Former Collingwood and Melbourne footballer Simon Buckley is one of many new recruits for Echuca Football Club.By Zach Hubber
Former Collingwood and Melbourne footballer Simon Buckley headlines a list of Echuca Football Club recruits to help the Murray Bombers climb back towards the top of the Goulburn Valley Football League ladder.
Buckley, who played 21 AFL games with the Demons and 26 with the Magpies, will be joined by former Echuca players Josh Edgar and Jordan Florance, while Tom Stevens will play full-time after a stint with Sandringham in the VFL last year.
Echuca coach Cameron Stewart said the signings of Buckley and other former players were exciting from a club perspective.
‘‘We’re really rapt to have (Buckley) on board,’’ Stewart said.
‘‘He’s obviously come out of an elite competition, the best in the world really, so to have him on board to help our senior blokes and also our younger guys is going to be a great advantage for our footy club.’’
Despite mainly playing in defence during his AFL career, Stewart said Buckley would play more of an onball role.
‘‘He’ll obviously play around the footy, wherever it suits our side most,’’ he said.
‘‘With Rhys (Archard) and Scooter (McGlone) and the likes going through the middle and with Tommy (Stevens) back, our depth is going to be really strong and that’s what we wanted.
‘‘If we can run nine, 10 or 11 blokes through the middle of the ground then we’re going to be a much better side.’’
Talks with Buckley started at the end of October after Collingwood delisted the defender.
The 25-year-old, who is good family friends with the Eishold family, had been in talks with the Murray Bombers before putting pen to paper on Saturday.
Buckley said he was looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life with Echuca.
‘‘Ever since the process began, Cam’s been telling me all about the young guys, how the average age was only 21 and about all the debutants last year,’’ he said.
‘‘With the direction the club’s heading it’s going to be pretty exciting I think.
‘‘I’m not the most vocal guy on the ground, but obviously I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience with the younger players and help out wherever I can and help the coaching staff as well.’’
Buckley will continue to live in Melbourne where he is soon to start a plumbing apprenticeship and will visit his Moama-based parents when playing near Echuca, another incentive for signing.
Before the GVFL season, he will also play one or two more games with the Darwin Buffaloes in the Northern Territory Football League.
‘‘I’ve already played a couple of games up there, which was an awesome experience,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s great for the fitness playing in 35 to 40°C heat.’’
Buckley said his AFL career was now behind him and that the chance to start new projects was an exciting one.
‘‘I’m pretty content at the moment,’’ he said.
‘‘I was probably ready to move on and probably not enjoying it over the last year or so, just having (football) as your job and your life style.
‘‘I’m still young enough at 25, so I’ll start some new things while I can and move on.
‘‘I still love footy and love training and everything else that comes with it, but it was wearing me thin in the end.’’
Buckley will team up with new ruckman Edgar, who returns after playing two seasons with Leitchville-Gunbower, while Florance returns from a year off football.
Edgar finished fourth in the Heathcote and District Football League best and fairest in 2011 after winning the club best and fairest the same year.
Echuca missed out on signing Jake Wilkinson, brother of Liam Wilkinson, due to his work arrangements in Shepparton.
But Stewart said it was not realistic to sign everyone on the wish list.
‘‘We set out at the end of last year to recruit not real heavily, but we had a select criteria in place,’’ he said.
‘‘The bigger blokes are going to obviously help us out going forward because we were certainly lacking in the big-man department, but by the same token we’ll be looking to play our kids because our kids are our future.’’
‘‘It’s great to have names on paper, but it’s irrelevant when the ball bounces.’’
One of the players Stewart referred to was Mitch Hore, who is one of up to eight players to be elevated from the under 16s.
Hore, who was named best on ground in Echuca Green’s grand final win against Kyabram last season, said he was hoping to learn from the senior Murray Bombers.
‘‘It puts me in the right direction and hopefully I can learn a lot from guys like Buckley and even hopefully to try and push for a few games,’’ he said.
With the new recruits and promotion of younger players, Stewart was excited for where the club was headed.
‘‘We played 21 debutants last year, 13 of them were under 18s and we’ll probably have six or eight coming through from our under 16s this year,’’ Stewart said.
‘‘Probably four or five of them will be lucky enough to play senior footy and if they can have the same impact that our kids had this year, then we’re going to be a much better place.’’
Echuca’s pre-season training starts on Monday, January 21.
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