MUCH of the attention given to Murray’s off-season has surrounded the heart-breaking knee injury to number one pick candidate, Elijah Hollands, but the Bushrangers are still primed to make strides on a rollercoaster 2019 campaign. A resilient program, Murray has had to prove as much over what Talent Manager Mick Wilson described as a “massive” pre-season, despite facing a few interruptions along the way.
“We’ve had a massive preseason, we started back in November,” Wilson said. “We’ve had our challenges obviously with the extreme heat and also the fires, we had some training sessions that were postponed because of the smoke, but we’ve got a pretty resilient group of kids and we’re looking forward to a positive season.”
“We’re really confident with the players that we’ve got. “The way things have panned out, the coaching staff have done an incredible job, so we think we’re pretty lucky and hopefully we have a good year on and off the field.”
Hollands’ response to his season-ending injury has been another showing of the resilience according to Wilson, but he is confident the talented midfielder-forward has put enough runs on the board to justify attention from AFL clubs come draft time.
“Obviously it was shattering for him,” he said. “He just basically changed direction and his foot got stuck in the ground and he suffered a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), ruptured LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and a torn bicep femoris tendon so that was a significant injury but we know that Elijah had surgery on Thursday just gone and he’s here today (Saturday) and you just wouldn’t know that there’s anything wrong. “He’s a very resilient kid, but we’re hoping that he’s done enough last season to end up on an AFL club this time next year and if you do an ACL it’s best to do it now because hopefully this time next year you’ll be ready to go to just be in match mode.”
Hollands looked primed to follow in the footsteps of Murray’s sole 2019 draftee, Lachlan Ash in pushing for top-end selection, and while he may well still do so, the Bushrangers will have to fare on-field without him this year. Some promising bottom-agers coming through and a more even spread of talent points towards covering the loss through midfield, but in Wilson’s assessment, the Bushrangers will have less of that traditional spine make-up over years gone by.
“We’re lucky, we have a fair bit of midfield cover this year,” Wilson said. “That was probably one area that we lacked last year; you mentioned (Zavier) Maher, Josh (Rachele), Kade Chalcraft‘s another player who could spend some time inside mid, Charlie Byrne from Albury is another player who’s in the Allies Hub who will probably come into consideration. “We’ve got Tommy Panuccio, he played mainly on the wing last year but he’ll probably come into midfield calculations as well. “We think we’ve got enough cover there, we won’t be able to cover Elijah with his ability to play a key position role, but we’re confident with the midfield cover. “Traditionally the Bushrangers have been fairly strong down the spine and we probably don’t have the same cover there we’ve had in past years. “We think we’ve got more of an even team across the board. “We have a very strong bottom-age group coming through, the Under 16 team went through undefeated in the Country Championships last year. “We’ve got seven players in the Academies – two in the Allies Academy and five in the Vic Country Hub. “The way things are shaping at the moment we think we’ll be competitive and hopefully improve on last year.”
Another boost to the squad will be the return of a few 19-year-olds, as well as the rise of some pre-season surprise packets who Wilson highlighted at the NAB League pre-season testing day.
“Sammy Durham who has played mainly wing last year, he’s been offered a Richmond VFL contract, so when Sammy’s in the team he will come in the midfield as well,” he said. “Will Chandler, he’s had a terrific preseason, he’s put on seven kilos. “Will is another player who will transition through the mid, start off higher half-forward and transition through midfield – he’s had an amazing preseason, he’s super fit. “Hudson Kaak who has pretty much been injured or sick in his first two years, as a 19-year-old hopefully he will get a good run at it, he will play mainly forward. “We also have Nick Irvine who had a really strong finish to 2018, came back last year and got a bout of glandular fever which manifested into chronic fatigue, so his season was written off last year. “We’re looking forward to seeing Nick have a really strong year as well.”
“We’ve had a few boys come in from local footy who haven’t been involved in the program or who have missed out as bottom-age players. “Declan Bren from Myrtleford has had a preseason, he booted four goals in an intraclub against the GIANTS Academy in a quarter. “Daniel Turner from Albury, Daniel tried out for the Under 17s and missed out but he’s since grown and got a lot fitter. “He will probably play key back for us even though he plays mid at his own club, he’s 194cm and a really good contested mark and a strong kick so we think he’ll have a really good year. “There’s two boys who have come into the program. Connor Hangan from Shepparton is another boy who has spent most of his time playing cricket and he hasn’t really focused too much on footy and he’s coming in as a top-ager as well.”
With plenty of prospects to keep an eye out for, Murray promises to be a fun team to watch in 2020. The Bushrangers were set to kick off the NAB League season against Gippsland on Saturday, but will instead do so once the competition returns from postponement.