Regional Championships Preview
The moment of truth comes this long weekend as the North Coast representative AFL side pits itself against other leagues from around the state. The NSW/ACT AFL Regional Championships is the state’s showcase event in the 150th year of Australian Football and is a one-off.
The 'League has spared no expense in preparing its best 24 players for the series of round-robin games over two days with training acting as selection trials over the past few months.
The North Coast has been placed in the second highest pool along with divisional sides from Sydney and Canberra, as well as a side from the Sapphire Coast.
The coaching panel, consisting of Rod Macpherson, Paul Sheldon, and Brad Greenshields (with Jamie Coad also in an assistant's role) has had their work cut out picking a final squad given the large quantity amongst the six sides in the competition.
Many rate the talent in this side along with the great 2003 side that walloped the Tamworth league by 20 odd goals at BCU Stadium. Only Mark Couzens remains from that great team which goes to show the wealth of talent coming through.
With the short format of the games (2 x 20 minute halves), the coaching staff have opted for a squad that is adaptable and capable of pressure footy.
The top three sides of the local AFL North Coast competition, in Sawtell, Port Macquarie and the Coffs Swans, have the largest representation of players within the squad.
The North Coast side of late has been renowned for its willingness to breed youth, with the likes of Hamish Pearce and Blake Ford, earning promotions from the Under 18 Rep Squad, along with other young guns in Evan Duryea and Todd Matthews, who have both been in superlative form with their local clubs.
Veterans, Tristan Snow (Swans) and Darren Funston (North Coffs) have been given the honour of being named co-captains for the carnival and are sure to bring leadership experience and hard ball skills to the midfield.
Height will definitely not be an issue with Graeme Connolly and Courtney Tune to rotate in the ruck. It is Connolly's first rep appearance and has been rewarded for some outstanding club football. A lot will rest on his shoulders over the duration of the carnival.
The back line will be led by Port champion Zac Nankervill who will have the classy Saints pair of Daniel Pritchard and Daniel Johnson beside him. Add to this the representative experience possessed by Peter Chadwick (Swans) and Josh Edwards (Saints), and the side should be reliable and accountable down back.
The forward line will be reliant on Ben Hooke (Saints), but he is sure to get plenty of support with Jessie Schmidt (Port), Daniel Zacek (Grafton) and Duryea (Swans) all quality players. North Coffs duo, Funston and Sam Dawes both possess penetrating kicks and will be prominent across half-forward.
Past North Coast representative squads have dominated in interleague matches, mostly against the Summerland and Tamworth leagues. They were due to face up against the might of the Black Diamond League in Newcastle last year, only for the match to be abandoned due to the flash flooding experienced in the area.
The side will be hungry to succeed and are keen to leave a lasting impression against more fancied leagues competing in the carnival. Extra motivation will come from the fact, long-term coach, Rod Macpherson, has announced this will be his final year in charge of the side.
After seven years at the top, hopefully his players can rise to the level required and send him off a winner.