Kyabram Free Press

Praise for local Pioneers

- By Josh Huntly

Bendigo Pioneers coach Danny O'bree has credited the maturity of his talented stable of players as another NAB League season draws to a close.

The first-year Pios mentor guided his side to a fourth-place finish with six wins and five losses before continued COVID-19 lockdowns statewide forced a premature end to the season.

Hopes of hosting a potential conference system in regional Victoria to continue the competitio­n were dashed with news that sporting competitio­ns would likely be waylaid until November 5 at the earliest.

"I'm a little in awe of these kids, the way they handled this year," O'bree said.

"It certainly surprised me and our staff. They've seen it as that opportunit­y to just keep training and getting better, and make each other better.

"They didn't say 'poor me' because they weren't getting any opportunit­ies — they just loved coming together and working incredibly hard.

"And they did it right to the last night, which was a Tuesday night the week before last when they didn't have to turn up.

"I don't think I could be any prouder of not only the players, but also the staff to motivate and engage and to keep developing them."

Despite the setbacks, several of the region's best young players made their mark on the NAB League.

Echuca's Jack Evans skippered the Pios this season, and like many other top-age prospects was subjected to an interrupte­d run — including a broken hand.

"He was similar to a lot of our 19-year-olds. He was interrupte­d not only through COVID but with hand surgery and missed a couple of games," O'bree said.

"There were a couple of games he wasn't allowed to play because of the COVID rules around the 19-year-olds.

"His leadership and what he's brought to the younger group was sensationa­l. His passion for footy, not just his own, is sensationa­l."

Evans, listed with Essendon in the VFL, ticked off a debut with the Bombers in round three after earning a spot on their list during the pre-season.

Rochester's Nathan Kay also earned a VFL start with North Melbourne on top of his five games with the Pioneers.

Evans' Echuca counterpar­ts, Corbin Anderson and Billy Barnes, also drew plaudits from O'bree.

"We love how (Anderson) goes about it," he said.

"There's not much of him, but he makes up for it in determinat­ion and his aggression.

"He's got a really great attitude on game day — he's got a pretty bright future.

"(Billy) probably had to work in the hard way. He worked hard to get his opportunit­ies.

"All credit to him in regards to how he went about it — I thought he finished the year really well."

Kyabram's Anthony Depasquale managed eight games with the Pios and a debut with the reigning GVL premiers.

"He won a lot of the footy in a variety of positions," O'bree said.

"The circumstan­ces around being away at school, not being able to train with the group is always a challenge.

"He works hard and gets a mountain of the footy."

In June, a 15-year-old out of the Murray League made waves on debut for the Pioneers.

Impressing with an aggressive contested style of play, Tongala's Harley Reid played five games in the top age bracket, booting eight goals.

A best-on-ground showing against the Northern Knights two weeks later earmarked him as a player to watch going forward.

"He's a bit of a revelation," O'bree said.

"To come in as a 16-year-old in our 19s program so early . . . we probably haven't seen that in the past, especially so early in the season.

"The impact he had on the first couple of games, you couldn't deny him that opportunit­y. He's quite exciting for the group, they're quite excited by what he can offer in the future.

"With a couple more years in the system, the excitement around him is real."

 ?? Photo: Steve Huntley ?? Assessing the season: The Bendigo Pioneers pushed through another Covid-19-affected year.
Photo: Steve Huntley Assessing the season: The Bendigo Pioneers pushed through another Covid-19-affected year.
 ?? ?? Impressive: Harley Reid is enjoying his start to life in the NAB League.
Impressive: Harley Reid is enjoying his start to life in the NAB League.

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