An off-season of change both on and off field has given Whittlesea a breath of fresh air according to senior men’s captain Xavier Dimasi, as his side prepare to tackle the 2023 Melbourne Greyhounds Division 1 season.
The Eagles struggled throughout the 2022 campaign as the departure of premiership coach Blair Harvey and prized recruits Jarrad Waite and David Mennan at the halfway point of the season, put the club in a relegation battle. However, a win over Northcote Park in Round 15 would prove to be enough to avoid the drop.
Dimasi was named in his side’s best on eight occasions throughout his 17-game season in 2022 and was also the club’s highest vote getter in last year’s Frank Rosbrook Medal count. He would go on to win the Eagles 2022 best and fairest award.
The skipper reflected on the challenges that his side faced last season, and discussed what areas they were focusing on to get back to becoming a competitive side in the top flight.
“Obviously with last year, there was a lot of outside noise, we’re just trying to worry about us this year. I guess you could say we worried a lot everyone else and other sides last year,” he said.
“It was a challenging year no doubt, but I think coming out the other side now has bonded us even more, it sort of gave us thicker skin.”
The Eagles will head into the upcoming season having won only four of their last 30 Division 1 matches.
But Dimasi explained the shift in mindset from the playing group from previous seasons, adding that the process of putting Whittlesea first and foremost has already had an effect on training and potentially the early stages of the campaign.
“We’re going to have a Whittlesea focus, I guess being a bit selfish to make sure we worry about us, because we are going win us games, no one else is going to win us the game,” he said.
“We’ve had some match sims and it’s been sort of talk and cheese from last year to this year.
“With a little bit of confidence, you never know where the season can take us if we string together a couple of early wins.”
Whittlesea moved swiftly in appointing a new coach following the conclusion of the 2022 season, with the club unveiling Wayne Van Der Ross as their new senior mentor in October last year.
Van Der Ross had been coach of Yarra Glen in the OEFNL for the last two seasons after spending one year as the senior coach at Knox in the EFNL.
Dimasi spoke on how Van Der Ross has already brought change to the club through his gameplan implementations and attitude towards the younger crop of players.
“Van’s come in with a full head of steam, full of enthusiasm and full of excitement which is a bit of fresh air for the guys and everyone’s excited to play under him,” he said.
“He’s made those gameplans and structures appropriate to us and where were at in our footy and our development.
“Especially with the young group, he’s not putting together the most strategic or most AFL suitable plan, but what he’s doing is suitable for us as a footy side,” he said.
The Eagles have also seen a quite a bit of personnel depart the club during the transfer period, with the likes Jake and Mitchell Wild, Brody Bell, Curtis Brown and Blake Fitzgerald all finding new homes for season 2023.
And while the additions to the club haven’t come at the same rate as the departures, Dimasi is confident in some of the younger players of the group to step up and have an influence in the senior side, including Keidan Treacy and Cody Bunworth.
After playing the first six games of the season in the reserves, Treacy played the remainder of the year in the senior team, kicking six goals, while Bunworth was named in his side’s best in seven of his 16 games with the under-19’s side in 2022.
“Keidan started playing some really good footy at the end of last year, he was sort of playing in the middle and half forward and has put in a mountain of work in the offseason,” he said.
“Cody was our under-19s captain, he’s probably a good one, he had a really good off-season, so he’s one to keep an eye out for.”
Harry Beattie was also noted as a particular standout in pre-season training according to Dimasi. The 19-year-old played 12 under-19’s games for Whittlesea last year, kicking 25 majors. His 2022 highlight coming in the Eagles clash with Bundoora in July when Beattie kicked an incredible 12 majors.
After making just one senior appearance last year Dimasi believes that Beattie in the perfect position to fill some holes left by departures in the senior side.
“He screams x-factor, breaks the lines, a great run and carry, very smart with the football and makes good decisions under pressure consistently. He’s just a rock-solid and hard player,” he said.
“He’s a versatile player across all three lines and hates to get beat. He embraces any sort of challenge, the bigger the challenge the better he plays.”
Dimasi is expected to lead the Eagles for a fourth consecutive year this season after assuming the captaincy in 2020.
The 26-year-old is hopeful that his leadership can help inspire his younger teammates to buy into what the club is trying to achieve on field, adding that having a team first mentality will be critical in building the chemistry of the playing group.
“I want to try and be a good leader so the younger kids can step up and hopefully follow what we’re setting up at Whittlesea and to keep that consistent long after my time,” he said.
“It’s also about having that team first focus even though I might not be having my best day or what not, but also just making sure I can bring the best out of everyone because having 22 contributors beats having one.”
Whittlesea face a big clash with Montmorency, at Montmorency Park North Oval, to begin the 2023 season.