By Justin Flynn
A swathe of new recruits and the continued development of youth looks set to propel Ocean Grove back into finals contention next season.
Former Western Bulldogs and Geelong player Matthew Robbins, who played 146 AFL games, joins the club as assistant coach, along with five high-profile additions.
Lachlan Bone has recommitted to the club after agreeing to play last season before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season. The former Camperdown player will add to Grubbers’ midfield and forward stocks.
Forward Tom Waters, North Bendigo mid/forward Will Brohm, midfielder Riley Hogarth and University Blacks mid Josh Wooding rounds off an impressive offseason recruiting drive.
Ocean Grove coach Pete Davey expects all to have an immediate impact.
“All of these lads have played consistent senior football at higher levels and all of them fill needs that we identified during the extended off season,” he said.
“Their impact has already been noticed through their training habits and intensity on the track.
“It’s rubbing off on those around them and driving the group to work harder and to expect more of one another. Josh Gummer and Caleb Mutsaerts are two others that have come out of the St Joseph’s program and will also have an immediate impact on the senior team.”
The Grubbers have been training for three weeks and will continue to train two nights a week until December 16 before breaking for Christmas and resuming on January 13.
Despite the influx of talent, Davey said it wasn’t a conscious effort to recruit.
“From the outside, it probably does look like a massive recruiting drive but aside from Tom Waters, who essentially fell into our lap, every other recruit was already known to us and it was more a case of them wanting to play with their mates and be a part of what we’re building than actually being ‘recruited’,” he said.
“Filling positional holes is obviously at the forefront of any strategy and fortunately we’ve done that with boys that we know and importantly, with boys who are all at an age where their best football is ahead and not behind them.”
Kobe Annand, Max Sutton and Josh Lange will all return from the Northern Territory league in February, but Davey wants them to have a break to “mentally recharge” before playing a practice match or two.
Robbins’ AFL experience is a huge coup for the club.
“It’s exciting for everyone to bring in somebody with an AFL CV, particularly one who had such a lengthy and distinguished career at a successful club,” Davey said.
“Matt brings a wealth of experience as well as the ability to communicate and un-complicate the game which is very important for a young group. His role will solely be coaching with a focus on ball movement and development in our backline.”
After several seasons of disappointment, things are looking brighter for Ocean Grove, but Davey said there can be no substitute for hard work.
“We will certainly take some big steps forward in 2021 but that will be on the back of teamwork and an appetite to compete at a high level,” he said.
“We have a squad of driven players who want to train and play for one another which in my experience, leads to rapid improvement.
“Being such a young list, we know there will be the occasional hiccup, but we will go into every game with the confidence that we have the ability, the plan and the fitness to compete with anybody for four quarters.”