2023, the year the squad mentality is needed more than ever

Posted on - Latest News, Premier Men's, Featured

Joe Pignataro

Every year, no matter what level of football, the Premiership coach wheels out a handful of lines in the post mortem that have become part of the fluent language of Australian rules football. 

One of those lines that has always stuck with me is how often the coach pays tribute to the 22 players on the day, but is quick to reference it takes good form leading in, good luck with injuries, and the whole squad of players to get through the season to reach the promised land. 

After 13 weeks of the home and away season, more players than ever before in the last decade of William Buck Premier have been called upon to play in the seniors. Sides decimated with injuries and off-season retirements (think Old Melburnians), others with pre-season transfers out (consider Caulfield Grammarians), and the well-worn European travel (someone needs to ground all planes out of Old Brighton). 

Heading into the final five weeks of the season, clubs will continue to flip magnets, call on under 19’s, have conversations to regain players from VFL sides in the run to finals, and the race to avoid relegation. 

Perhaps a contradiction from the coaches to the squad mentality is the need for stability in the side. A stable team without regular changes each week is a significant help for the coaching staff and the messaging to the troops.  

Collegians and University Blacks head into their ding-dong battle at the Harry Trott Oval with the least number of players used through the first 13 rounds. 

15 of the 35 players used by Dale Bower have played 12 or 13 games this year. For a side that’s come up from Premier B, the consistency is paying dividends in the last month. 

Four wins in a row with an average winning margin of 29 points. There’s belief in Blacks, an internal knowing that they belong in the VAFA’s top-flight. 

Josh Steadman has almost locked himself into the spot as the competitions number #1 ruckman, his co-captain Campbell Moorfield is the competitions #1 intercept defender, with Lachie Knight as a top #5 midfielder. 

Collegians will prove to be the biggest test of the season to date. Jared Rivers men are far and away the competitions #1 seed. 36 players have been called upon. 

The depth of the Lions is there, particularly in the forward half; Dave Mirra will miss, Alex Lukic is ready. 

Will Mayhood has been the find of the season, his versatility will prove to be the area the Lions can expose Blacks around the ground. Moorfields work for Blacks is mirrored by Sofrinidis work for Collegians. Knight will send it forward one-way, King Kenny likewise the other. 

If Blacks bring their absolute best, this is set up to be a special homecoming for Handsome Dipper, Josh Heriot to get back behind the microphone on RSN Xtra from 1pm in the VAFA’s Match of the Day. 

Year Premier Players Used 9th team Players Used 10th team Players Used
2022 St Kevin’s 39 Old Trinity 42 St Bernard’s 44
2019 Uni Blues 35 De La Salle 46 Old Carey 47
2018 St Kevin’s 47 Old Scotch 42 St Bede’s 42
2017 St Kevin’s 43 Uni Blacks 43 Beaumaris 41
2016 Old Xaverians 43 St Bernard’s 42 Old Carey 41
2015 St Bernard’s 38 Old Scotch 47 Beaumaris 54
2014 Uni Blacks 36 Old Brighton 39 St Bede’s 43
2013 Old Xaverians 42 Uni Blues 45 Old Carey 41
2012 Collegians 39 Old Trinity 42 Caulfield 50
2011 Collegians 42 Old Melb 47 Old Haileybury 43

Pre-COVID you never would have dreamed up a situation like this. The red and black mafia, Old Xaverians against their biggest rivals Old Scotch playing at the home base of St Kevin’s, TH King Oval this weekend. 

Have these sides mellowed under the regime of three Presidents who are akin to Phil, Alan and Stu from The Hangover? The three best friends that anyone could have. 

While it’s all fun and games off the field, and it’s been a positive move to have sides come to the aid of the Old Xaverians while they spend 2023 as nomads. On the field, the Cardinals can’t take this match laying down or in a friendly manner. 

Mark Gnatt has had seven of his troops play every game this year. Old Xav’s have had two. A staggering 49 players have been asked to pull on the red and black jumper this year. 

Consistency has not been key and for the second time this year they’re staring down the barrel of a third straight loss. 

We’ve seen the best and worst of Old Scotch in the past month. If they want to remain a genuine top two contender, they have to bring their best. It’s been far too long for anyone to remember the last time the Cardinals beat Xav’s twice in a calendar year. That could change on Saturday, and we can put down the history books. 


In 2022, Old Brighton played off in the Grand Final with 46 players used for the year. With five games left; 48 have been called upon. Tom Fisher is the only player to have played all 13 games. 

It’s been a head scratching season for Dan Donati. 

Down the road at Old Melburnians, Paul Satterley has another unwanted record he can timidly raise the bat for. Round 13 saw them bring up player #50 for the 2023 season. They’re on track to go past the 52 players they used in 2018. 

Off-season retirements to key players, contact injuries have forced long lay offs.

Much like the thought bubble around Xav’s and Scotch playing at St Kevin’s. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would have said that after last year’s Round 18 “elimination final” between these sides at Brighton Beach Oval. The game this weekend could almost seal the fate of Old Melburnians in 2023 and resign them to a spot in Premier B in 2024. 

Likewise, an OM’s victory over the Tonners would dispel any pulse the red and blue have of going on another fairytale run to September. 

Ben Harding has been an elite recruit, he and Lachie Haysman the only two at OM’s who’ve played every game this year. It’s been a long time between drinks for OM’s at Brighton Beach Oval, the last six down at the bay have fallen the way of the homeside by an average of 39 points. 

First quarters have been the focus of this column in recent weeks (0/13 is the count for those playing at home), a strong start and coming in at the first change with a lead would go a long way to OM’s causing an upset. 

2022 ladder Players Used 2019 ladder Players Used 2018 ladder Players Used
St Kevins 39 Uni Blues 35 St Kevin’s 47
Collegians 38 Old Xaverians 40 Collegians 46
Old Xaverians 43 Collegians 45 Old Brighton 48
Old Brighton 46 St Kevins 44 Old Trinity 41
Old Melb 40 Old Brighton 37 Uni Blues 41
Old Scotch 43 Old Melburnians 39 De La Salle 44
Caulfield 40 St Bernards 40 Old Xaverians 45
Uni Blues 39 Old Trinity 43 Old Melburnians 52
Old Trinity 42 De La Salle 46 Old Scotch 42
St Bernards 44 Old Carey 47 St Bede’s 42
Total 414 Total 416 Total 448

Caulfield Grammarians are at the point of the season that they know where they’re going in 2024. With an eye to the future the opportunities on the field are being given to strong performing under 19 players. 

Short term pain for long-term gain under Bluey McKenna. 48 players have been asked to stand up, including reserves coach Jonno Nash who finished the game last week as the ruckman with an injury to Sam Haffenden. 

St Kevin’s have had to mix and match at different times throughout the year. The first of the three premierships saw them use 43 players, they’re likely to go past that number before September, currently at 42. 

The last six weeks have been a St Kevin’s we aren’t accustomed to. A 3-3 record and one score over 75 points. The run to the finals is favourable to the reigning premiers. Getting there is all that matters, and then the real stuff starts. 

2011 was the last time Caulfield tasted success against St Kevin’s. Expect that drought to continue into 2024 and beyond. 

Old Haileybury has turned a corner. Three wins from their last four matches. The gap between their best and their not so good has closed. University Blues have proven the thumping against Collegians was a blip on the radar. 

35 players leaned on, equal first with their counterparts University Blacks. The gap however between the best of Blues, and the worst of Blues is a gulf they’ll need to close before September. 

Guy Martyn has been missing key players throughout parts of the year. Dane Crognale, Sam Grimley, Eddie Ziebarth, Jack Stephens, Charlie Furphy. He’s got a majority of them back in business now. 

James Magner and Sam Gilbert have added AFL experience to the modus operandi of the Bloods. Brede Seccull, Brodie Steele and Josh Gaspirini are midfield accumulators. 

Can they counter Tom Cutler, Matt Crocker and Meyrick Buchanan though? 

Ayce Cordy v Lachie Treverton in the ruck, the #1 and #2 for hitouts will be brilliant to watch.  

Players Used (After Rnd 13) Total 13 Games 12 Games 11 Games 10 Games 9 Games 8 Games 7 Games 6 Games 5 Games 4 Games 3 Games 2 Games 1 Game
University Blacks 35 8 7 3 1 2 1 2 1 2 5 3
University Blues 35 3 6 4 3 1 1 4 3 1 2 6 1
Collegians 36 5 3 3 2 4 4 3 2 1 4 2 1 2
Old Haileybury 37 4 5 5 3 2 2 2 1 2 2 3 2 4
Old Scotch 40 7 2 2 3 2 1 4 3 4 3 2 2 5
St Kevins 42 6 3 2 4 1 3 1 4 3 3 7 5
Old Brighton 48 1 2 1 5 3 5 2 6 5 5 2 5 6
Caulfield Grammarians 48 2 3 2 4 1 5 4 5 1 3 4 6 8
Old Xaverians 49 2 5 6 7 2 4 2 4 6 7 4
Old Melburnians 50 2 1 3 2 6 3 3 3 3 8 4 7 5

The squad mentality will be critical to all sides in the final five weeks of the season. Top four spots are on the line, climbing out of the bottom two is still relevant. 

It’s been a year like no other with the amount of players that have been used to date, for reference 414 were used in 2022, 416 in 2019, and 448 in 2018. 

420 have played already in 2023 with five weeks to go. We’re on track to go beyond 450 by the time we reach the finals.