By Nathan Dole
FOR Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League clubs the chase for premiership points on the ovals and courts is among many challenges they will tackle in season ’23 and beyond.
Player retention, recruiting, sponsorship, fund-raising are just some of the key areas that clubs are focused on year-round.
At Friday’s season launch at Bendigo Mazda, BFNL chair Carol McKinstry praised all clubs for their commitment to keep getting better.
“There is a lot of hard work done in the off-season, and even more during the season,” McKinstry said.
“There is so much to look forward to this season.”
Among them will be South Bendigo at its new home at Kennington’s Harry Trott Oval in the first round on April 15.
“We’re also looking forward to the netball association games and we’re hoping to go one better this year and knock off the Goulburn Valley,” McKinstry said.
“We’re also excited with the general interest in football and netball.
“Last year we put in a number of new initiatives, such as the live streaming of games and Premier Data, which has helped raise our profile as a major league.”
A special guest at the launch was Ben Kavenagh, head of AFL Victoria.
After no season and then seasons cut short by Covid, Kavenagh said there was a lot more certainty for clubs going into this year’s action.
There are plenty of challenges AFL Victoria is working at to assist clubs and leagues.
“In terms of coaching there is a lot more face-to-face sessions in helping coaches to upskill.
“Umpiring numbers are a challenge for every league.”
Kavenagh said schools programs went a long way to raising awareness and encouraging participation in football and netball.
“I see our biggest challenge as being the volunteer base.
“There are no games without them. It’s not just about quantity, but also quality, so we have to work on ways to help clubs in that area.”
On the footy field, Gisborne is hungry to achieve back-to-back premiership wins.
Key defender Jack Reaper said a new-look team was working hard.
“We have a new coach in Brad Fox and a new game plan. There are eight from last year’s premiership team who have gone, so it creates opportunities for the under-18s coming up and also from those who played in the reserves grand final team of last year.”
Clubs likely to take Gisborne’s place at number one include Sandhurst, Golden Square, Strathfieldsaye, and a resurgent Eaglehawk.
In netball, Sandhurst starts another season as reigning premier.
The Tamara Gilchrist-coached grand final line-up of ’22 is unchanged.
A plus for the maroon and blue is the return of multiple premiership winner, Heather Oliver, a previous winner of the Betty Thompson Medal as league fairest and best.
Gilchrist said the players were determined to keep a great run going at a club where the talent pool is so strong.
“The workrate in matches and training is driven by the players,” Gilchrist said.
A formidable A-grade squad includes Kelsey Meade, Ruby Turner, Meg Williams, and the Sextons.
South Bendigo president Rick Townsend said the Bloods move to Harry Trott Oval was more than 10 years in the making.
“A long-term goal to ensure the growth of our club was to move from Queen Elizabeth Oval into the community.”
The Bloods had been based at the QEO, previously known as Upper Reserve, for more than 130 years.
“There is a lot of history at the QEO, but to ensure more success we needed to make the move,” Townsend said.
“The new facilities are fantastic and we now have a home for all our teams.”
The Nathan Horbury-coached Bloods will be determined to mark another finals campaign after last season’s fourth placing.
On the netball court, Sandhurst and Kangaroo Flat have dominated in recent seasons and are tipped to lead the race for premiership glory.
Kangaroos’ coach Jayden Cowling believes the top two will face strong opposition.
The Roos have retained all of last year’s team which was runner-up to a red-hot Sandhurst coached by Tamara Gilchrist.
“At Kangaroo Flat there’s been success across many grades for a long time,” Cowling said.
“We know we have to keep working hard. It’s not just a battle between us and Sandhurst for the premiership, there are lots of teams chasing and capable of playing great netball.”
Major backers of the Bendigo FNL this season are Bendigo Bank, Bendigo Mazda, Workforce XS, Barry Plant Real Estate, Bendigo Club, and Harmac Homes.
In round one, Gisborne and Strathfieldsaye meet in the rematch of last year’s grand finalists at Gisborne’s Gardiner Reserve.
It’s the all-Magpies clash at Princes Park where Maryborough hosts Castlemaine.
Sandhurst and Kangaroo Flat will meet at Queen Elizabeth Oval.
The Bulldogs and Tigers do battle as Golden Square faces Kyneton at the Wade Street ground.