GVFL surprise-packets Echuca Murray Bombers are looking to continue on from their successful finish to last season and notch up at least 10 wins in 2013.MARC MCGOWAN December 12, 2012 4:23am
Tom Stevens is back in a full-time playing role for Echuca and will also be the club’s fitness co-ordinator.
Echuca was Goulburn Valley Football League’s biggest over-achiever last season — at least from the outside looking in.
The Murray Bombers entered the year with a new coach, Cameron Stewart, and a list chockfull of teenagers.
There was still a smattering of top-end quality, including the likes of Rhys Archard, Scott McGlone, Matt Pollock and Axel Childs, but it was up to the kids to keep Echuca afloat.
A new batch of league stars was born, none bigger than rangy defender Matt Farrelly, who is off to try his luck at VFL level for Bendigo Gold.
Others to emerge included Hugh Evans, who kicked 15 goals in eight games before a season-ending knee injury, Matt Hay, Earl Handy, Alastair Evans and Jordan Ives.
Hay, at 16, was the Murray Bombers’ full-back and locked horns with players of the ilk of Kyabram’s Paul Newman and Rochester’s Guy Campbell.
Hay is one of four Echuca players, alongside Handy, Mitch Hore and Joel McCormack-Hall, training with the Pioneers in a bid to make the under-18 club’s TAC Cup list.
One thing the Murray Bombers were not blessed with last season was height, but recruits Jordan Florance, who returns to the club, and Jake Wilkinson — Liam’s brother — will help in that area at both ends of the ground.
The midfield will be stronger, too, with tough on-baller Tom Stevens returning to play full-time for Echuca after a VFL stint with Sandringham.
Stevens will also be the club’s fitness co-ordinator.
Stewart said there could be ‘‘four or five more’’ newcomers in the coming days and two of them ‘‘could be very good’’.
The recruits are possibly more modest than some rival clubs, but, as usual, Stewart was unfussed.
‘‘There is, obviously, a bit going on and sometimes I ask myself how the hell some of these clubs are going to pay for it,’’ Stewart said.
‘‘The heat is going to be on, but nothing changes from this year. We’ll look to improve on our second half of the year and if we play like that all year we’ll definitely be a much better side.
‘‘We’re going to look at winning 10 games — we won seven last year — but we’ll be a much better outfit across the board.’’
Ten victories would likely result in a finals berth, so Stewart certainly has set a lofty goal.
Much of his confidence comes from the last eight games, when the Murray Bombers claimed four of its seven wins and went within three and 23 points, respectively, of finalists Mooroopna and Shepparton United.
‘‘We had no expectations on our season and it was the old cliché of one game at a time, but it had to be with our young group,’’ Stewart said.
‘‘My major concern was our back half of the season — knowing the kids would peter out — but that’s the most exciting thing from our point of view, because they actually got better with more exposure.
‘‘They performed a lot better across the board and we developed a lot more guys than we thought we would, so we’re looking to those blokes who debuted this year and played multiple games to improve on that next year.’’
It is difficult to doubt Stewart after what Echuca achieved this year, but a likely stronger league may make its task more difficult — even if the Murray Bombers go up a notch.
‘‘We’ll be a lot stronger and our knowledge base will be a lot higher,’’ he said.
‘‘The club’s a lot more balanced after the indifferent pre-season we had last year, because we were the unknown last year.
‘‘We didn’t know if we would have a list or not leading into the practice matches.
‘‘But the guys who hung in there — the senior guys and mid-tier guys who really took ownership of the football club — are there to stand up again and will play a more important role the second year than the first.’’
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