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By: Daniel Cencic
INCOMING Wantirna South senior coach Steve Cochrane believes improved fitness is the key in the club’s bid to return to finals in 2019.
An inconsistent 2018 saw the Devils finish 11th on the Division 2 ladder, recording seven wins and 11 losses, ending their campaign with three defeats by a combined total of just 12 points.
The club last played finals in 2016 and was unable to string more than three wins together in a row last year – which it did from rounds 2-4 – and will compete in Division 1 this season under the EFL’s competition restructure.
Consistency has been Cochrane’s main focus in his first pre-season at the helm.
“Consistency is everything in footy and to be consistent you’ve got to be fit and you’ve got to put the work in,” Cochrane said.
“That’s what will be our main focus this year is putting the work in and getting the miles in the legs over the last few months – I’ve been driving the guys pretty hard.”
Headlining the recruits at Walker Reserve this off-season is South Croydon premiership midfielder David Del Papa, ex-Vermont defender Jacob Castricum and 2014 premiership key defender Jackson Freeman, who returns to the Devils after a season at Donvale.
Midfielder David Del Papa in his new colours. PHOTO: WSFCDevils.com.au
Del Papa played just six senior games for the Dogs last season after playing in the 2017 Division 1 premiership, while Castricum was a regular feature in Emerald’s senior team in 2018, playing 16 matches.
Freeman is expected to miss a significant chunk of the season through injury.
“He (Freeman) has had some injuries and hasn’t been able to train, he’s got some knee problems so I don’t think we’ll see much of him in the first half of the year but certainly Del Papa and Castricum have hit the ground running and going really well,” Cochrane said.
The Devils have also added to their younger playing stocks, with Patrick Bridges, Matt Brown and Fergus Ward crossing over from Vermont after featuring in Division 1 reserve-grade and under-19 flags at the Eagles in recent seasons.
Dual premiership player Andrew Teakel has departed and will play at Seaford this season, 2018 best and fairest Will Edwards has signed at Caulfield Grammarians in the VAFA, Ben Carboni has retired while Jack Hare has transferred to Boronia.
Cochrane, who was announced as the Devils’ coach in October, had his desire for senior coaching re-ignited last year when he led the EFL’s senior representative side to the number-one state ranking in the WorkSafe AFL Victoria Community Championships.
The former Vermont and Blackburn mentor grew up in the Wantirna South area and is looking forward to giving back to his local club.
“It (coaching senior interleague) certainly gave me the taste again to get back involved in coaching and then when the opportunity came up with (Wantirna) South, I’ve got a bit of a history with them,” he said.
“We always ask a lot of players to come back to their local club and I really admire what (Upper Ferntree Gully senior coach) Joel Perry did, going back to his local club and I’m sure there’s a few other guys that have done that and come back as coach so I thought it would be a good opportunity to go back to my club as well.”
Cochrane will be aided by senior assistant coach Sam Bates – who will also take charge of the midfield – Michael Jamieson (forwards), Paul Rees (defence) and new reserves coach, Andrew Azzopardi, who returns to the Devils after last playing at the club in 2016.
L-R: Jamieson, Bates, Cochrane, Rees and Azzopardi. PHOTO: Wantirna South Senior Football Club Facebook page.
“He (Andrew) is great with the boys and has a great relationship with those guys, he’s a young coach who’s coming in and learning the ropes and he’s keen and committed,” Cochrane said.
Meanwhile, the club recently completed a pre-season camp to Portsea with its captain set to be named shortly.
Brent Walker captained the club in 2018.
“We’ve got a leadership group that was nominated by the boys over camp and we’re working with them through a cultural program,” Cochrane said.
“Our captain and our on-field leaders will come out of that over the coming weeks.”
Wantirna South hosts Knox at Walker Reserve in Round 1 on Saturday, April 6.