The local footy season has been scrapped by AFL Barwon as lockdowns have ruined the season. Ocean Grove was due to play in a huge first-semi final against Barwon Heads, but we will all have to wait until next year for another Battle of the Bridge. Voice journalist Justin Flynn spoke to Grubbers’ coach Pete Davey about the season and the challenges the club faced.
It was an enjoyable season to follow as a footy fan. What went right for Ocean Grove this season?
If you consider where we finished up, it’s easy to say we got a fair bit right but the most important thing in my eyes was establishing and maintaining high training and preparation standards. Everything good and everything that went right for us was 100% attributable to the way in which we prepared.
On the other hand, what went wrong?
The things that went wrong for us were really out of our control. The home and away lockdown came at a time when we had back-to-back home games so that was disappointing from a supporter and club revenue viewpoint. Obviously, the final lockdown prior to the semi-final was the one that hurt the most though.
What was the best win for the season?
Personally, the most enjoyable day of football I have experienced as a player or coach was the Barwon Heads win in Round 5.
Coming from 28 points down to knock off the reigning premiers on their home ground in front of a large crowd, with such an inexperienced group of senior footballers, sits higher than the grand final wins that I’ve been involved in.
It was only a home and away game but the enjoyment that it brought to our supporters is something I won’t forget and the belief it gave our players, immeasurable.
What was the most disappointing loss?
The Anglesea loss was our blip on the radar. I know we got touched up by Torquay on two occasions but in both of those games, I thought we had patches where we were actually pretty good. We reviewed our losses very closely though and what we learnt from the loss at Anglesea, certainly helped us in the elimination final win.
What was the side’s main strength?
Our boys play with an abundance of heart and care for one another and they are extremely coachable. There is a lot of raw talent in our group but putting that to one side, it’s their character as people that is their greatest strength.
Conversely what was the side’s main weakness?
Inexperience. There is nothing we can do about it but these boys should now have all played around 40 games of senior football, instead, the majority have played only 13.
We did use that collective inexperience to our advantage though as the young guys just ran out each week and enjoyed themselves without any baggage from previous seasons.
There was a moment in the elimination final when Dale Carson manned up Kye Annand. Dale was playing VFL before Kye was even born and I suspect Kye had no idea who Dale was. That’s the beauty of a young, inexperienced team; sometimes they just respectfully don’t care who the opposition is.
Which played improved the most in your eyes?
The one player that stands out to me is Kobe Annand. He was thrust into the role of number one ruckman a little earlier than we would have preferred but he stepped up from round one and just got better and better the longer the season went. To be named as ruckman of the year at 19 years of age is just incredible.
What areas does the squad need to improve on next season?
We know we are going to find natural improvement over another preseason with more training and education but one aspect we will be working on is getting physically bigger. We have an extremely quick and tall squad, if we can add some more size without it affecting our run, we will become a seriously imposing outfit.
What do you want the playing group to take out of the season?
I hope they will reflect on just how difficult this season (and 2020) was and be really proud of how they dealt with the forced setbacks. So many clubs had players who dropped their bundle when things got challenging from a COVID perspective, but our boys continued to be young leaders in our community. They may not realise it now but that kind of resilience will hold them in great stead not just in their football careers, but in their relationships and professional careers.
The club has retained its list but are there any areas that need to be addressed recruit wise?
We are really comfortable with where we sit from a list perspective. There are a number of players who didn’t get their opportunity this season due to varying reasons and we know how driven they are to work hard and get into the senior side next season.
Giving Jake Wilkie, Joe McDonald, Jack Rawlings and Connor Pickett some more support in the midfield is an area that we are conscious of but again, we don’t need to look elsewhere for that. Sam Donegan, Fletcher Keck, Logan Taylor, Ollie Monteith, Josh Lange and Harley Pearce are all very capable of being a starting midfielder but they also bring strengths that we’ve utilised in other positions.
A stop-start season didn’t help anyone. How confident are you that we can return to normal for next season?
I am extremely confident that we will return next year and play an uninterrupted season. Everyone is across what is required now and hopefully everybody keeps doing their bit from a vaccination perspective as I know how important community sport is in a lot of peoples’ lives.
Who was the one player who you could count on to stand up in clutch moments?
I know it’s a cliche response but we purposely train and play a particular way which hopefully means that no one player is faced with a clutch moment that rests solely on their shoulders. That said, if I could choose one player to kick a goal after the siren to win a game, I would be very comfortable if the footy was in Sam Donegan’s hands.
Who was the best player from an opposing side that you saw?
From a scouting perspective, James Breust from Drysdale was the most damaging player that I saw while reviewing opposition footage and it’s an incredibly large feather that sits in Tom Ness’s cap that he was able to completely blanket him when we played them in that final round. Cam O’Leary from Barwon Heads really impressed me live, as did Callum Currie from Torquay. Jhye Clark from Queenscliff is a sensational young player with a huge future ahead of him.
Finally, how would you sum up the season?
The word that comes immediately to mind is “exhausting”.
We’ve come a long way in a short period of time but it’s come on the back of an incredible amount of hard work and emotional energy. In the months ahead I know we will look back on it fondly but right now, we’re just a little disappointed and very tired.