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Yarra Valley Water InFocus 2024 | Wantirna South

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By Ryan Long.

A club legend has returned home, eager to lead his former club into the future as the new senior coach.

 

Jason Heffernan was appointed the new senior coach of the Wantirna South Football Club last September, taking over from Brett Moyle. A two-time best and fairest winner at Wantirna South, Heffernan captained the Devils to its 2002 premiership, in a thrilling win over Doncaster East.

 

With connections to people still at the club, it was a perfect fit for both Heffernan and the Devils.

 

“Initially when you start coaching, you go I’d like to go back to where you’d play,” Heffernan said.

 

“For me to be appointed at Wantirna South, it wasn’t based on being a past player and aspiring to coach there, it was the people running the club because I trusted them.”

 

Heffernan has been rapt with what he’s seen so far over the pre-season, driven by the numbers of their Under 19’s program.

 

“I couldn’t be more impressed by the attendance of not just the senior group but the Under 19’s as well, they’ve got two teams this year which is awesome,”

 

“You rock up and there’s 80 blokes there wearing a Wantirna south singlet, it’s pretty exciting.”

 

After a strong 2022 season that saw the senior group make an Elimination Final, the Devils took a couple of steps backwards last year.

 

In the hunt for the double chance at the mid-way point of the season, Wantirna South went on to lose seven of their last nine games of the year, finishing in seventh position on the Division One ladder.

 

There’s plenty of talent on the list, and the depth at the club is highlighted by their back-to-back reserves’ premierships. Heffernan believes that a lot of the improvement will arise from internal growth.

 

“It’s (Improvement) really going to come from within, there’s some guys who really want to push their case for senior selection and some guys who played out of 19’s, got a taste,”

 

“Guys who played in the reserves premiership who think they’ve got a fair more bit to give,”

 

“And a core senior group who whenever they don’t have the year they’re hoping for, want to bounce back.”

 

The club have also added a couple of key recruits, Noble Park’s Sam Pascuzzi and Warrandyte’s Quinn Clark.

 

Pascuzzi is set to be a great inclusion to the Devils midfield, coming off the back of a league Best and Fairest in the Under 19.5’s Premier Division.

 

Key forward Quinn Clark also joins the Devils, finishing in the top two of the club’s best and fairest over the last two seasons. He’s certainly set to have a big impact on the side and the forward line set-up.

 

“We can really work on what it is that he brings to the table… and that is, a forward that has an immense amount of talent,” Heffernan said.

 

“If you look at him at the moment, he’s working extremely hard.”

 

Heffernan has also been impressed with the way the leadership group led by Jake Denes has worked with the younger group.

 

“Can’t go past the skipper, he’ll celebrate a ten-year premiership reunion this year, the guy’s just been leading from the front, he’s driving some of these younger guys to set up,”

 

“Those younger guys, we really need them, we really need them to be capable at senior level to even push towards knocking a team out of the five.”

 

In one of the most even divisions in the competition, Premier Division clubs Park Orchards and Doncaster have both entered the division, replacing Lilydale and Croydon.

 

Jason Heffernan is excited for the opportunity to test themselves in a highly competitive division.

 

This pre-season, there’s been a clear focus on setting the standards high on and off the field to set the club up for the future.

 

“Our conversations at the moment around us is that we’ve just got to operate with high standards and really good behaviours and have our expectations attached to those,” Heffernan said.

 

“To get the guys applying themselves, what we’re doing at training, what we’re doing away from the club, commitment levels,”

 

“Most clubs will be the same – they’ll recruit, we’ll recruit, they’ll be fit, we’ll be fit so what’s going to be our point of difference – let’s just operate on high standards,”

 

“It’s not about changing a culture, it’s just about having a really strong commitment to the level of football that we’re playing.”

 

The Devils season begins on April 6th as they head to Holm Park Reserve to take on Beaconsfield.

 

For the second consecutive year, the club will also feature a Senior Women’s team in the league.

 

Michael Vozzo has signed on as the team’s senior coach, thrilled with the way the team has come together over the last twelve months.

 

“To come away with at least one win and be competitive almost every game was a big tick for our program,” Vozzo said.

 

Their first senior win came in the second last round of the Home and Away season against Boronia. Keeley Bristowe starred with four goals for the Devils in their come-from-behind victory over the Hawks.

 

“Probably the best thing about that win was that we had to come a fair way from behind to win,”

 

“What it taught the girls was what it takes to win, take some risks.”

 

The addition of the senior program last season has helped improve the pathway for the junior girls at the club.

 

Last season’s Wantirna South Under 18 girls team have been able to transition into the senior club this pre-season. It’s been a huge success for the Devils who are now able to retain those numbers and keep the girls at the club.

 

“We’ve had a lot of our under 18 girls have now come through and that’s what we wanted,” Vozzo said.

 

“That’s the whole point of us starting it last year. We’ve had a lot of joint sessions with our under-18 girls, last year and also this pre-season, so it gives all the girls a real pathway.”

 

A senior pathway has also had an impact on some of the younger age groups as well, setting the club up for the long-term future.

 

“We’ve spoken to a few of the younger girls, 14, 15, 16-year-old girls and now their dream is to play senior footy at Wantirna South,”

 

“12-24 months ago, that wasn’t a reality, so the pathway is absolutely vital for our girls and gives them something to aim for.”

 

The younger crew that are making the transition into senior football are set to improve the side going into 2024, adding plenty of skill and speed to the playing group.

 

“Cam Disney, Mikayla Drury, Paige Semple,”

 

“These girls aren’t just footballers; they are very good footballers so their inclusion on our list should help us a hell of a lot.”

 

Leg speed has been one of the trademarks of the Devils outfit.

 

A focus on fitness has been once again key over the pre-season as the club prepares for the opening round of the season.

 

“Everyone has gelled extremely well, we’ve been working on a couple of little things around our fitness to increase that this year,” Vozzo said.

 

“We got a lot of opposition saying we were quite quick last year, and we’re going to try and build on that, especially with our under-18s on our list,”

 

“We are looking forward to hopefully being a bit bigger, a bit fitter and a bit stronger.”

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