With a list of outs reading longer than Lord of the Rings, it is fair to say expectations are not sky-high at Mansfield this season.
The Eagles entered 2019 full of confidence under new coach Andrew Browne but missed the mark with just six wins – and considering they have lost 140 senior games of experience from last year alone, it could be a tough campaign.
Among the outs are established talents such as Lachie Christopher, Brant Anselmi and Tom German, and Browne did not shy away from the club’s change of expectations after what he labelled “a bit of a mass exodus”.
“To be honest it’s been quite tough. We’ve had a fair few players walk out, which is unfortunate; there’s no specific reason, probably a multitude of reasons,” he said.
“In terms of recruiting, we just haven’t had a favourable time, it’s hard to pitch guys on coming when you’ve had a few blokes leave.
“We’ve got a good young group, the position we were in at the end of last season I was hoping for a promising 2020, but at that point I wasn’t banking on our players leaving.
“So, the focus shifts to developing our younger guys in the right way. There might be some tough times but we need to generate some enthusiasm and compete.”
The Eagles have managed to add project key defender Tom Burley, who brings NAB League experience from the Oakleigh Chargers, while former player Ashraf Davies has also been cleared back to the high country after a year with Lilydale.
Browne said lessons had been learned from last season’s performance, hinting that a degree of arrogance had prevented the side from giving its all on the training track, something that had been addressed this pre-season.
“Despite us being more senior last season, we probably took things for granted. I think we thought there was enough talent, but you have to work for it, and the young kids are embracing that,” he said.
“Our skill execution was not where it needed to be, and despite everything that’s happened, some of the kids have got better kicking skills than what we had last season.
“We’re training at a better standard which is good, and one thing we learned was how important it is to be able to kick the footy. You start turning the ball over and you know what happens then.”
The side retains the services of guns such as Brett Mahoney, who remains one of the league’s elite midfielders, while James Lawton slotted 49 goals last season.
But the next generation is emerging; Browne encouraged fans to keep an eye on former Murray Bushranger Harry Mahoney in a wing-half-forward role, while he hoped Tyler Chisholm would continue to make an impact in midfield time.
Forecasting the season was tough for Browne, but all he asked was that his troops dug in.
“We don’t want to get blown out every week; not letting that happen would be a good step forward because it is a challenge how a young group responds if it is blown out a couple of times early in the season,” he said.
“The goal will be to stay in games, fight the fight and dig our heels in.”
JOINED LEAGUE: 1998
GROUND: MANSFIELD RECREATION RESERVE
COACH: ANDREW BROWNE
PRESIDENT: BELINDA DE MARIA
PREMIERSHIPS: 2004, 2009
MORRISON MEDALLISTS: T. HOTTON (2007)
2019 FINISH: SIXTH (10-1-9)
2019 BEST-AND-FAIREST: ANDREW BROWNE
2019 LEADING GOAL-KICKER: JAMES LAWTON (49)
IN: Ashraf Davies (Lilydale), Tom Burley (St Kevin’s Old Boys)
OUT: Brant Anselmi, Tom Gardiner, Jack O’Grady, Josh Stefanutti (Knox), Ryan Bartlett, Lachie Christopher, Tom German (Bacchus Marsh), Al Bennett, Will Foster, Guy Murray (Bonnie Doon), Brent Rose
GAME CHANGER: Brett Mahoney
Clearly in the league’s top handful of players, when Mahoney is in full flight, he takes some stopping.
The Eagles will need someone to provide a cool head and leadership this season and Mahoney is certainly the man to do it.
FINISHING RANGE: 10-12
There is no doubt Mansfield is destined for a tough season, but do not expect the young Eagles to throw in the towel without a fight.
They still have some gun talents like Browne, Marks and Mahoney, but if you take that much talent out of any side they will struggle.