FOR the first time in a long time, Bendigo Pioneers are earning respect in the TAC Cup according to midfielder Darby Henderson.
Having played less finals series than any other team, the Pioneers are proving they are more than making up the numbers in 2016, having amassed three wins from nine games, in what is one of the most even seasons for some time.
Four points separates sixth from 10th, with Bendigo narrowly outside the eight seven per cent behind Calder Cannons, after spending a rare week inside the top eight recently.
With the top seven teams seemingly looking strong, Bendigo will battle with Calder and Western Jets for that eighth spot and there would be no more deserving team that one that has struggled for any sort of success of late.
With some players travelling many hours just to get to training, let alone away games, the Pioneers pick up players from all over north western Victoria.
For Henderson, he has seen a big improvement in season 2016.
“It’s been good for Bendigo,” he said. “We’re improving as a team. “We’re gaining respect in the competition for the first time in a while.”
While finals are a long way off yet, with a bit of luck, Henderson is confident the side can taste September action.
“We know we can make a run towards the finals,” he said. “It’s just about gaining confidence and getting wins. “We’ve been a bit stiff with a few games this year, having a few close losses. If we can win a few more of those close games, we’ll be in with a chance, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
Bendigo’s most talked about players are Kobe Mutch and Joe Atley who will attract the attention of most clubs, with Mutch already destined for GWS, being a part of the much talked about academy system.
Henderson said while losing both those players among others representing their states, he said the group had increased depth compared to past years.
“Usually the second tier of players (stand up),” he said. “It’s not as bigger loss, because more people come in and get their opportunity and are hungry for a spot and hungry for the win.”
For Henderson, he has already played every game of the season despite being a bottom-age prospect. It is something he has thrived on in his development with just under 18 months until he is eligible to be selected by an AFL club.
“I’m pretty happy with the way I’m going,” he said. “I’m getting a bit of experience, and just aim on getting more consistency week in, week out.”
The young midfielder has also taken the fact his father Brett coaches the Pioneers in his stride. Henderson said he was lucky not to cop the wrath in the car rides home. But the same did not apply during a match.
“He’s fair on me, I’ve copped my share of sprays at half-time,” he laughed.
Another Pioneer whose career is only just starting is bottom-ager Mitchell Kemp. The young utility has played the last two games and is enjoying life in the TAC Cup.
“My season has been pretty short, but there’s a massive difference between local footy and TAC Cup footy,” he said. “It’s a good way to develop my footy, I’ve been moved around a bit. But I think that’s important for my development. “It will help me in getting games.”
Unlike many metropolitan players, Kemp understands the struggles of travelling long distances to train or attend match days, hailing from Echuca on the Murray River.
“It’s an hour drive each way to training, but you get to train with a higher level of footy,” he said. “So you lose time, but you gain in development.”
Whether Bendigo can make finals is still yet to be seen, but with a home match against an understrength Murray Bushrangers coming up followed by winnable matches against Northern Knights and Calder Cannons, the Pioneers could take one giant step towards achieving September action with victories.
Top-age prospect Jordan Rosengren spoke to AFL Draft Central’s Peter Williams about his season and how he feels the Pioneers are travelling in 2016. Listen to what he had to say below: