After leading his team to the 2022 MC Labour Division 2 premiership, Banyule senior men’s captain Devin McDonald is eager to see his side challenge the best of the best as the club prepares for their first ever season in the top flight.
McDonald was one of the few current players that were at the club during their entry into the NFNL in 2015 and he has since witnessed the Bears’ incredible rise from Division 3 to Division 1 in the space of six completed seasons.
Their premiership run last year included a 15-3 home and away season before winning all three finals on their way to a second premiership in the NFNL competition.
While McDonald is keen to see how the club can hold its own in Division 1 this year, he’s also expecting his side maintain the same level of intensity that saw them claim last year’s Division 2 men’s premiership.
“It’s been a fairly good top division over the last two years, the standard has really gone up another step, for instance you see ex-AFL players everywhere,” he said.
“On one hand it’s good that there isn’t all this weight on our shoulders about achieving success and going as far as you can, but on the other hand, I definitely think we expect a lot from ourselves this year.
“One thing we’ll have to probably try and adapt to quite fast is the pace and intensity of the game.
“It’s not just about the talent you have, but it’s all these teams like Heidelberg that are so used to playing at this top level, so they know what’s required in terms of the speed and pace of the game.”
Success seems to be breeding success at the moment for Banyule as the club has been bolstered with some handy recruits throughout the off-season, with Collingwood VFL duo Vivian Blackmore-Moore and Jack Raines as well as Northcote Park trio Lachlan King, Tom Hallebone and Jack Sammartino headlining the inclusions at Beverley Road Oval.
Another important addition to the side is Kurt Aylett, who joins the Bears after playing the previous two seasons with Myrtleford. Aylett spent four years in the AFL system, playing one game for the GWS Giants in 2012 and two games for Essendon in 2014. He’s also played 110 state-level games in both the NEAFL and VFL between 2011 and 2019.
McDonald is particularly excited see the impact the 30-year-old will have on the young midfield group.
“He’s been awesome to have down at the track and he’s run a six and a half minute two-kilometre time trial on his first day so he’s fit and raring to go which is great,” he said.
“He’s a bit older than the majority of the team, which is good, he’ll bring a lot of that poise.
“Especially as a leader, he’s very smart with what he’s saying and clearly, he’s someone who knows what he’s talking about, which helps us.”
Banyule’s midfield was a prominent catalyst to their premiership success last year and despite the departure of 2022 grand final best on ground medalist Tim Martin, McDonald believes his midfielders will remain influential in matches.
“We were quite a young team last year and our midfield’s average age was probably in the early twenties. But we have Kye Yodgee, Riley Loton and Reuben Blackmore-Moore who are our main three in the middle… so I’m looking forward to seeing how they will continue growing and continue getting better,” he said.
McDonald has been captain of the side since 2020 and looks set to lead the club for a fourth season, but in his 123-game career with the Bears, this will be the first time he’s played in the premier division of a competition.
The three-time Team of the Year member is excited about the prospect of leading his side out against Bundoora in two months’ time but stressed that a key contributor to their success in the last few years has been the ability for all of his players to be leaders when required.
“It’s been awesome having it [the captaincy] and it’s always been a goal of ours and mine to move up to the top division since we came across from the amateurs,” he said.
“But whatever happens with the team, we are a tight-knit group and no matter who’s in charge of it, we’ll be pretty well held.”