NEW Tullamarine coach Dave Connell is eagerly eyeing off April 14.
It’ll be under lights at Leo Dineen Reserve against Oak Park where Connell will resume doing what he knows well - guiding an Essendon Ford Division 1 hopeful towards the finals.
After steering Westmeadows to consecutive finals appearances three years running, Connell stepped down as the Tigers’ coach mid-year and finished Season 2017 with a stint on the EDFL Match of the Day radio coverage.
Not long after that, it was announced that he’d be returning to one of his former clubs in Tullamarine as its new senior coach.
“I was chomping at the bit to get back into it, which I haven’t really had for the last couple of years,” he admitted.
“That little break has actually been good for me, just to mentally freshen up a little bit.”
Connell had the luxury of a solid Under 19.5 program at Westmeadows but of late, no such thing has been in place for any recent senior coach at the Demons.
That’s looking likely to change in 2018, with the club looking to re-introduce Under 19.5s as part of a broader strategy to improve the club’s historically poor depth.
“This is huge for us because if we get Under 19.5s up and running this year, we’ll be a massive chance to fill two sides next year,” Connell said.
“By next year we’ll end up with 37 or 38 (on the senior list), so this is a huge year for us in Under 19.5s.
“So it’s not all so much about what happens on-field this year, it’s all gearing towards next year.”
Even if Tullamarine’s more focused on a serious premiership tilt for 2019, 2018 is shaping up nicely.
The Demons have lost back-to-back B&F winner Jack Sims and sharpshooter Link Robinson, but the return of forward Ryan Pretty and arrival of ex-Carlton veteran Anthony Franchina, among others, looks to have at the very least, offset the departures.
Though Franchina is 40-years-old, Connell reckons he is “the fittest and best-looking 40-year-old I’ve ever seen”.
Most of the new faces will feature in Tullamarine’s midfield and forward line.
Down back, Connell is keen to retain a core defensive unit and structure that did not concede 100 points in any game last season.
“We haven’t lost anyone from the back line, so we’re relatively confident that we’ll be able to defend the way that Tullamarine normally defends,” he said.
“One of the tweaks we’ll look at is trying to get a lot more aggressive with our ball movement.
“We’ve probably had a focus on our forward line… having blokes in our forward half that kick goals.
“We will be a little bit more aggressive with our offence than what Tulla has been in the past.”
Key Ins: Ryan Pretty (forward, Sunbury Kangaroos), Anthony Franchina (midfielder, Eaglehawk), Luke Micallef (midfielder, Moonee Valley), Anthony Prestia (midfielder, Essendon Doutta Stars), Steven Vocale (midfielder, Essendon Doutta Stars), Mark Maric (ruckman, Melton), Luke Hampshire (key position, Hadfield), Angelos Sidhom (defender, West Coburg), Daniel Pearson (utility, Coburg Districts) & Robert Hudson (West Coburg)
Key Outs: Jack Sims (St Albans), Link Robinson (Bairnsdale), Robert Nikolic (St Albans), Marcus Smith (retired) & Anthony Liberatore (Launceston)
First Month: Oak Park (home), Westmeadows (away), BYE & Craigieburn (home)