Over the past two weekends, Darley has watched on as other Ballarat Football League teams started their seasons – and they’re raring to take to the field themselves this weekend.
The Devils start their season with the biggest test of all, against local rival and reigning premiers Bacchus Marsh, on Sunday.
After a busy off season, new Devils’ coach Heath Scotland is excited to get under way.
Scotland, who has spent the past two years at Doncaster, returns to his junior club, replacing playing coach Jarrod Edwards who has retired.
“I have a lot of friends at the club, and it was the right opportunity at the right time,” Scotland said. “I’d had enough over that side of the city, and couldn’t be happier to be home.”
Scotland is just one of several former Devils to return this season including Lachlan Herring, Nicholas Thacker and Kyle Doyle.
Some not returning include Henderson medal-winner Steve Kennedy, Anthony Chui and Mitch Banner.
Scotland said the loss of Kennedy would be a big one, but he hopes they have recruited players to fill all vacancies.
“Losing Steve is the biggest blow … he’s hard to replace,” he said.
“We’ve brought in midfielders … Brian Graham is capable of playing at a higher level. I think he’s better than his brother, Nick, who’s on Carlton’s list.
“Chris Graham is a class-out – they are two class additions. Dan Roy is my playing assistant coach, and is a premiership winner and captain of his former side.
“We’ve picked up a key back in Kay Pearson while Kyle Docherty is a centre half-forward who gives huge value in the forward line.”
Scotland, who played 268 AFL games for Carlton and Collingwood, will also pull on the boots. He’ll miss the first couple of runs due to knee surgery, but said he was feeling fit.
The biggest ins for the Devils could come from within, though. Brad Inglis, who didn’t think he would play again after breaking his leg a couple of years ago, has returned and played in every practice match. Matt Inglis, who is also on Geelong’s VFL list, didn’t play any football last year because of a serious ankle injury.
Then there are captain Shane Page and vice-captain Darren Leonard.
“Shane is our captain – a quality player – missed most of last year – Darren missed a big chunk of the season,” Scotland said. “Shane hasn’t missed a beat during the pre-season, and Darren has played three of our four practice matches.”
Scotland said there was a lot of motivation heading into 2017 after finishing a disappointing sixth last season. The Devils snuck into the finals last year, but were no match for the top sides. “Listening to the boys, there is a disappointment,” he said. “Coming off a premiership they may have taken it for granted. Injuries had a big impact, too.
“I’m expecting a strong season from Darley this year,” he said.