Demons are primed
If Wimmera Football League fans needed confirmation about the 2019 intentions of reigning premier Horsham they need only consider what happened at a pre-season tournament at Bendigo.
Horsham not only competed in a Bendigo Country Football Challenge, it won the tournament overall, beating Swan Hill by five points in an intense grand final.
The result consolidated a belief across the region that the Demons are again the standout team to beat.
But Horsham, while appearing similar from the outside, will feature a range of subtle differences this season.
For a start, Tim Wade has joined Deek Roberts in a joint senior coaching role, former premiership leader Guy Smith has led a pre-season fitness program and fans are likely to see a rolling change in personnel.
The changes are likely to add a fresh dimension to Horsham’s approach this season, so much so that Wade admitted team leaders were still assessing game plans and styles.
“We’re still a little bit unknown on what side we will go with and how our game style is going to work. But having good numbers and a mix of youth and older guys will apply pressure to both our reserves as well as seniors to play
well and step up,” he said. Wade said at least 35 players had consistently been involved in pre-season training since the club hit the track in mid January.
“We have an influx of 11 juniors coming out of the under-17s and this has been helped with six or seven guys we’ve picked up,” he said.
“Four of those young blokes played at some stage last year and the way they have been travelling they are all probably going to get a go this year.”
Wade predicted the likes of Matt Wynne, Bailey Nelson and Ben Hobbs were likely to lead a young-player charge.
Horsham recruits include Sam Vincent from Laharum, Ambrose Launder who had ‘slipped under the radar’ and done well in practice matches and Paul Christian, who has been away playing in Adelaide and Bendigo and likely to line up mid-season after recovering from shoulder surgery.
“We’ve also been impressed with Rhys Barber who has done a full pre-season and showed a lot in the ruck,” Wade said.
“And then there’s Al Mckinnon from Dimboola who has brought significant knowledge and professionalism with him to the club.
“He has been amazing. He’s the whole package and we’re rapt to have him on board.”
It hasn’t been all roses in the Demons’ lead-up to the season. The club has lost premiership and league star Ryan Kemp to Werribee and goal-kicking midfielder John Wood has shifted to Melbourne with work.
Heart-and-soul on-field leader Darcy Taylor and Riley Stacey, working overseas, are also departures.
“It’s going to be a very new-look side,” Wade said.
“We’ve spent most of the pre-season strengthening up our juniors and doing a lot of one-on-one work with the young guys
“While there are a few older heads in there it will still be a pretty young side.”
The joint coaching arrangement is an obvious switch for the Demons with Roberts and the club approaching Wade with the dual-role idea.
The move consolidates a powerful leadership group with Rhona Conboy the pair’s senior assistant, Smith providing direction from the bench and fitness management and captain Ben Lakin, who with Conboy and former coach Brad Hartigan led the way in the pre-season tournament in Bendigo.
Wade said players had understandably pulled up sore after the tournament and will use intra-club matches to freshen up for an Anzac Day opening against Horsham Saints.
“We’ve had a pretty full-on pre-season and we’re not quite ready to go, but we’re also not far off,” he said.