Bombers bring back Clearihan as Brookers rivalry reignites

Sein Clearihan (right) will coach Emerald Football Club again in 2024 after a successful 2023. 361017 Picture: ROB CAREW

By Marcus Uhe

2023 Outer East Football Netball Division One premiership winning coach Sein Clearihan is excited to be leading Emerald into battle as the club takes on a challenging rise up the ranks in 2024.

Clearihan climbed the Division One mountain in 2023 to lead the Bombers to a thumping victory over Berwick Springs in last season’s grand final, his second at the helm at Chandler Reserve, having set the pace as the competition’s benchmark in the home-and-away season.

The Bombers finished the season with a win-loss record of 14-2, opening the season with a nine-game winning streak, before recovering from a loss in extra time in the semi-final to Berwick Springs with a dominant 59-point win in the grand final against the same opponent.

With success comes promotion, with the Bombers set to play in the competition’s top flight in 2024.

Clearihan is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s exciting for the footy club,” he said

“It’s about improving everyone, playing good quality clubs every week and getting tested.

“As long as we’re really competitive, and that’s the main thing, to stay in the games and be competitive, we’ll see what comes at the end of it.”

Emerald’s return to the top flight will see it resume its rivalry with neighbours Gembrook in Michael Firrito’s first season at the helm.

After finishing last in 2023 in what he described as a possible “premiership hangover” year, the task is ahead of the former North Melbourne champion to take his side to the competition’s upper echelons.

He will need to do so without 2022 premiership captain Colin Bastow, who is set for more knee surgery and is unlikely to feature in the 2024 campaign.

It’s a massive blow for the club, which expected to have him on the park after missing the entire of 2023, having torn an ACL in the 2022 grand final.

“It really hurt us last year not having him, not only for what he does out on the ground but for what he brings off the field,” Firrito said.

“He’s a much loved character, he’s not only our captain but a spiritual leader as well.

“He’ll take on a coaching role and help me this year, but we won’t see him, most likely, as much as he’d want to get back late in the year.”

Experienced recruits in Cory Phillips and Ryan Hillard will help the young on-ball brigade of Konner Allcott, Josh Tilly and Aaron Firrito while 2022 reserves premiership player Ben Schultze returns after a season at Beaconsfield.

Schultze will add much-needed key position depth, with Firrito’s retirement, and the absence of potent key forward Jay Verhagen, who will spend the season travelling, and Frank Didonato.

Firrito remains confident, however, in the young talent at his disposal, that he believes is yet to be fulfilled.

“I guess there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve learned over the years that I’ll now get a chance to implement,” Firrito said of his intended game-style.

“I think it might take a little while to come along but I expect us to be pretty well-organised and a high-pressure side.

“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel but I’m hoping I can bring in a few things to help us improve, and get us toward the pointy end of the ladder, after finishing last, last season.”

The two sides will go head-to-head in round three, at Gembrook, and again in round 15 at Emerald.