By Josh Ward.
2022 may have ended in heartbreak on the final day for both senior Donvale sides but 2023 is set to be an equally big year for the Vales.
The Donvale men’s side returned to finals for the first time since their 2017 Grand Final victory after finishing third in third division.
Winning their first two finals against Coldstream and Warrandyte, they faced the Waverley Blues in the Grand Final and fell just two points short of another premiership.
Kevin Collins will lead the way in the coaches box once again for the Magpies, recently saying that the team was excited heading into 2023.
“They’ve had a really good preseason, it’s gone really quickly, normally they drag on but this one has gone really quick,” Collins said.
“We had a really good training camp and on the Saturday (of the camp) they ended up clocking 26km, but it was all games and stuff, all in good fun so the aerobic phase has been good and fun.”
All of the squad from 2022 has signed on for another season, with only a few missing parts of the season due to overseas travel.
“We haven’t lost anyone, we haven’t had any retirements so that’s a positive and we have a lot of blokes wanting to come in, which is good. I’m pretty happy with that.”
Amongst those arrivals include the return of Matthew Day and James Pell. Day returns after 22 games since 2019 with Blackburn plus six VFL games with Essendon and the Northern Bullants while Pell returns to footy after stints with Blackburn and South Croydon.
“(Matt)’s come back because he wants to play with his brother Nick and he had a really good game on the weekend (against Scoresby), that was a big plus for us.
“And James Pell is mates with the boys, went through the juniors and he only went to Blackburn because the club went into recession.
“We’re very comfortable with those boys coming back, they add a bit of leadership. They’ve also taken on a bit of the coaching perspective (as well as) taking on a few drills”.
Mitch Brouwer and James Hanley also follow Day and Pell from Blackburn, with both playing in the Burners 2022 Reserves Premiership.
“James Hanley, I had him at Box Hill so I know (how he) plays. He’s a hard-nosed midfielder, can go forward or back, so I’m pretty happy to have him. I’ve known him for years, I used to play footy with his dad at Oakleigh.
“Mitch Brouwer probably was one of our best players last Saturday in the practice game, he’s been really good, his training exhibition has been fantastic. He’s mates with Adam Cameron so he managed to get him over.”
Balwyn trio Kyele Heagney, Nicholas Chancellor and William Lambert have also come across. Heagney played 16 games in the Balwyn senior side in 2022 whilst Chancellor and Lambert predominantly played reserves.
“They’ve known the boys for a number of years and they’ve just added another dimension, their skill level is really good. The quality of our drills and standard of skills has really been impressive.
“They’ve been really positive, got lots of energy and given a lot of encouragement and direction to the group. Then we have our Under 19s coming through as well who got knocked out (before) the Grand Final, we’re looking to bring a couple of those boys through as well.”
Despite the inclusions plus retaining the majority of their list from 2022, Collins added that they’ll not look to get ahead of themselves with Division 3 being even once again.
“We’re pretty comfortable, but it’s so even. Scoresby could’ve beaten us last year and then they were unlucky to get relegated, but on their day they were a good team and they still are.
“We haven’t played Oakleigh District yet but everyone in the comp who we played did or nearly beat us last year, we didn’t have it all on our own terms and it’ll be the same this year.
“We just have to keep buttering up and seeing what we can do, but we’re pretty confident we’ll have a good year.”
The Donvale women’s program had an equally successful season, finishing in second in Premier B. Defeating the Whitehorse Pioneers in their first final, they faced them two weeks later in the Grand Final and lost by just one point.
Stephen Latino returns for a second year as senior coach, saying that the heartbreak on Grand Final day had been the motivation for the side in the preseason.
“Although we had such a great year, everyone remembers it as a great year, (that grand final loss has) been motivation even from the moment it happened,” Latino said.
“You get the loss last year and then it drives you immediately to do better the year after, we’ve worked on that through all of the preseason with signings and new players joining us. It’s been a good start so far.”
The majority of the 2022 list has also signed on, with Latino adding he was happy to keep the group together.
“We were really keen to keep the girls together after last year and a lot of them stuck around. We have lost a few key players, but we have recruited pretty well to replace those.
“Couple of our players from (previous) years have also come back. Nekaela Butler who did her ACL at the beginning of last year and missed the whole year and also Tess Spillane who is our full-back has come back to play as well.”
Amongst the new signings includes 2023 North Melbourne VFLW leadership group member Teagan Bradley, Montrose junior Jade McCormack, Lauren Knowles from Park Orchards and Shae Bethune from Vermont.
Ex-Under 18 League B&F winner McCormack joins following three senior games at Montrose in 2022, with Latino excited about bringing her into the side.
“(McCormack) fills holes that were created with players leaving our midfield. I reckon she’ll fit right in there, she’s a quick player and pretty smart from how she’s training so far.”
Bradley returns to her junior club after two years at Coburg plus 2022 on North Melbourne’s VFLW list. Whilst she’ll predominantly play VFLW this year Latino added her addition will build on the growing number of ex-VFLW and AFLW players in the side.
“All that experience does help for players coming through and especially with the new players that we’ve got just to hear from others that have been at the best (level).
“Going into a Premier Division with eight sides now (and) facing teams that do have VFLW players on their list (they) just give them that experience to know what they’re coming up against.”
Knowles comes across after appearing eight times for Park Orchards last year while Bethune joins from Vermont after a one-game season in 2022.
“Lauren was brought across by one of the players in the team, she’s been to a couple of training’s so far, but she seems to be fitting in very well with the group.
“And same with Shae…she’s a pretty aggressive player, she’s gonna add that to our team this year, which I think we kind of need, just to have a bit more physicality in our team.
“Coming across from last year we had a pretty short and fast-paced side which is what we based our game on and to add that physicality will be good to try and get us to the promised land this time.”
With their inclusions as well as keeping most of their 2022 playing list for this year, Latino has hopes that his side can take it up to the likes of the Eastern Devils, Vermont plus South Croydon.
“We got a taste of playing against (Premier A) sides last year and even watching a couple of their games including finals they’re definitely tough opponents.
“But we’ve been working on it all preseason, we’ve got a couple of good additions and while it is a challenge you don’t really get to be the best unless you play against the best.
“We earned our right to jump up after making a Grand Final last year and to propose a challenge to these teams.”