NAB League season preview: Eastern Ranges

EASTERN Ranges Talent Manager Sean Toohey is looking forward to his second season in the role, with a number of top-agers this year filling key roles in their bottom-age year in 2018. Toohey came on board a month out from the start of the TAC Cup season, and while the year itself was not one of the Ranges’ finest seasons, Toohey is confident the experience from 2018 will hold the side in a strong position this year.

“I came into the role in late February so it was a bit of a baptism of fire but it was a great learning year from a personal perspective,” Toohey said. “But from an Eastern Ranges perspective obviously (it was) pretty difficult with only the two wins and no draftees which is what we are here to do. “We managed to get a few boys onto VFL lists and what we did do was we were pretty bottom-age heavy and we managed to get a lot of game time into our bottom agers, so that should hold us in pretty good stead this year, who are now top-agers, so looking forward to it.”

Toohey said the training over the off-season had been promising with higher fitness levels than the previous year, and seemingly more prepared with the extra year in the system. While injuries have struck the club, Toohey said the practice matches in the lead-up to Round 1 had given the Ranges plenty to work with and are looking forward to the challenge against one of the strong NAB League sides, in Oakleigh Chargers.

“We’ve had a really good summer, we’ve probably had the longer term injuries like most clubs would have, we’ve got a handful of them,” he said. “But generally we’ve been pretty healthy, the boys I think are a lot fitter this year and dare I say, a lot stronger as well so there’s been a lot of focus on education in relation to their conditioning and the boys have embraced it. “Then from a football perspective we’ve had our practice matches now. “Obviously round 1 this week and I think we we’ve probably acquitted ourselves against Gippsland and Calder, and are obviously just excited for round 1 to come around and see where we are at against Oakleigh Chargers who on all accounts are a pretty good team. “

Some talented Ranges are already showing signs of a promising year after strong practice match performances.

“Yeah I think Billy McCormick, he’s a key forward, had a really big summer, hasn’t missed a session and that’s transferred into his early games that we’ve played and match sim internally,” Toohey said. “His work rate has been huge and is giving himself every chance to perform this year and is starting to clunk a few big marks. So if he can just finish off his work in front of goal he sets himself up for a really big year. “Lachlan Stapleton is another one that has had a big summer, he played really well in practice matches and he probably would’ve had close to 30 touches and three goals in the midfield on the weekend. “He is also very gifted technically, a relentless tackler and is probably one of the most professional players we have on our list. “He should have a good season all going well. “

 

Toohey said the Ranges’ top prospect, Jamieson Rossiter did not play against Calder Cannons, but said he was impressive in the game against Gippsland Power, and will spend some time in the midfield as well as his natural position up forward. An over-ager to keep an eye on is Cody Hirst who had a “rotten run” with injuries in his top-age year and has returned to the Ranges and will rotate between wing and high half-forward.Toohey said Hirst is “electrifying when he gets the ball with his pace and the angles he cuts and can hit the scoreboard and provides really good defensive pressure”.

 

Add in developing key defender James Blanck, and 2018 best and fairest winner, Mitch Mellis and the Ranges have a good core to rely upon in season 2019.

 

“There are a couple more I’d throw into that category as well, Mitch Mellis, he won our best and fairest as a bottom-ager last year,” Toohey said. “He will probably transition more into a small forward role this year, probably won our best and fairest playing on a wing. “He’s 174cm so we probably want to expose him at the next level, he could play a small forward role, however he will still get up the ground on a wing because he’s also our best runner. “James Blanck, he was very close to getting drafted last year in his first year in the system, it was a big learning curve for him. “He’s added a little bit of bulk to his frame, he’ll still play key defence for us, his strengths are his intercept marking and his athleticism and backing himself to repel the football, so he will look to continue on with that and hopefully we see another progressive season from him.”

 

While the top-age group will make up the bulk of the side after becoming established players last season, there are still a number of bottom-agers to watch. Toohey said the 2002-born crop have some slick ball users with high smarts that will set them apart throughout the next 18 months.

 

Josh Clarke is quite slight but he’s played across half-back and on a wing, and if he gets the ball and tucks it under his arm and runs and takes the game on he uses it quite well by foot. “So Josh will play some footy for us this year and will acquit himself quite well. “Connor Downie is another one who’s probably a half-back flanker that is a good size, 184(cm) and probably 78, 79 kilos. “Beautiful left foot kick, played Vic Metro Under 16s last year. “He’s a Hawthorn NGA so he has set himself up for a big year as well, diligent as a trainer that we’ve got. “Then there’s Sal Feagaimalii another bottom ager, he’s also a Hawthorn NGA. “He’s been in our starting midfield as a bottom-ager this year so far and he’s done very well, he’s a big body, he’s a beautiful left and right kick, has good hands, good vision, reads it well off stoppages and off hands. “He’s another one we are looking to develop through the midfield this year and see how that goes as a bottom-ager.”

 

In 2019, Eastern is looking to improve on its two-win season from 2018, but the focus remains squarely on development and getting more players drafted into the AFL after a barren year last year following the bonanza that was 2017 with 11 players selected. This year, the playing group has determined how they want to be renowned on the field, settling on a competitive and never-say-die attitude, win, lose or draw.

 

Yeah probably something that the players themselves came up with is that they want to strive to be “relentless” in the way they go about their footy,” Toohey said. “It’s a very difficult thing to maintain at all times but at least if they think they are striving for it then they are going to get the best out of themselves and each other and hold each other to those standards that they’re setting for themselves so they’re a really mature group, they’re led well, they’re a united group.”

 

Eastern Ranges begin their season on Sunday when they tackle Oakleigh Chargers at RSEA Park, Moorabbin.

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