VERSATILITY and good kicking skills will underpin Hampden’s quest for interleague success against powerhouse Ovens and Murray after coach Nick O’Sullivan yesterday unveiled a new-look training squad.
O’Sullivan and his team of selectors named a 40-member squad that will gather for the first time on Sunday as the build-up to the May 24 clash between country Victoria’s fifth and sixth-placed leagues begins.
More than two-thirds of the squad is new with only 12 players remaining from last year’s team that defeated Sunraysia by 94 points.
The list of returning players is headed by vice-captain, Koroit’s Isaac Templeton, and former skipper Damian O’Connor, from Terang Mortlake.
O’Sullivan said he had been keen to inject some youth but the Bottle Greens needed experience against the strong-bodied O&M, which will be led by former Carlton and Brisbane Lions spearhead Brendan Fevola.
“We can’t go too young because they are fairly experienced and have mature bodies,” O’Sullivan said.
“We think we have got a good mix so far and there are a few guys we have our eyes on who aren’t in the squad. If they really put their hand up and their performances warrant it, we will put them in.”
O’Sullivan said he had spent part of the Easter bye watching last year’s O&M clash against Mornington Peninsula.
“If you can’t kick the ball well you turn it over and it kills you,” he said.
“When we played them (O&M) two years ago, blokes who couldn’t kick the ball well got shown up. Blokes who can use the footy well and blokes who can tackle hard and compete in the contests will be important.
“You need a mix of those blokes and you need versatility. They can’t be a one-stringer. If (key forward) Dan Casey plays and he’s not having a good day, he can go to centre half-back. We want blokes who can do a few different things.”
Star Portland recruits Jake Dignan and Luke Crane, their coach Jake Myles, Port Fairy recruit Jaise Coleman, teenage midfielders Jackson Bell from Warrnambool and Koroit’s Levi Nagorcka headline the inclusions.
Multiple Warrnambool premiership player Andrew McCarthy was rewarded for consistent good form over a long period with his inclusion, according to O’Sullivan. It was a similar story for North Warrnambool Eagles’ Matthew Wines, one of the league’s best midfielders, who has been in good form to start the season.
Wines joins younger brother Adam, midfielder Dean Gavin, key defender Brendan Murfett and ruckman Jordan Dillon as five Eagles in the squad — the equal highest of any club. Warrnambool, Koroit and Terang Mortlake also have five players each in the squad while Hamilton Kangaroos, Portland and Port Fairy each have four.
Warrnambool could have had more players in the squad but star trio — full-forward Jason Rowan, key position player Sam Cowling and key defender Tim O’Keeffe — have ruled themselves out. O’Sullivan, who tipped Cowling and or O’Keeffe to match up on Fevola, said the three would be attending the wedding of Emma O’Keeffe — Tim’s sister.
O’Sullivan will assemble the squad on Sunday for a recovery session at Warrnambool’s Breakwater at 10am, followed by a meal at the Flying Horse Bar and Brewery and a team meeting.