2018 Hampden league summer series: Warrnambool in the spotlight

BLUES ARE BACK: (clockwise) Mitch Bidmade, Sam Cowling, Darcy Graham and Beau Turland will play roles in Warrnambool's revival in 2018.
BLUES ARE BACK: (clockwise) Mitch Bidmade, Sam Cowling, Darcy Graham and Beau Turland will play roles in Warrnambool's revival in 2018.

In the sixth of a 10-part summer series, The Standard looks at why Warrnambool fans should be buoyant about the 2018 Hampden league season.

1: Injury-free

Names synonomous with Warrnambool – Sam Cowling, Tim O’Keeffe, Darcy Graham – will return to forefront of Hampden league circles. All three are injury-free following long stints on the sidelines and will play key roles under new coach Matt O’Brien. “They’re almost like brand new recruits for us,” he said. “Tim and Sam played four games between them last year.” Cowling will roam at centre half-forward, O’Keeffe is likely to bolster the back six and Graham will boost the midfield rotations.

BACK ON TRACK: Reliable defender-forward Tim O'Keeffe will add stability to the Blues' spine following an injury-ravaged 2017 season.

BACK ON TRACK: Reliable defender-forward Tim O'Keeffe will add stability to the Blues' spine following an injury-ravaged 2017 season.

2: The leader

Cowling is known for his marking prowess but O’Brien is just as excited about having his onfield general back. The new assistant coach is expected to help his teammates walk taller. “He is a terrific leader at the club,” O’Brien said. “Even though he was injured last year, he was involved every single game. Pre-game, during the game and post-game, he really stayed involved.”

3: Mosquito fleet

Two additions – the returning Kurt Lenehan (time off) and Ben Fleming (North Warrnambool Eagles) – will add to the Blues’ midfield-forward rotations. They lack height but are creative and can hit the scoreboard. “Kurt brings another dimension with his fitness background and he’s been running our fitness program,” O’Brien said.

A STAR ON THE RISE: Blue Austin Steere kicked 11 goals from 13 senior matches in 2017. He was named the Hampden league's rising star. Picture: Rob Gunstone

A STAR ON THE RISE: Blue Austin Steere kicked 11 goals from 13 senior matches in 2017. He was named the Hampden league's rising star. Picture: Rob Gunstone

4: The youth

The Blues are pleased with the teenagers filtering through their senior ranks. Pacy goalkicker Austin Steere was named Hampden rising star and Mitch Bidmade and Matt Schnerring played TAC Cup in 2017. That trio, along with Beau Turland, who played every senior match last season, Jordan Walters, Mikey Billings and the yet-to-debut Harry Ryan will all be given opportunities in the best 21. “Harry is probably going to end up quite tall when he finishes growing,” O’Brien said. “He could end up being a ruckman. But he’d be an inside onballer now, he goes and gets his own footy and is very hard at it.”

5: The recruit

Luke Cody has made an immediate impact since moving to the south-west in the off-season. The midfielder-forward has impressed O’Brien with his leadership. “He’s come from Noble Park and Narre Warren and he’s already brought a few ideas to us,” he said. “He was instrumental in helping us set our summer running program.”