HAWTHORN premiership player Peter Knights is endorsing Panmure coach Simon O’Keefe for a key role in the Victorian Country Football League’s defence of its national championship next month.
Knights, coach of the VCFL number one side, included dual Maskell Medal winner O’Keefe in the initial 34-member training squad despite the star midfielder not being part of a major league or playing interleague footy.
O’Keefe, who helped the VCFL to its national title two years ago in a week-long carnival in Canberra and was vice-captain last year when it defeated the Victorian Amateur Football Association, left Hampden league club Koroit for district side Panmure in the off-season.
Knights said O’Keefe’s form with Panmure and standing within the game were behind his inclusion.
“Simon is a proven leader with the Vic one side. He has the experience playing in a carnival two years ago and his passion for interleague and representative footy goes without saying,” Knights said. “I know he’s not with the Hampden league but if he is up and about, fit and well and keen to play we would have no hesitation in selecting him.
“Even though the Warrnambool and District league with Panmure is a step down from the Hampden league, he has a lot of pride in his performance and knowing him he would want to be leading from the front.”
He said he expected O’Keefe to play a leadership role at the national championships carnival in Wagga Wagga next month
O’Keefe, the only player in the training squad from a district league side, has a long and proud history representing the VCFL, having played on four previous occasions.
“It’s very exciting,” the 29-year-old said.
“I was talking to Knighta about it and he was keen for me to go again and picked me in the training squad.” O’Keefe said it wasn’t the first time a player had been picked from a district league club in the VCFL squad despite district league players traditionally making up the Vic Country number two side.
O’Keefe said he would push himself in the hope of making the final squad. He said there were benefits associated with his inclusion for Panmure.
“I talk to Knights a little bit. To be able to learn from someone like that about footy is great.”
Camperdown midfielder Sam Chapman and former Terang Mortlake onballer Xavier Moloney, now with Swan Hill, were also included in the 34-member squad.
Knights said Chapman was impressive in Hampden’s loss to Ovens and Murray last month.
Three south-west players have been included in the VCFL under 19 training squad: Hampden league senior representative Sam Dobson from Koroit, Camperdown’s Charlie Bradshaw and North Warrnambool Eagles defender Darcy Keast. They will be joined by former South Warrnambool star Matt Sully, who is playing with Newtown Chilwell in the Geelong league.
The VCFL (2) side includes Colac and District players Chris Dickenson and Jake O’Dwyer.