NICK O’Sullivan stepped down as coach after Hampden’s biggest interleague loss in history, saying the time is right for fresh blood to oversee a medium-term plan to become a force again.
O’Sullivan, who led the Bottle Greens in four consecutive campaigns for two wins and two losses, said Hampden had to accept it was a level below country Victoria’s top four leagues after Ovens and Murray thumped it by 125 points on Saturday at Wangaratta.
The 29.16 (190) to 10.5 (65) result was Hampden’s heaviest defeat since the country championships began in 1963, eclipsing the league’s 61-point loss to Bendigo in 1979.
O’Sullivan said the league and players needed to use the result as the impetus for a strategic plan to be developed with the aim of Hampden challenging for the number one spot in the next five years.
“We won’t or can’t back away from this now,” O’Sullivan said.
“We have to keep chipping away and try and reach the next level. There is no point waving the white flag.”
O’Sullivan, a passionate interleague advocate who represented Hampden for a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, said he was still happy to be involved but felt the league needed a new coach.
“I just reckon it is someone else’s turn to have a crack at it. I don’t know if there is anything more I could do,” he said.
“I knew it was going to be very hard to win. I thought if we did get over the line I would have loved to take them to the next level. But it needs fresh ideas, a bit of fresh blood now. I still want to be involved in some way but I reckon I have done everything I can. I’ve been very thorough in my preparation and I know in my own heart I’ve put a lot of work in too. No matter how much work you do, sometimes it’s just not meant to be.”
O’Sullivan said Ovens and Murray’s line-up was too good — too strong, tall, quick and skilful.
He said Hampden had 13 debutants and the positive from the match was their exposure to the next level.
O’Sullivan said young players like Tim Meulendyks, Jackson Bell, Nick Bateman and Jeremy Hausler needed to stick together and become the driving force behind future campaigns. He said they needed to get bigger, stronger and improve their skills even more to reach Ovens and Murray’s level.
“In five or six years, it’s probably going to be a long-term plan to get back to that level, but we can,” he said.
“I spoke to a few O&M boys and they said it was their best side in five years. I spoke to Fev after the game and they put a lot of money into it, did a mini training camp because they just said they wanted to get back to number one.
"As Chris Baxter said, it was as good a side he’s played against at VFL level so far.”
O’Sullivan said he hoped the players would be able to look back at the result in a few years and recognise that’s what pushed them to reach new levels.
“We need a four or five-year plan and that’s why it needs someone fresh (to coach).”
Ovens and Murray, which had struggled for commitment from its elite players in recent years, was ranked fifth entering the match against the sixth-placed Hampden.
Hampden now falls down the rankings but it would face the Murray league — a side it defeated in 2011 — next year. Murray defeated the side Hampden thrashed last year, Sunraysia, on Saturday.
O’Sullivan said Hampden had to accept that maybe Saturday’s margin was a true reflection of the difference between the two competitions because his 22 players had tried all day.
“We can handle the Sunraysia and Murray leagues, we beat them by 100 points, but there is a big gap between us and three and four,” he said.
“We are in that middle part of the rankings all by ourselves.”
He said Ovens and Murray’s best footballers were semi-professional, such was the money in the competition, meaning players had the time and desire to spend more time in the gym and working on their skills.
“Our players have to understand they have to put time into their own skills and their fitness,” he said.
He said Hampden could clearly do with more high-quality recruits entering the league but the Bottle Greens had to continue developing their home-grown talent.