By Todd Whelan
210 days is a long time in footy.
But I can guarantee you one thing; the cross-town rivalry between BFL heavyweights Bacchus Marsh and Darley is healthy, as robust as ever, and here to stay.
The two clubs will face off in the season opener and Grand Final replay this Saturday afternoon (April 21) at Maddingley Park.
With a huge crowd anticipated, this local derby will be nothing short of a finals experience.
The Darley Devils hold bragging rights, they are the reigning premiers. But the once hunters are now the hunted.
Both teams are laden with quality, top-end talent. On paper, the match-ups are mouth watering but it’s the one over the fence – from the coaches box that could well prove the difference.
Darley premiership coach Heath Scotland is pumped for 2018, a tilt at back-to-back flags in just his second year at the helm.
The return of star recruits and former premiership players Steven Kennedy (Altona), Jake Edwards (Geelong VFL) and Ryan Closter (work absence) to the club poses an ominous warning to the competition and to the more immediate Cobras.
The Devils also snared talented big man Dillon Reid (Pascoe Vale) to help share the ruck load with the improving Abe Kur.
But they weren’t without loss.
Chris Graham to (Springbank), Zak Butters (Western Jets), Kyle Docherty (Mt Eliza), Drew Edwards (retired) have moved on while the playing future of Heath Scotland is on hold (for now) as the focus leans toward solely coaching.
Jake Ancrum (inj) and Mark Hanson (work) will also miss the season opener.
Bacchus Marsh coach Travis Hodgson heads into his third successive year in charge, coming off a Runners-up 2017 season and a drought breaking premiership win 2016.
An aggressive off-season search to bolster their stocks was inevitable for the Cobras given the loss of key players Jarrah Maksymow (work), Matt Denham (Melton), Dean Heta (Albury) and Jethro Calma-Holt.
Enter key forwards Jacob Owen (Williamstown) and Aaron Willits (Epping) who have impressed in the pre-season matches with their run, aerial and long kicking ability. Add ball magnets Ben Speight (Wangaratta), Jacob Chiasari (Williamstown) and in-house recruit Trent Angwin (fit) into the mix, there looks plenty of upside for the Cobras.
Impressive local product Harrison KIng (Werribee) has nominated the Marsh as his go-to club when available. It’s an exciting “watch this space” prospect for the club. Jackson Bolton (inj) and Liam Noonan (overseas) will both miss.
Improving flexibility, players who can play multiple positions, more forward options and becoming a better kicking team was the steely focus in the pre-season for Hodgson.
Time will be the judge.
An opportunity to plant an indelible footprint early on the competition looms large, a statement on just who has arrived will be the likely narrative – the hunters or the hunted…
See you at the footy!
Radio broadcast: Apple 98.5FM from 2pm Saturday April 21 at Maddingley Park.