and returning to the club Jordan Clarke after a year away. Youthful exuberance of Tyler Sellers, Harry Stubbings, Hugh Longbottom, Ryan Valentine

It’s all set up for Mark Gnatt, the club has shown the faith in him, and he’s shown the faith in his young troops, who have now had two seasons in A-Section under Gnatty to get an understanding of the rigours that come with playing in the VAFA’s top tier. 

Brilliant wins last season cemented their belief, they were no flukes. It happened more than once. 

The points scandal extinguished the University Blues 2022 campaign. Guy Martyn and the club have put that behind them, and eyes firmly looking through the front windscreen of the bus. 

On-field in 2022, Blues had to do a lot of chasing in games, leaving themselves with little wiggle room for error. 

This year, they’ve added some additional grunt to the engine room with Dane Crognale, “the best from the west” moving across from Caulfield. Key players Marty Gleeson, Ayce Cordy, Sam Grimley, Cam O’Shea have all recommitted for the 2023 season. 

The additions of Crognale, and Tom Cutler (Essendon) are significant for the Blues. 

The biggest contest for Blues will come in Round 2. The last chapter in this storied history was written in Round 11 of the 2017 season. When the ball is bounced for this match – 2,121 days will have elapsed since Blues and Blacks clashed at the Uni Main. Blacks last tasted success over the Blues in Round 10 of 2013

2022 never got going for the Fields. Hampered by injuries to key pillars from the opening bounce of the season. 

It will be a vastly different side that runs out this weekend against Old Scotch. 

Retirements to Declain Rielly, Keegan Stewart, Isaac Morrisby. Moves elsewhere for Jared Risol, Georgio Varigiannis, Will Barker, Angus Cameron, Chris Diggle, Sam Dorevitch, Lachie Harris, Lachie Stephens, Ingo Dammersmith.

In amongst the list of changes, Will Edwards (2022 captain) and Jack Wallace (2022 vice-captain) have also moved on from the club. Fresh faces, and fresh leaders will be installed to support Guy McKenna having replaced Simon Williams as coach. 

On the field, it will look like a brand new team running at out Glen Huntly Oval. This is an opportunity for the Fields to start fresh with a new set of tyres. 

Uni Blacks return to William Buck Premier as the runners up of the 2022 Premier B Grand Final. The Blacks completed the last three seasons to have been played in heartbreaking fashion. Losing Preliminary Finals in Premier B in 2018 and 2019, plus a 5-point loss in last year’s decider. 

Nevertheless, they’re here now. And the formline they bring into A-Section is a sight to behold. For all the praise St Kevin’s defence receives, the Blacks conceded a staggering 42.4 points per game in 2022. They come into this year’s campaign having won 26 of their previous 29 matches.

The headline recruit to join Blacks over the off-season Oscar McDonald, after plying his trade at AFL level, he will be a regular in Dale Bower’s line up. 

Blacks won’t need a lot of pushing, and prodding to get themselves into the year. This is a proud football club that feels like they belong in A-Grade, they’ll be breathing fire against the Tonners on Saturday. 

It was a finals campaign to remember for Old Haileybury in 2022. A last-gasp victory over Fitzroy in the knockout final, a thumping win over Beaumaris to earn promotion and a spot in the big dance. A gritty, gutsy, determined victory to return to William Buck Premier for the first time since 2011 as Premiers. 

Jack Lonie, arguably the most influential in the Haileybury line-up has left the club. And, they won’t be able to call on Kye Turner’s defensive heroics after earning a spot on Melbourne’s AFL list in February. 

Stef Martin will pull the jumper on though, under coach Daniel Ward. There has been much intrigue over the signature of Sam Gilbert, approved and then cancelled, at this stage of writing, pending. 

He’ll be a focal point for them, right throughout the year but will cause a headache or two for St Kevin’s after the club unfurls its premiership flag this weekend. 

There are 90 games for us to work our way through before we finish with the top four. The first installment of the 90 will unfold this weekend. 

To say I’m excited is an understatement, I’m bouncing out of my skin, and can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store. 

In the words of Greg Champion: Footy’s on, footy’s here again, back to greet me like an old friend. 


Top 4 

1st: St Kevin’s, 2nd: Old Xaverians, 3rd: Old Brighton, 4th: Collegians

Grand Final

Old Xaverians vs. Old Brighton


Old Brighton

Woodrow Medal

Kenny Ong; Collegians & Mitch Wallis; St Kevin’s

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