Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead
The off-season we’ve recently endured has been littered with speculation and rumour but, unlike years gone passed, genuine outcomes have arisen as a result.
No less than 14 AFL-listed players have filed for transfers into the VAFA with 12 of those heading to William Buck Premier clubs. The two outliers – former Essendon FC midfielders Jason Ashby and Will Hams – will ply their trade for Old Carey in Premier B and help the Panthers regroup after suffering relegation in 2016.
There’s a number of reasons AFL players are heading for our Association; including, the restrictions of AFL Victoria’s Player Salary Cap Policy, the prospect of building a career outside of football via the elite networking capabilities of our clubs and, most importantly, the ever-increasing standard of VAFA football.
While opinions differ drastically with regards to former AFL players transferring into our Association, 12 in one pre-season will only strengthen the quality and increase the buzz around community footballs’ top section.
Nothing interests me more than the prospect of Jay Shulz, Mitch Brown and Mark Jamar lining up for St Kevin’s and adapting to the fast-paced nature of VAFA football. Are they the difference between eighth on the ladder and a finals berth? Quite possibly.
Can you imagine adding Tim Golds and Alex Brown to a premiership outfit as strong as Old Xaverians? Old Trinity has played in two consecutive grand finals and they’re adding Hugh Beasley straight from Brisbane, while Tom Temay is back to the ever-impressive Old Melburnians.
Collegians could fight for a flag in 2017 based on the strength of their recruitment, with former Demon, Viv Michie, and returnee, Lachie Ferguson, leading a host of key ins. Jason Tutt adds (more) elite pace to De La Salle and Alex Woodward is on the list down at St Bedes/Mentone Tigers, while Cam O’Shea and Luke Russel could line up for University Blues.
Any number of scenarios are possible in season 2017 and I look forward to attempting to decipher them each week.
Xavs are coming off a thrilling seven-point grand final victory over the T’s and their list has only strengthened. Former player and ex-Demon, James McDonald, replaced premiership coaches, Ted Woodruff and Pat Hawkins, as part of a long-term strategic plan aimed at delivering results in 2017 and beyond. Joining McDonald back at Toorak Park are former Big V representatives, Chris Waller and Murphy Ambrose, while 2014 NFL Best & Fairest and former Panton Hill skipper, Tyler Scarce, adds further depth to the most impressive overall list in the competition.
The T’s continued their fast-paced, attractive style of ball in 2016 but fell short at the final hurdle. Beasley’s inclusion is as important as the club’s leaders’ decision to limit mid-year holidays and prevent the same form slump of four losses from five games which occurred from Round 7 to 11 last year. Captain and two-time Woodrow Medallist, Brendan Iezzi, has half a season under his belt and his ability to play the entire year will go a long way to claiming the breakthrough premiership so deserved down at Daley Oval.
Quinton Gleeson stood down after a great career at the helm of Uni Blues, with James Walker taking the reins for 2017. Walker has been an assistant to Gleeson and his experience as a player at Fremantle bodes well for the continued improvement of the list. While it remains to be seen how many games we can expect from O’Shea and Russell, 2015 Woodrow Medallist, Ross Young, has returned from the North Central FL, and an injury-free Tim Geappen will add the consistent fire power up forward often lacking throughout 2016.
A number of personnel from a variety of leagues have joined Uni Blacks but the main source of development in the senior team will come from the Blacks’ Academy. And who better to do it under than Cam Roberts? 2017 will be Roberts’ second year back at the helm after taking the Blacks to premiership glory in 2014. Tyson Kruse (EFL) and Brendan Dess (PFNL) are key departures, but with Bede Mahon, Josh Steadman and Lochie Dornauf leading the charge, Blacks will be in the finals hunt again in 2017.
De La Salle’s inconsistency through the back half of last season ultimately cost them finals, falling from first to fifth in the space of nine rounds. Tutt’s inclusion is arguably the most important of all transfers, with his pace and ability to find the goals accompanying fellow forward recruit, Josh Scipione. Damien Rayson (PNFL), Hugh Nicholson (AFL Cairns) and Xavier Murphy (EFL) will be sorely missed as each provide run and carry through the midfield but Michael Chippendale, who was named in the top 50 SANFL players in 2015, and Tutt should offset their losses. Led by Sam Williams, Tom Humphrey, Matt Fieldsend and 2016 Woodrow Medallist, Jake Williams, De La will beat any team on any given day.
OM’s were the surprise packet of 2016 after gaining promotion via a grand final loss the year before. Led by 2016 Premier Coach of the Year, Nathan Brown, and Big V star, Thomas Paule, OMs caused a number of upsets against higher ranked opponents (De La Salle, Uni Blacks and Old Xaverians). With Temay’s inclusion, a regular Josh Freezer down back and a year of William Buck Premier under their belt, OMs should be fighting for finals come Round 15.
Collegians will make big strides forward in 2017 after finishing seventh last year on the back of just eight wins. With an average of 64ppg, coach Shane Joyce identified holes in their list and made the necessary changes, with Michie, Ferguson, Nick Dixon, Kalem Post (Mazenod), Corey Cassidy (EFL), Kyle Emley (EFL) and Jake Trotter (EFL) just a few talented names joining the Lions. With one of the strongest defenses in the competition, expect the Lions to improve upon last year’s results and fight for a finals berth.
As previously mentioned, SKOB were the recruitment kings of the off-season as they bolstered their stocks following an eighth-place finish in 2016. Will Coates to Richmond VFL is a big loss as his ability to act as a utility at either end was a standout of SKOB’s 2016 campaign, but they regain the fulltime services of Nick Wood. While their ground speed may be down compared to fellow top four aspirants, new coach Shannon Grant will, without doubt, have the strongest spine in William Buck Premier to work with alongside a host of talented youngsters who took out both the U19 Premier and U19 Premier Reserve flags last year.
There are two new clubs vying for success in the VAFA’s highest section, with Premier B grand finalists, Beaumaris and St Bedes/Mentone Tigers, returning due to their successful 2016 campaigns. Adam Schneider has taken the reins at the Sharks, while former premiership player Sam Anstey will lead his beloved Tigers. The belief between the two clubs is strong as they look to solidify their place in William Buck Premier.
Top Four: Old Xaverians, Collegians, Old Trinity & St Kevin’s
Premiers: Old Xaverians
Leading Goal Kicker: Matt Handley (Old Xaverians) & Al Armstrong (Old Melburnians)
Woodrow Medallist: Thomas Paule (Old Melburnians)