21 DAYS TO GO | EFL Media will be previewing each club ahead of the 2019 season with the #InFocus2019 series, all thanks to Yarra Valley Water & Choose Tap.
By: Steve White
WAVERLEY BLUES find themselves dropping down to the new EFL Division 3 for 2019, after finishing 2018 in seventh spot with eight wins and 10 losses.
Despite being a technical relegation for the new alignment, it’s the second drop in two years after coming down from Division 2 in 2017.
That hasn’t phased senior coach Bryce McGain, who is heading into his second year at the helm by getting down to business early on season 2019.
“I thought we were very capable in Division 3 last year,” McGain said.
“We now get to play a couple of teams that we haven’t played before and to see how we go against some new opponents.
“We’re fully supportive of the restructure and we think it’s great for the league.
“Pre-season has been great – the guys are conditioning really well and pushing themselves as much as you can be at this time of the year.
“We’re consistently pushing close to 50 guys out at training each night and we’re a long way further forward than we were this time last year.
“There are a lot more ‘knowns’ for us this year.”
The Blues have maintained most of their senior list from 2018, with James Coghlan, Mitch Hayes, Billy Evans, Ben Turner and Daniel Playsted all back for the 2019 campaign.
The most notable departure being Matt Sharpe after five years with the club. The 2016 Blues best and fairest winner missed most of the 2018 season with a hamstring injury.
“We really didn’t want to see him go as he really gave a lot to the club in the five seasons he was at Waverley,” McGain said.
“You never like to lose experience and football knowledge of such a high level that ‘Sharpey’ had.”
The focus at Charles Street this year is firmly on the up-and-coming talent, of which the Blues find themselves in plentiful supply.
The Blues’ under-19 team was upset by Boronia in the grand final last year by five points despite being the favourite, however the players haven’t let the loss get to them and will hope to find not only the reward of a flag but also a stint in senior football.
Names such as Dimitrios Roufos, Zac Mullin and Nick Buckley and others could find themselves playing in the senior side.
“The club has invested the best part of five years into our junior programs and we’ve got a solid core of young guys coming up into our senior list,” McGain said.
“Youth will firmly be the driver for the club for this year.
“Guys like Ryan McNamara (pictured below), Hugh McConaghy, Sam Johnson and a few others will surely find themselves in the mix for senior selection this year.
“They learned from their mistakes in the grand final and could have packed it in but they haven’t – they’re back really hungry this year.”
The Blues’ women’s team is also back for Division 1 of the 2019 Deakin Uni Eastern Region Women’s competition.
Waverley earned itself a finals berth last season after finishing in fourth spot with eight wins and seven losses, before going down to Bayswater in the semi-finals but is looking to be back in finals contention in 2019.
Incoming coach Mick Molinia is embracing the challenge in his first year at the helm.
“Preseason has been good – the skills have seen a big improvement from last season and the girls have really committed to working hard as we get closer to the start of the season,” Molinia said.
The Blues will be without two of their best players from 2018, after injuries to both Ashleigh Cant and Stephanie Loh will keep them out of the entire 2019 campaign.
However, there’s been plenty of new blood at Waverley Reserve this year looking to step up.
“We had a lot of girls last year, about 10-15, that were completely new players but now they have experience under their belt as well as some new players this year,” Molinia said.
“Our main goal for this year is improvement and development to get the best out of the team.
“It’s going to be a competitive, high-quality season with a lot of tough games.
“Hopefully we can get another top four finish this year – it’s going to be tough particularly looking at the quality of some of the other teams, but I’m confident we can push them like we did last season.”
Waverley Blues open their 2019 campaign at home to Donvale on April 6. The women’s fixtures are to be released at a later date.