Kilmore senior men’s coach Paul Derrick is confident that his side will be an improved outfit in the 2024 Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 competition.
The club were unable to secure a third consecutive finals appearance in the 2023 campaign, finishing the year in sixth position with a 6-10 record, the least amount of wins the Blues have had in one season since 2016, their first year in the NFNL.
Although 2023 didn’t go according to plan for Kilmore, Derrick was still able to take a bunch of positives out of the season and is hopeful that the groundwork from last year’s matches can be translated into better results in 2024.
“Our aim last season was just to get games into the younger players, as well as improve overall. And you could see that after going from losing to Mernda by 13 goals and then three goals the next time we played, so you could definitely see it,” he said.
“It’s about teaching the younger players about knowing their role and the consistency. It’s something that we lacked as a team last year.
“That’s what you need to play finals footy, and it’s something that we are definitely focusing on at training. Now it’s just about translating that into games.”
Derrick reported that no less than 60 players have been attending pre-season training, while close to 80 players are expected to be on the final list, which the coach believes highlights the eagerness the playing group have to improve this year.
One of the players standing out in the pre-season is Bailey Taylor-Egan, with the star forward expected to play more senior football in 2024.
The 23-year-old was limited to just one senior match and five reserves games last year due to injury, however 2022 was Taylor-Egan’s breakout season, kicking 34 goals in 15 games to be the centre half forward in the 2022 Division 3 Team of the Year.
His inclusion into a side that averaged just under 75 points a game in 2023 excites Derrick.
“After missing all of last year, it really seems that he hasn’t missed a beat at training, and it’s great to have him on board for this season,” he said.
While Taylor-Egan will seem like a new recruit for the club, there will be some new faces at J.J. Clancy Reserve in 2024.
Kye Maher is back at the club after three years with North Heidelberg. He played 26 games at the Bulldogs after making his senior debut with the Blues in 2019.
Other recruits include Laurimar’s Bradley Deed, after 45 senior games and a grand final appearance with the Power, and Mernda’s Joshua Coe following 37 senior matches with the Demons and a fourth placed finish in the Division 3 reserves best and fairest last year.
With an injection of new names aiming to improve Kilmore’s finals chances in 2024, so too would the re-establishment of an Under 19.5’s side, after the team forfeited from the competition six games into last year’s home and away campaign.
Derrick explained that it was crucial for the club to get the side back into playing competitively again this year in order to help build the senior team’s depth.
“It’s imperative that we get this team back up and running. When we didn’t have the 19’s last year, some of our young talent moved to other clubs… it’s defiantly a priority to field a 19’s team again,” he said.
This will be Derrick’s second season as senior men’s coach of the Blues following stints as an assistant and Under 19.5’s coach at the club.
And while he will have a new reserves coach to work with this year, it will be a familiar face in 2023 co-captain and three-time club best and fairest Leigh Irons.
Irons will still have a role to play in the senior side, with Derrick explaining how the decision came about as well as the impact his presence will have on the young reserves squad.
“It was his idea; he actually came to me to have a chat. He just said to me that I’m hitting 35,36 and the odds of us actually competing for a flag with a lot of older players might not work, so I just want to put back into the club,” he said.
“We have over 50 players that are still under 21, so his main priority will be helping develop the younger players.
“He’s so highly respected and so footy smart, it’s really great to have Leigh on board. It’s a really good move to have him in that role.”
Division 3 is set to be one of the most highly anticipated competitions in 2024, not only with the influx of talent that has entered the division, but also with the inclusion of two new sides.
Derrick is under no illusions that the task of getting Kilmore back to the finals will be a tough one, however he believes that his squad has what it takes to compete with the top sides of the division.
“I actually had a meeting with the playing group, and I said that this would be the toughest premiership to win. This has been the toughest state of Division 3 that I have seen,” he said.
“We have ex-AFL players in the Division, we have Division 1 captains in the Division, even Kye Maher, one of our new recruits, he could be playing at a way higher level. There is real quality now in the Division.
“[The aim] is definitely finals, but also just to really solidify this group and keep them around going forward. Hopefully they can give us success in the next 12 months but maybe even the next five years.
“With such a young list… we can get so much more out of them, and we can definitely see that out on the track now. We’re really confident that we can be competitive week in and week out, and with this division, you certainly have to be.”