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Yarra Valley Water InFocus 2024 | Kilsyth

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By Ryan Long.

It’s a special year for the Kilsyth Football Club as they celebrate their centennial year in what proves to be a fascinating one on the field.

Last season, the Senior Men’s group came one game short of what would have been the club’s first premiership since 1995.


A loss to Surrey Park in the decider did not take away from what was the club’s most successful season in recent memory, the senior men’s first Grand Final since 2015.


Senior Coach Simon Caldwell was pleased with what his group achieved, setting themselves up nicely heading into 2024.

“If anything, finishing on top of the ladder exceeded expectations,” Caldwell said.


“We were definitely looking to play finals, once you’re there, you want to take your chances and win it but we’re really happy where we are as a club.”


Recruits from higher up the divisions who made their way to Kilsyth were vital in the side’s success. Ryan McNay one of the clear standouts has been elected skipper for the 2024 season.


“With what we saw from Ryan last season, the way he leads on the field but also off the field as well,”


“He’s just a natural leader, the boys follow him, he’s been even bigger this pre-season, the way he trains, his fitness levels are up totally, he’s tough, 6 foot 3, can mark the footy, great kick, he’s just the prime example of a leader for us.”


Alongside the recruits of 2023, the senior side has continued to see the development of their homegrown talent that has made their mark at Kilsyth.


“We’ve kept playing the local ones that we bought in around 2021, more than half our list last year played junior footy at Kilsyth.


Recruiting hasn’t been a major factor in the off-season for the Cougars but with the recruits they have managed to pick up, they’re all due to be influential.


One of those recruits is key forward Justin Van Unen. A decorated career thus far with a long resume which includes two 100-plus goal seasons, a valuable asset to the forward line.


“We definitely wanted a key forward,” Caldwell said.


“When we lost Jayden (Weichard) near the end of November, we freed up a bit of salary cap space so we were like you know what, we’ve got a chance to really go for someone we wouldn’t have in the past,”


“It just lined up for us, he was at Powelltown last year, he played a bit more higher up the ground, we said we were looking for a genuine full forward so that suited him.”

Other recruits have included Harry Mcaleese, Sam Meadows and Tim Shepherdson, all debuting last Saturday against Chirnside Park.


“Harry has come over from Ferntree Gully, he’s someone who can play through the mid,”


“(Tim) from Narre Warren, he’s come over as a bit of a utility but we’re probably going to play him through the ruck,”


“Where we were weak in the forward with our talls – with Justin and Tim coming on board, we can shift Sean Currey forward a bit more so I think that will strengthen our key forwards,”

“Lucky late with Sam Meadows, come on board from Powelltown, he’s a half-back flanker that can play on-ball, team of the year last year in the outer east comp averaged something like 28 touches, played at Norwood premier division in 2021,”


“Only 24 so really fits the age bracket, other than Justin, we’ve really stayed in that age bracket.”


The club had a great look at their recruits who donned the sash on Saturday in the first game of the season with the Cougars hanging on for a thrilling one-point victory. With an injury concern to Justin Van Unen early in the game, they’ll be hopeful that it’s only a short-term injury.


Simon Caldwell and the coaching group are also eager to see the development of their younger core of players who are ready to take another step forward in 2024.


“Natural improvement from those guys, We’ve still got Jacob Moschetti and Spencer Lamb, still eligible for under 19s this year and are in their third year of senior footy,”


“Jacob will go on-ball a bit more this year after losing Jayden, opportunity more in there,”


“Cody George, a third tall forward, can play small as well when needed, really talented junior but hasn’t played for a few years because he’s been playing high-level tennis.”


One of the most exciting debutants across the league last weekend was young future star Luke Ivanovic, selected in Kilsyth’s senior team for the first time.


“Luke’s still eligible for under 17’s – super talented player, was in the squad for the under 16rangers which doesn’t happen with too many people from our division,” Caldwell said.


“We see him playing a lot of senior footy this year.”


Despite the losses to Best and Fairest winner Jayden Weichard and Luke Hoogstra, Caldwell believes the side’s forward line will be the big difference from last year.


“We’re going to be a different side a little bit from last year, Jayden’s a hard player to replace but we feel strengthing up our forward line is going to be a big positive for us.”

The club has a strong group of Under 19s this season that have come up from the Under 17 level where the side was able to take home a premiership. They’ll be pushing for senior selection across the 2024 season.

What will also be keeping Cougars fans happy is the return of Simon Clarke and Brandon Drosseler who missed periods of last year due to season-ending injuries. Clark is due to return earlier with Drosseler taking on a new role while he remains out of the side in the second half of the season.

“Going to look after the backs for us, stay involved,” Caldwell said.


“We lost him with six weeks to go, it changed the way we played, he set up so much across half-back,”


“On top of that, Simon Clarke who was our captain the year before, had done his knee around round five or six, he is due back in Round 7 or 8, we’ll get him back into the side which is a bonus,”


“Brandon – he’d love to play enough games to qualify for finals so it’s going to be touch and go but we’re putting no pressure on him.”

In what is the club’s 100th year, Kilsyth has also launched the debut of their new facilities at Pinks Reserve, which rival any club in the East.


The history of the club is not lost on the group, with many players having their fathers wear the red and black in the past.


“It’s exciting for the club,” Caldwell said.


“a lot of those young players playing, their Dads’s played at the club, Ryan McNay’s dad is the last premiership captain so there is some history there,”


“There is that history there for 6,7,8 of the guys where their dads played in flags,”


“Brand new facilities, 100th year, if we can get there and do it in that period, it’d be pretty exciting.


President and coach of the senior Women’s squad, Quentin Van Veen is also excited about the year ahead.


Van Veen has been a Kilsyth man for decades and has had the chance to reminisce on the club’s history as well as the people who have had an impact on the club across the years.


“The 100-year stuff probably means more to our longer-standing members than the existing playing group,” Van Veen said.


“For me, someone who’s been there for 30-plus years, you start to think about the people who have been around who have made the place the great place that I think it is which is wonderful,”


“To sit as a president of a club that’s been around for 100 years is a bit humbling.”

As Senior Coach of the Senior Women’s, Van Veen played an integral role in the side’s premiership which saw Kilsyth defeat the Eastern Devils on Grand Final Day at Quambee Reserve.


A premiership also goes hand in hand with a promotion up the division with the side ready to take on the challenges of Division Two.


The challenges continue with some key personnel losses including last year’s league best and fairest winner Brooke Slaney.


“We think we will be competitive; we’ll lose Brooke Slaney who’s gone back to play for North Melbourne,”


“We had the opportunity for Brooke to play for us when she was on North Melbourne’s injury list, now that she’s fit and healthy, she’ll go back and play”


“Kayla Villarreal is moving to Sydney, she was a great ball winner and scorer for our side.”


Last year’s premiership captain Shae Dale took her game to new levels last season. Dale’s improvement sees her training with the St.Kilda VFLW side.


“She’s been training with St Kilda so that’s been a great experience for her, she’s been able to share some information with the group,”

“Shae’s been fantastic, she turns up to every available training session, she’s doing two nights a week at st Kilda, doing one night at least with us,”


Opportunities have opened up for others on the side with a new leadership group led by Captain Hayley Jackson and Vice Captain Darcy Innes.

“Hayley who shared ruck duties last year, she’s a really mature head, never misses a training, perfect example of what you want as a team player – that’s why the girls have voted for her captain,”


“Darcy Innes is a fantastic midfield-forward, she’s a great example on the field, that’s our leadership group this year.”


There’s plenty of talent still out on the field in what is a balanced lineup, the likes of Emily Van Veen, Courtney Innes, and Sophie Garsed, are names to look out for in 2024.


“Emily Van Veen coming out of the midfield last year had a great season, looking for her to continue that, continue to improve,”


“(Courtney Innes) She finished off the season really well if she can get back to that form, she’ll be fantastic for us,”


“Sophie Garsid, finished off fantastic last year, one of our biggest improvers, playing out of the back line,”

“We were a pretty evenly balanced team, from the start of the season to the end of the season, the improvement was clear across the ground.”


In Division Two, they’ll come up against some experienced sides such as finals outfits Surrey Park and East Burwood, as well as Berwick who return to the competition.


The continued improvement of the sides’ skills, as well as their fitness, will be key in creating some success up a division.


“Our focus has been the consistent improvement in skills, I’d like to think our game is built around maintaining possession of the footy and good use of the ball,”


“We’ve also got to make the most of our opportunities when we go forward.”

Kilsyth starts the 2024 Deakin University Senior Women’s competition on the 20th of April against last year’s Division Two runner-up Surrey Park.

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