Bendigo Pioneers eye off TAC Cup finals

After a disappointing 2012, the Bendigo Pioneers have their eyes set on TAC Cup finals in 2013. The Pioneers registered just three wins and finished 11th last season, just above Eastern Ranges. Despite the results, the Pioneers had two players selected in the top ten of the AFL National Draft in Ollie Wines (#4 – Port Adelaide) and Jake Stringer (#6 – Western Bulldogs). A great result for a club that has the highest average career games per player out of any TAC Cup club.

This year the Pioneers have more of a rounded team with plenty of hard nut midfielders, a couple of running defenders and a few solid talls who provide options in the ruck or down forward. Coach David Newett is happy with the way his team is shaping up. “We’re a bit slight compared to last year’s side, but we have talented midfielders who can get the job done. Once we’ve gained some of our injured top-agers back, we’ll be a better side.”

One of the players with experience is top-age midfielder Harry O’Meara whose season by his own admission had been a mixed bag. “The first game was probably the best game of my career. Getting scoreboard pressure, kicking a couple goals and getting 20 odd possessions. The game against the Power not so much, I couldn’t really get into the game.”

O’Meara made the Vic Country squad last year and was going to state screening before a hamstring injury cruelled his drafting chances. “I wasn’t really expecting to be picked up but with the injury, I was like ‘nup that’s it’.”

Much like O’Meara’s season, the Pioneers have dealt with mixed results in 2013. The first match saw them comfortably outrun the North Ballarat Rebels to cruise to a convincing victory at Highgate Recreation Reserve. However the last two matches have been far from convincing, booting a total of nine goals in two weeks to lose by a combined margin of 145 points.

Newett said that they were convincingly beaten in the midfield which led to the large deficits including the massively disappointing 105 point loss to the Gippsland Power. ““The things that are in our control weren’t good enough. The fundamentals and pressure. We didn’t do that well enough.”

Ten Pioneers have made the Vic Country Intra-Squad clash this weekend with the likes of Blake Poyser, Trent Bacon and Jordan Mangan joining O’Meara in the squad. With Jacob Chisari and Jaden McGrath late withdrawals against the Power, Newett is excited about the pair, along with top-ager Sam Heavyside returning to the team in the near future. “If we put our best players on the park, it makes the players around them better. We still have plenty of improvement left in this side.”

As the year goes on, many names throughout the TAC Cup competition will be touted as potential draftees at AFL clubs. For the Pioneers, defender Isaiah Miller is the lone AIS member, but the like of Chisari, Mangan, O’Meara and Jake Maher are also going to cause some lengthy discussion amongst AFL recruiters. Newett said there were quite a few who could make the transition into AFL. “Jordy Mangan, Liam Byrne, Sammy Heavyside, Harry O’Meara, Isaiah Miller and Jacob Chisari are all guys who have the potential to go to the next level.”

Despite the two disappointing losses, the spirit is not lost amongst the Pioneers players with O’Meara confident they’ll play finals. “I see us top eight. Sure we had a big loss today, but we’re missing a couple of players so I hope it will be a good finish to the season.”

Bendigo currently sit 10th on the TAC Cup ladder with one win from three matches.  The Pioneers next match is against the Northern Knights at Preston City Oval on Saturday 27 April at noon.  For those wanting to see their favourite Pioneers in action against the states’ best, the Vic Country Intra Trial match is on Sunday with Harry O’Meara, Blake Poyser, Trent Bacon, Jake Maher, Danny Jones and Jordan Mangan representing Bendigo.

While Bendigo’s season hasn’t had the greatest of starts, Bendigo has a number of stronger bodies to return to the line-up. If the Pioneers consolidate on the glimpses of brilliance they have shown in the opening few rounds they will be a dangerous threat come finals time.

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