By Marcus Uhe
How does a reigning premier become even better in an offseason?
By keeping the majority of their established list and adding two icons of the last decade of local football, that’s how.
Noble Park – the champions of the Eastern Football Netball League’s Premier Division with a steely defence and superstars to boot – will welcome Bonbeach pair Shane McDonald and Jackson Casey into a side already brimming with talent, having set the benchmark in 2022.
McDonald is a two-time league best-and-fairest winner in the Mornington Peninsula Football Netball League, and both were coached by Steve Hughes during their time at the Sharks.
And the best part? Their motivation for joining the blue and gold.
“Their (McDonald and Casey’s) sole reason in coming across is the aim to win a premiership,” Hughes said.
“Neither of them have. I think Shane’s had four goes at it and Jackson three.
“They’ve come across with a real hunger and great training standards. Jackson in particular, I appointed him captain of Bonbeach eight years ago as a 22-year-old and part of the reason was his professionalism around the club and his training standards.
“Both of them bring that, which only helps our group. We already had good standards to be honest, and they only add to that.”
From the grand final side that turned the tables on Rowville after the Hawks got the chocolates three times earlier in the year, only Ziggy Alwan and Shane Allan have left the club due to retirement.
The rest, including the stars in Kyle Martin, Jackson Sketcher, Ryan Morrison, Ben Marson and Lachlan McDonnell, are all back, and raring to go.
“They’re all keen to stick together and do it again,” Hughes said.
“They’re a pretty close group. They made it easy on our footy manager and all took a fair bit less.
“You commence every preseason with the goal that it’s going to be the hardest, and that the players are going to be fitter than they were the year before. I think we’ve ticked that box.
“There’s nothing better for a young bloke than to win a premiership with your mates and they probably all realise that a large reason for that is the amount of work that they put in.
“I think we’ll get the same again, and I haven’t seen anything over the past four/five months that will make me think that they’ll be anything more than hungry to do it again.
“I don’t think they feel a sense of pressure, I think they’re excited for the year to start again.” Injury forced them to dig deep into their reserves in 2022, giving 43 players exposure to the senior level, meaning their depth won’t be something that holds them back.
McDonnell, who the club will have first-access to, as no-longer part of Collingwood’s VFL program, is one that Hughes has earmarked as a big improver, being able to focus full-time on Noble and not split his duties elsewhere.
Nathan Noblett is another who will bring VFL experience from his time at Port Melbourne last season, in addition to a season with the Gippsland Power Coates League side in 2021.
A utility with a sharp left foot, he’ll be another handy resource to add to the bullpen, in what Hughes expects to be another even playing field across the league.
“I think Rowville will only get better. They’re very young, so they’ll naturally improve without a doubt.
“I think the likes of East Doncaster, Balwyn, South Croydon, I’d even point-out Park Orchards (will challenge for finals). I thought their first year coming out of Division One, I thought they had a very good year with a very young group that’s talented and play an exciting brand.
“It’ll be an even competition, I know it’s a bit cliche but it generally is in Eastern premier.
“If you’re off a little bit, anyone can get you, that’s for sure.”
Their season gets underway at home in a grand final rematch against Rowville, a contest that should have local football fans in the South East licking their lips in anticipation.
“The reality is, we beat them once last year, played them four times and lost three.
“We were able to get them on the big day, but total respect goes their way from us.
“They’re a terrific young side, really well coached.”