By Todd Whelan
Sure, 2019 deserves a clean slate but there are two lingering statistics that can’t be ignored when Darley hosts Sunbury in the season opener at Darley Park.
The Devils are on an 8-0 winning run at home, currently the longest of any club in the BFNL (East Point 6, Melton 5) while Sunbury remain 0-7 on the road. Come Saturday, Darley will have not lost a home game for 350 days, ironically it will be the last time the Lions enjoyed away success.
Darley could well be this seasons’ ‘quiet assassins’, on the rebound from an injury affected 2018, while the jury remains out on Sunbury under new coach Travis Hodgson.
Even Hodgson has his own demons to overcome, having lost his last five encounters against Heath Scotland’s Devils, dating as far back as the 2017 finals series during his tenure at Bacchus Marsh. Furthermore, the Devils boast a 15-3 home record under Scotland.
Sunbury’s midfield will be bolstered with the full time return of VFL players Mitch Conn (Coburg) and Lachie Bramble (Williamstown) while the Devils have secured arguably the best resume on paper, former Carlton listed player Nick Graham, brother of talented midfielder Brian.
With the Devils’ losing Steven Kennedy, Dylan Reid, Dan Roy, Rhys Ellis, Luke Delahey and Abe Kur in the ‘off’, and Brian Graham sidelined (two-week suspension) the door will be left slightly ajar for the Lions. Scotland will be hoping his replacement army and developing youth can deliver on the pressure front to contain Sunbury’s dangerous midfield brigade.
The Lions must be the ‘hunters’ and win the midfield battle to be any chance of stealing the points – and that includes minimising the influence of Nick Graham (good luck!). Their offseason acquisitions have been positive, with Daylan Kempster, Dylan Featon and the Brennan brothers all likely to take their place in the side, joining the welcomed return of key forward Jack Sheahan. The bookends for the Lions look complete with youngster Luke Goater down back but I’m not as confident as others they are ‘a given’ for this year’s finals with their tough draw ahead, let alone overcoming the Devils first up on Darley Park.
The hype of Round 1 and the expectation that comes with Darley in its centenary year will continue to challenge, week in, week out. I’m not convinced, at least for now, that Sunbury will upset their party.