By Nick Creely
Returning Casey-South Melbourne coach Brian Keogh will likely have some selection headaches as the Swans gear up for its opening game of the Victorian Premier Cricket season on 5 October against Prahran.
The Swans – who finished ninth in last year’s season – have a long list of players looking to make a splash in the first XI, and Keogh said that his group can’t wait to get out there and put on a show to honour their beloved former president Ross Hibbins, who passed away earlier this year.
“Competition for spots is as fierce as its been for four seasons by a long way,” he told the News.
“It’s going to be exciting, Round 1, and we’ve obviously got the tribute to Ross Hibbins, and so it’s a really important day for the cricket club.”
But Keogh said, while the focus externally is on how the ones perform, as a club collective, it’s time for all four grades to take the next step in their development.
“It’s through the grades (where the improvement needs to come from), and the focus is probably the first XI, and we do put a lot of focus on them for sure, but we’re expecting improvement right through the grades,” he said.
“Do I want to say we expect to play finals (in the firsts)? Well yeah, I do, but our expectation is pushing for finals right through the grades.”
Incredibly, the Swans have managed to hold onto basically its entire list, and add some vital depth and quality in a number of compartments, with the bowling depth something that the club has definitely put some time into this off-season.
Keogh believes that with the new faces, combined with established players and some emerging youth, the Swans are going to be an exciting bowling group.
“Obviously bringing in Jordy Hammond and Nick Huttley will add some depth to our medium fast bowling, and there’s probably a few guys within our group that we believe there is natural improvement in,” he said.
“James Long, who ended up in the third XI last year, is a better player than that, and he was a good second XI player the year before and still only 18 – he’s a genuine all-rounder.
“We get James Maxwell back, who had a few injuries last year, and he’s a genuine first, second XI left arm fast bowler.
“It was sort of a target (to improve the bowling depth) – we were definitely conscience when we shaped the list to have room for people to grow, and could see opportunities up a level.
“We believe there’s still so much improvement to come, with guys like Jacko (Jackson Fry), Josh Dowling, and obviously with Nathan (Lamdben) spearheading the attack.”
On the batting front, the Swans are loaded with talent, with Keogh still unsure of the mix to go with, something that has certainly eluded them in the past.
“In the first XI last year, we were able to have a few players have breakthrough seasons, obviously Michael Wallace was the standout, and then you add Nathan Freitag to the list, and he’ll bat three most likely,” he said.
“The batting on paper looks good, but it’s going to probably come down to form – we’re also keen to try and get Devin (Pollock) up the list a bit, because as a club, we believe he’s got potentially another level in him, and to do that, he’ll need to get up to that 700, 750 run mark probably, and while keeping is critical, it’s hard to get the runs when you bat seven.
“His glove work is as good as there is, but he needs to get more runs, and one of the ways to do that is to bring him up the order, and certainly in the red ball we’ll look to bat him a bit higher.”
Assisting Keogh once again in the coaching department will be Brett Lewis and Mat Pearson – who will look after the development program – but have added former first-class cricketers Nathan Pilon and Will Carr to the coaching group, with Keogh believing the pair with their experience, and links to the DDCA through playing with Berwick will be invaluable.
“I mean they are both winners, and they’ve both been really successful players, and they’ve done what our emerging players are looking to do, cracking through the Premier system and playing first-class cricket,” he said.
“So they can share their experiences with them on that.
“The other really thing I’m thrilled about is that it gives us that closer connection with some of the DDCA clubs, and we probably haven’t had that relationship and rapport like we have with some of the Gippsland clubs.
“So working on that is really important.”
The Swans will take on Prahran at Casey Fields in a one-day clash on 5 October, starting at 10am.
Pick up a copy of next week’s paper for the Casey-South Melbourne 2019/20 season preview.