SEASON 2018 marks the beginning of a new era at Willowbrook Reserve.
Westmeadows last year missed the final four for the first time since 2013 and now has a new coach, a ‘newish’ midfield and two new focal points up forward.
But all eyes will no doubt be squarely fixed on the much-anticipated return of former junior and Brownlow Medallist, Dane Swan, when he dons the yellow and black twice in five days in Round 2 against Tullamarine and then on ANZAC Day against Oak Park, both at home.
Swan has been a semi-regular at training and, according to new coach Grant Smith, is doing much more than just going through the motions.
“(Swan) just lifts everyone up, even for me as a coach,” Smith said.
“We’re talking about someone who’s done everything there is to be done in footy, so everyone wants to be just that little bit better when he’s around.
“He’s been there for about 60 per cent of our training nights.
“We break into three groups at training and Dane goes to the midfield group most of the time and does a fair bit of coaching in there with the midfield coach and does a bit of work with the players.
“And his own performance in practice matches has been pretty good, as you would expect, so that whole thing has raised the bar a bit for everyone.”
Swan could be available for up to 12 games in the home-and-away season, with Smith predicting the ex-Magpie could make anywhere between four and 10 appearances.
But Swan might not be the only ex-AFL star running around Willowbrook.
Smith revealed to essendondfl.com.au that former Kangaroo and Blue Corey McKernan could be set to make an on-field comeback in 2018.
McKernan has taken up a support role with the Tigers that seemingly won’t just be limited to off-field work.
“I think Corey sees himself probably just as a permanent forward,” Smith said.
“He hasn’t got any shorter (and) he’s probably not as mobile, but he’s 6’7 and still able to take a good grab.
“So we probably see him as a permanent forward in a bit of a forward coaching role down there.”
When available, Swan will patrol a younger, fresher midfield that will be without dynamic duo Tamer Abdallah and Bilal Allouch, who both left for the Northern Saints.
Youngsters Clayton Campbell and Aaron Evans are expecting more midfield time this season while Hutchison Medal runner-up Justin Taylor and 2017 B&F winner Brad Sutcliffe will also play key roles.
The new-look forward line will miss Mitch Church but will welcome Oak Park’s Dean Clare and fellow key forward, Jesse Newton.
Smith, who replaces Dave Connell, has given the whole playing group a “clean slate”, and competition for spots come Round 1 (a Friday night fixture at Jacana) is hot.
“I don’t really care where they’ve played in the past,” Smith explained.
“It’s all going to be based on performance and effort. Our coaching style, between myself and the assistant coaches, is one that’s very structured.
“You’ve got a position and a role and you need to be playing your role. If you’re not willing to do that then you’re probably not going to get games.
“So the vibe is more competitive.”
Key Ins: Dane Swan (midfielder, Collingwood), Dean Clare (forward, Oak Park), Jesse Newton (forward, Thornton Eildon) Jesse Bowe (ruck, Devon Meadows) & Aaron Ramsay (midfielder, Essendon Doutta Stars)
Key Outs: Mitch Church (Hillside), Tamer Abdallah (Northern Saints), Bilal Allouch (Northern Saints), Robbie Mullen (Greta), Andrew Vavra (Strathmore) & Bradley Dimech (Mernda)
First Month: Jacana (away), Tullamarine (home), Oak Park (home) & Hillside (away)