Reward for Rovers' lion-hearted leader

IF there was a dictionary covering the South Rovers Football Netball Club, the definition of “loyalty” would read “Julian Claridge”.

Family ties have kept the respected defender, 27, at Walter Oval for all but one season since he stepped into senior football in 2005.

The exception was in 2010, when he was in his last year of university at Ballarat and spent a year with Central Highlands club Springbank.

But for the other years, Claridge holding up the backline in a Lions jumper has been a constant the club has been able to rely on.

His loyalty and leadership are the reasons behind his elevation to captain for 2014, taking over from the retired Brad McCosh.

“It’s a big honour because I played juniors there and my dad played there and won a reserves league medal and a premiership,” he said.

Chris Claridge was a handy twos player for Rovers in the 1980s. He won the Mike Hamblin Medal in 1988 and led the Lions to a flag days later.

His passion for the club filtered down to his son. Julian, a senior premiership player in 2007, has “never wanted to play anywhere else”.

“I enjoy playing footy there. People ask me why don’t you play somewhere else or have a go at the Hampden league,” he said.

“I don’t know. I just play where I enjoy footy. I haven’t had a reason to leave, it’s a really good club.”

Claridge missed Rovers’ season opener against Kolora-Noorat last weekend, a 47-point defeat, due to a wedding in Geelong.

But he will lead the side out for the first time today, against Merrivale at Merrivale Recreation Reserve — one of five changes to the side.

Jess McCosker, Daniel Pender and Jack Downie are also inclusions, with one more to come in. Jordan Kavanagh is the biggest out after a work accident.

Rovers will start underdogs against the Tigers but Claridge said he was impressed with how the 2014 squad had come together.

Frontline ball winners McCosh and Andy Rylance, along with key forward Scott Nicolson, have left, although recruits have filled the void.

“You can’t replace a league medallist in Brad McCosh and we are missing some goalkicking power with Nicolson and Rylance going,” Claridge said.

“But we’ve got Nathan Krepp back and hopefully Jaymen Fletcher will play in the next few weeks. I’d say we’ll be around the same spot.

“We’ve got a bit more depth this year, there are probably 28 players who could push for senior selection. That was something we didn’t have last year.”

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