By Josh Ward.
Following their strongest season in seven years, both Kilsyth sides will look to develop even more in 2023.
The Kilsyth men surprised many in 2022, winning eight games to enter their first finals series since their 2015 Grand Final appearance. However, it was a brief finals series for the side, bowing out in the first week to Chirnside Park.
Simon Caldwell returns for a third consecutive season at the helm, recently saying that he was pleased with the development of his young list last season.
“When I came back in 2020, they were really strong on playing the group of 19s they had come up from the year before,” Caldwell said.
“For a number of years they recruited, people have left and they wanted to try and keep that bunch of players together, which they did through 2020 and 2021.
“To be able to come out in 2022 and play a final when most of our players were 21 years of age we were really happy with where the season ended.”
All of their playing list has signed on for another season, with Caldwell adding that it was a good reward for the club to sign everyone from last year.
“Straight away as soon as the season finished (they) signed on and they were happy with where we got.
“From their point of view they probably knew we were missing a couple of top-end players to give us that polish, which helps when you’ve got (plenty of) salary cap when they’re playing for nothing. And they’re happy to do that, which is the best part about it.”
All their signings announced so far have come from EFNL Division 1 clubs, with the biggest of the lot being that of ex-Eastern Ranges star Jayden Weichard from Mooroolbark.
Weichard joins high school friends at the Kilsyth having already built up an almighty resume. Making his debut at just 17 he would then go on to play 37 senior games for the Mustangs, including 18 last year where he was a part of the leadership group at just 20 years old.
“He’s a great midfielder, but he kicked four goals in one of the finals last year against Montrose so he can hit the scoreboard, which is an area we thought we lacked in, our midfield last year didn’t kick a lot of goals, we wanted to rectify that a little bit…
“You can see he’s a mature 21-year-old, he came into the group not knowing everyone and he’s already instructing a lot through the midfield stuff with different setups and (passing) ideas at the guys and at the coaches as well. He’s been amazing”.
Lilydale star duo Ryan McNay and Brandon Droessler have also signed on. McNay signs on at the club where his dad Gavin used to play after 81 games, 41 goals and two Under 19 B&Fs for the Falcons between 2015 and 2022.
“Ryan’s only 24 and he’s had a really good career so far at 1st Division level, another one with leadership (aspects). If you went through most First Division coaches they would say he’s a player they would put time into, he’s definitely been one of the top mids in that division.”
Droessler comes across, having spent the last four years at Lilydale, playing 59 games during that period. He also brings across VAFA experience having won three premierships as a teenager for Kew as well as spending some time on VFL lists and with Vermont.
“We’re really excited about what (Droessler) can do, he’s probably the one that people say ‘oh you’ve got McNay, Weichard and that Droessler bloke sounds alright’, but he’s definitely equal to those guys.”
Jaycob Devir and Hayden Daniell have also signed on from Bayswater and Mooroolbark respectively, with Devir to add to the Cougars’ ruck stocks and Daniell following his mate Weichard from the Mustangs.
“(Jaycob) hasn’t played senior footy before so the goal for him is to get in that side. If he gets himself going though he’ll be a hard man to stop at his size…
“(Hayden) was a really talented junior, played interleague, Eastern Ranges, but then probably went more (towards) cricket. He’s good friends with Jayden and was looking for an opportunity to come play senior footy.”
With the signings they’ve made plus the younger players from last season continuing to develop, Caldwell expects the Cougars to improve on their 2022 season.
“We were eight and eight last year so we expect to improve on that win tally from last year, that’s definitely the expectation. But I do think it’s a tight comp (this year)”.
It was an equally successful 2022 for the Kilsyth women’s side, making their first finals appearance in only their second season. Much like the men they also bowed out in the opening week of finals to Surrey Park.
Clint Martin has departed to join the Waverley Blues, with Kilsyth president Quinten Van Veen set to take the reins as head coach. Van Veen recently said that he was so far enjoying his time as the head coach of the women’s side.
“I’ve always enjoyed the coaching element of footy and it’s been good fun. The girls are keen to learn and they take on what (I’m) trying to teach them so it’s been fantastic,” Van Veen said.
It’ll be a much different women’s outfit for the Cougars, with many players following Martin to the Waverley Blues, including 2021 Division 2 Best and Fairest winner Felicity Neligan, Claire Wallington, Courtney Di Gregorio and Elise Hoole.
“We’ve obviously had some changes to the group with the exit of our previous coach, but the girls are upbeat about their prospects for this year.
“The big change for us is the move towards a much younger group so we’re expecting a more physical and harder running style of footy to be played given the changes in personnel.
“But all up we’ve had a pretty dedicated group during preseason and we’re looking forward to continuing to improve our footy and have some fun.”
This season Van Veen is looking to make the women’s program similar to the men’s program at Pinks Reserve.
“We’re sticking to creating opportunities for Kilsyth kids to play footy Kilsyth. It’s been our focus at the club for the past four years and we’re just going to continue with that approach.
“We understand where we’re at as a football club and we’re trying to generate a fun atmosphere for the kids to come down, learn and join in a great sport like footy.”
There have also been some younger players that have caught the eye of Van Veen during the preseason.
“It’s been great to see the continued improvement in Darci Innes who joined our group last year, she’s a great young player. Emily Van Veen (came) across from Montrose over a year ago.
“Our two tall players in the Jackson twins (Tiarna and Hayley) have continued to improve across preseason which is fantastic given they’ll have some great opportunities this year in roles where previously they were played by other players.”
Van Veen added that there have also been players that have continued to improve following strong seasons last year.
“Shae Dale, who came fifth in the League Best and Fairest last year, has continued on her leadership role within the group, that’s been fantastic.
“She’s a more experienced player, has that experience with the group and it’s been great.”
Despite a much different group to last year, Van Veen believes that the side can compete in another finals season this coming year.
“I’d say (we’ll have) a very similar outcome to last year, (be) competitive most weeks and to challenge those top sides…
“But the main focus for us is we keep learning, keep having fun and continue to build a group of girls that want to be there, similar to our men’s program.
“We’ve seen success out of that, there’s plenty coming to training (for them) and we see the same approach working for our women’s teams.”