TOM Batten is timing his run to perfection. And so is his team.
The North Warrnambool Eagles captain enters today’s preliminary final clash with Cobden in his best form of the season. He has been playing increasingly significant roles each week up forward for the Eagles since returning from hip surgery in round 10.
The 23-year-old yesterday revealed he had found his return to the game difficult after missing the pre-season and the first nine senior matches.
“I always knew it was going to take a long time to get back into the swing of things,” he said. “But I’ve put a lot of work into my recovery and my form’s not bad.”
Batten said his performance in last Sunday’s first semi-final win over Camperdown had been his best so far.
“It’s taken a while to adapt to playing back up forward,” he said. “I haven’t been playing up forward for a couple of years. That was probably the hardest thing.”
He said he had struggled sitting on the sidelines as the Eagles won just three of their first eight games.
“When I was appointed captain I was over the moon and then when I got the news I needed surgery on my hip and I would miss most of the year, I was shattered,” he said.
“That was tough. Probably the hardest thing was going and watching the games, especially when we were losing the close ones.
“I always knew the boys would come good eventually because we had so many new players. We are starting to do that.
It’s an important time to be doing that.”
The Eagles, who have won eight out of their past 10 games — the same as Cobden — are confident they can improve that record today.
“We are starting to enjoy it a lot more. All the boys are enjoying it and we are playing more as a team. You have to have 21 blokes playing for the same goal,” Batten said.
The return of former captain Liam Ryan from retirement in the second half of the season and Batten’s continuous improvement have been significant in the Eagles’ charge into September.
Batten marvelled at Ryan’s ability to slot straight back into the team as a player, but his experience and leadership had also been important.
“I can’t wait,” he said of the Eagles’ first preliminary final.
“We’ve been wanting to be in this position for God know’s how long and to finally get the opportunity, like Haynesy (coach David Haynes) said, we have got here but we are not happy with what we have achieved so far. We want to go all the way.”