Tuesday, 28 February 2017

NEW-FM SEASON PREVIEW (PART 1)


What They Did In 2016:

Belmont-Swansea's 2016 Season started in rumoured disarray they were left coach-less and supposedly with no players. A huge away win at Lakes in Round 1 saw them set off on an unbelievable journey that took them all the way to their first Grand Final in three decades.

Club secretary and all-round club legend Brad Paul teamed up with Mick Stafford to take over the reigns and Belswans 1st Grade proved all doubters wrong. It was the story of the 2016 New-FM Season as tight-knit community club almost went the distance.

Saturday August 20th saw a packed Blacksmiths Oval witness one of the club's greatest moments as they downed fierce rivals Kahibah F.C to book a Grand Final spot. It would all come crashing down in heartbreaking fashion as they went down to Wallsend in a penalty shootout. There was no hiding the disappointment as green and yellow confetti and banners were left deserted at Edgeworth's Jack McLaughlan Oval. So close but so far.

Grand Final heartbreak will have Belswans aiming to go one better.

As bad as that heartbreak was in 1st Grade, the Under 19's capped off a brilliant season of their own with an epic Grand Final win. The entertaining-attacking football by the likes of Will Dundas and Joel Nicholson matched what 1st Grade were doing all season. A hugely entertaining side.

Belswans 19's did taste success on Grand Final Day.

What's Changed:

The club's recruited 2015 Grand Final-winning coach Josh Rufo and brother Dan to coach 1st Grade and 23's respectively. Add to this an abundance of new players with a few highly-experienced trophy-winning individuals like Chris Gazzard and Mitch Cook, it's quiet obvious to see Belswans are intending to once again go for glory.

Josh Rufo is the new Head Coach of Belmont-Swansea.

The biggest change from 2015 to now is the simple belief that 2016 brought. The club hadn't reached heights like that in decades and it saw a community rally behind what was a historic trip to Grand Final day. Belswans have completed a transition from a mid-table, occasional Semi Finalists side to a powerhouse of the division.


Where Best Chances Are:

Just like 2016, the best chances of success at Belswans lay at the feet of 1st Grade and the Under 19's. Without a doubt, anything less than a top four finish would be a severe disappointment in 1st Grade. On paper they should match it with any team in the competition.

The Under 19's line-up is top four quality no doubt. There's been a slight turnover of players but youth talent is something Belswans have in abundance and this side has a lot of players who experienced the success of last season involved once again.

Can Belmont-Swansea U19's go back to back and win another Grand Final?

Where They May Struggle:

Under 17's. This side has some newcomers and has lost some quality to the Under 19's. Whilst they won't finish last by any means, the top four is going to be a challenge and they need to start with good form and keep that consistent. Will McMaster is the new coach and has a lot of new Belswans players in his line-up that need to gel together.


Additional Thoughts:

Whilst Belswans have assembled a high-quality side on paper, it's been slightly disappointing during trials to see the likes of Ellis, Nicholson and Dundas all play 19's. Yes they may feature for 23's or indeed 1st Grade at some stage but they aren't established members of the senior squad from the outside looking in.

Will McMaster will be juggling coaching and playing commitments in 2017 as the new U17's coach.

Pre-season form has been quiet frankly ugly at times for Belswans. A lack of numbers at Maitland saw them hammered by the NPL heavyweights and even as late as last week, they were beaten by Dudley-Redhead. Josh Rufo has different strategies and it seems to be taking a little bit longer than originally hoped for them to come to fruition. That'll all go out in window if they start the season well.

But success is needed. Belswans have a coach who strives to win, players who hate to lose and quiet frankly, a bar that was set in 2016. They say it takes losing a Grand Final to win one.

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What They Did In 2016:

Across all grades, Cessnock City struggled through the 2016 season. The Under 23's were probably their most consistent side but even that isn't saying much. The youth grades played some decent games but at times were completely battered. It wasn't a year to remember by any means.

1st Grade picked up some mammoth upsets over Wallsend and Belmont-Swansea but at other times were simply embarrassed. A 6-1 flogging in the derby against Singleton was one of many results that showed this side lacked quality. A wooden spoon greeted the Hornets at the end of a fairly lacklustre season.

Cessnock were embarrassed at times during the 2016 Season.

What's Changed:

Quiet frankly, everything. New head coach Lino Gatti and his support staff have turned the place on its head. A new direction and new focus saw many players turn and walk out the door. No club has changed more in the off-season than the Hornets and even though it's still pre-season, it's easy to see the club is more serious on and off the field.

Lino Gatti has shaken up Cessnock City ahead of the 2017 Season.

The pub culture was at times too much to try and implement a quality footballing side and whilst the Cessnock spirit will be alive and well, this season is shaping as a much more serious, switched-on and better disciplined Hornets outfit.

The ground has been altered and the club are looking to promote their brand in a much more positive light. The youth academy set-up has been established to promote the future of football in Cessnock and results aside, there's been countless victories off the field for a club on the rise.

Youngsters like Luke Ford are on Gatti's radar as the next generation at Cessnock City.

In player terms, youth is the pathway to the future for the Hornets. Some good footballers have left, some absolute average footballers have left and whilst there's still a lot that needs to be worked on, it's the youth players who look like being the club's next generation.


Where Best Chances Are:

It's hard to see success in the form of silverware as soon as the end of the season at Turner Park. The lower grades have a lot of work to do to eventually match it with the higher-ranked sides and it won't happen overnight. 1st Grade could potentially push for finals but even that is a stretch.

Solidifying the culture and building on and off the field for the future seems to be what Lino Gatti and the Hornets are aiming for this season. They'll be a side to watch in 1st Grade and hopefully the 17's and 19's will prove to be improved this campaign.

David "Skip" O'Hearn has been involved at Cessnock since the early 2000's.

Where They May Struggle:

With great change comes to old story of risk v reward. Relying on youth in 1st Grade could always end badly and results could be blown out but it's the worse-case scenario. Depth could be an issue with the senior squad still looking for a handful of players this close to the season. Importantly, the Hornets need to be given time for this culture-shock to work out.


Additional Thoughts:

Cessnock are an early candidate for most improved. The club's new direction has shook the core of the Cessnock City football and whilst it's a drastic measure, it was simply needed. The club has been a laughing stock at times over the last few years and it's time that the once best club in the region restores some respect.

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What They Did In 2016:

Cooks Hill went into 2016 with a new direction. Head Coach Blake Glennie was recruited for his ideas and even though he was younger than most coaches, he brought a much more established level of seriousness to the 1st Grade set-up. Then it all fell apart.

A spat with longtime football manager Mark Trenter saw one of the club's most important figures depart and a period of player unrest, ugly results and simple disappointment eventually saw Blake Glennie leave. Mal Hinchcliffe took over and the club finished the year with a slightly care-free attitude that saw enjoyment outrank results. It was stressful but it ended with a positive.

Blake Glennie's final game as Cookers coach saw the Stags win at the AthField.

In the Under 23's, the club excelled. They stormed through some parts of the season but inconsistency let them down at other times. Making it to a Semi Final date with South Cardiff, the side were embarrassingly dumped out of finals in a rather lopsided two-legged affair. A poor finish to the year.

The Under 19's weren't good enough and didn't have enough numbers to see out the year in respectable fashion (something they've since fixed) and the 17's were the team that could have, should have but didn't, missing finals in heartbreaking fashion on the final day of the regular season.


What's Changed:

Another year, another new era at Cooks Hill United. Head Coach Graham Law is the most accomplished coach in recent times to take the reigns of the Cookers and he has brought with him a fair few players from Adamstown. The Cookers once again like most years have an entirely new squad.

A handful of loyal players walked out the door after last season, citing a lack of culture and it's something Graham Law might look at once the season kicks off. A club that needs to build a more established bridging link between it's senior side and the huge amount of juniors.

In the 19's, an abundance of NPL-experienced youngsters have arrived and the side are a much improved looking outfit on paper than previous seasons. 


Where Best Chances Are:

Cooks Hill are a club that will be aiming for finals football in every grade but it's 1st Grade and the Under 19's that so far look the best contenders to bring home some much-needed New-FM silverware. Traditionalists will be annoyed to see how many new faces are in the 1st Grade squad but on paper they are good enough to win the league in both 1sts and U/19's.


Cooks Hill have a lot of talent coming through the lower grades.

Where They May Struggle:

It's not really about where they may struggle. This is Cooks Hill's 20th season and in many minds their most important. Sacking coaches and turning over player after player after player means building a successful culture is extremely difficult. This season simply has to work, there's no doubt about it.

Graham Law will want to build this team and when you look at two other sides promoted in 2015, Kahibah and Wallsend, you see success and you see a culture that has changed to bigger and better things. Cooks Hill have struggled to adapt from ZPL to New-FM. They don't have crowds like Wallsend, Kahibah or most teams in the competition. It's arguably a bigger challenge than the on-field results.

With more new faces in 1st Grade, Cooks Hill will be gunning for success.

Additional Thoughts:

As mentioned, 2017 is the most important year in the history of Cooks Hill United. Their future in premier-level football isn't on the line, let's not get ahead of ourselves but constant chopping and changing has to eventually work out...surely.

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What They Did In 2016:

Kahibah F.C across all four grades last season produced the goods time and time again in the regular season. Ultimately the 23's missed finals but sending three teams to the playoffs had the club hoping for it's first Grand Final appearance since joining New-FM. It didn't work out.

The 17's beaten by eventually champions Lakes despite putting up a good fight, the 19's disappointed as they fell to a Belswans side on the way to the title and 1st Grade being the victims of the most historic win in recent Belswans history, beaten on that infamous Saturday afternoon in August.

Jarrod Penfold was involved in the disappointment of the Semi Final loss but in August.

What's Changed:

1st Grade is where the club has boosted its stock. In comes a few members of Wallsend's Grand Final-winning squad, including David Hodgson. The club have set out to try and assemble the best line-up on paper that they could potentially find. Apart from that, it's the same old Kahibah. Andre Gumprecht at the helm and success on the mind with an eye as well to the future.

Andre Gumprecht in action for Kahibah during the pre-season.

Where Best Chances Are:

Kahibah 1st Grade along with Belmont-Swansea and Cooks Hill are being thrown around as title contenders. The aim is the top two and on paper they have a squad that can match it with anyone in the competition. Consistency is something Kahibah thrive on and they should be favourites to win the minor premiership. Whether they can win the big one is another question.

The Under 17's is the club's other best chance at bringing home silverware. A quality side last season, they're one of only a few sides to keep a similar line-up from 2016 to 2017. Rivals Lakes are out of the competition so this side will be eyeing off the title. 

Kahibah 17's will be aiming for the top four once again in 2017.

Where They May Struggle:

The Under 23's have so far been unimpressive compared to other clubs during the pre-season fixtures but more so, Kahibah's main worry isn't results-based, it's player morale. There's a lot of quality at the club and juggling players between starting 1st Grade, being on the bench and playing reserve grade could be a potential headache. Having two quality keepers is a perfect example of this.

Another question mark is how Dave Hodgson will fit into the squad. So far during pre-season he has played his role well but it has to be a different one than at Wallsend. The Red Devils played a slower-tempo style last season and Kahibah have to adapt a little to fit him in the line-up.


Additional Thoughts:

Kahibah have found their feet well in the New-FM competition but the vibe around the club seems that 2017 is the year that a trophy is lifted. The recruits in 1st Grade prove that the club is aiming to experience the success that Wallsend have felt in the last two seasons. 

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