Warrnambool skipper Sam Cowling is looking to put a bad run of injuries behind him as the club gets ready for its first pre-season under new senior coach Dan O'Keefe.
The Blues got together for a light run and meeting on Monday before players got their hands on the football for the first time on Thursday at Allen Oval.
Cowling played half a season in 2022 after dealing with a knee injury, eventually returning in the Blues' elimination final loss to Portland.
The 31-year-old is hoping to string more games together throughout the 2023 season, while flagging a potential positional change from up forward to defence.
"I've watched too much footy over the last half a decade," he said. "I might be going down back which I've played before. Probably just refresh my role in the team."
New challenges are also fuelling a renewed excitement within the long-time Hampden league player.
"Identifying like a Nick Rodda at North Warrnambool who might be a potential match-up," Cowling said. "You get in a rhythm of playing similar players.
"With a few new guys in the league, it's exciting."
I feel like the goal in football has changed for me a little as I've grown up.- Sam Cowling
While conceding there was a gap between Warrnambool and other final contenders this year, including Koroit and the Eagles, Cowling is confident the Blues can make strides throughout pre-season.
"It starts fresh and obviously Koroit has been successful for a long period of time," he said. "But heading into the first week of pre-season we have to be confident.
"There is going to be some new guys that come in, a couple recruits already, and the guys we have existing hopefully are looking to improve."
Cowling said O'Keefe's experience, network and professionalism would go a long way in helping the club move forward.
"Not too often you get someone of that calibre straight out of an AFL system in Carlton come to the country," he said. "Local boy, he knew a fair few of the guys before coming back.
"For us as players, he brings an exciting game plan, some professionalism too, the way he goes about training.
"For an older boy myself, (I'm) just really looking forward to learning off of him."
The skipper, who is interested in coaching down the track, will soak up the knowledge O'Keefe is passing onto the coaches and players.
"I feel like the goal in football has changed for me a little as I've grown up. To see the young guys develop is a real goal of mine," he said.
Cowling credited the likes of teenagers Amon Radley and Reggie Mast for playing big roles in the senior side this past season at just 15.
"That's pretty exciting as well, to see their growth," he said.
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