Craigieburn knows it won’t have an easy time back in Essendon District Football League premier division, but the Eagles are determined to throw everything they have at the challenge.

After a grand final appearance and a division 1 premiership in their past two seasons, the Eagles are in unfamiliar territory with a number of departures in the off season.

Most notably, former AFL players Jason and Cameron Cloke have moved on.

Eagles coach Peter Bugden said the club had struggled to replace the departing players.

“We’ve lost our full-forward and half-forward and basically our centre half-back, with Aaron Kite having to go forward,” he said.

“We also lost some really good midfielders. We haven’t been able to replace them.

“We’re still looking for players and have spots and cap space for players who could fit into our first 18.”

The Eagles started their season on Saturday with a big 17.12 (114)-10.8 (68) loss to Avondale Heights.

While the Eagles went scoreless in the opening quarter, Budgen was pleased with how the side responded and worked hard all day.

“They had five players who had been AFL-listed,” he said. “It’s hard to control them for four quarters.

“Patrick Rose [who kicked eight goals] is a really good player … we worked hard to try to shut him down.

“The boys fought hard and ran out the game, winning the last quarter [seven goals to two].

“It was a real team effort. We could have dropped our bundle after being down five goals to none at quarter-time.

“There are parts of our game we need to clean up. You’re never happy with a loss.”

Many of the Eagles are new to premier division football.

But Bugden said they didn’t look out of place and that it was a great challenge for them.

He said Sammy Laffan, Dominic Micallef and Jamie Gorgievski were three of the younger players to impress.

Stefan Terzievski was named the Eagles’ best.

Aaron Kite kicked four goals for the Eagles, but could have had a few more if he had kicked straight. Bugden said Kite would switch between the forward and back line during the season.

He said the Eagles’ clear priority was winning enough games to ensure they remain in the top division.

“It took a long time to get back up here,” he said. “We’re not giving up – we believe we’re a team which belongs in premier division.”

In other premier division matches, Keilor kicked off its premiership defence with a solid win against Essendon Doutta Stars, Aberfeldie defeated Greenvale, Pascoe Vale smashed West Coburg and Maribyrnong Park was too good for Strathmore.