Having put a horror 12 months behind them, Casterton Sandford is steaming towards the 2022 Western Border Football and Netball season after a huge month before Christmas on and off the field.
The Cats kicked off preseason more than a month ago, but have also held their end of season presentations and finalised their coaching staff in a busy period which finishes with a special cricket match this Saturday at Island Park.
When play resumes next year, the A Grade will be led once again by returning coach Kane Forbes.
Although he is yet to sing the team song as A Grade coach after a mixture of form, injury and border issues prevented Casterton Sandford from winning this year, Forbes is still honoured to hold the role and determined to lead the club to greener pastures.
“It is probably something within the Casterton community that has not been a good secret, but it is still a massive privilege to coach again,” he said.
“It was not the easiest of years for us in terms of on field success, but we did improve week by week and our differentials were reduced.
“When I took the job last year I knew it was not going to be easy because we had no preseason or time to recruit.
“I take confidence that we will improve again and next year we will have no excuses because we have trained for more than a month now with good numbers and new players.
“I would like to think we will be a lot fitter and be able to run out games.
“It is a slow burn being a three-to-five-year plan, so hopefully the kids can continue to develop and we can gain respect off the field because the club is the heartbeat of this little town.”
Casterton Sanford has “gone pretty hard” on the training track since the start of preseason five weeks ago with the help of AFLW calibre strength and condition coach Hayley Campbell.
Forbes is just one part of what will become a seven-strong coaching team to keep a close eye on all things at the Cattery.
Justin Carlin and Tim Killey remain in their respective roles as assistant and bench coaches after showing a large amount knowledge and skills this year.
The Cats are also aiming to have specialised roles with Rickey Killey and Michael Jarrad jumping on board as the forward line and back line coaches respectively, while a midfield coach is yet to be determined.
Forbes said he cannot wait to work with his well credentialled coaching team.
“Everyone apart from Rick were already on board and did a fantastic job in 2021,” he said.
“My bench coach Tim’s knowledge and opposition analysis is really underrated.
“He is very good at making quick decisions on the fly and he is a massive tick for the club.
“Justin’s ability to read the play and win the contested footy is as good as I have every seen.
“He has grown as a coach over the last 12 months and really improved to have the boys buy into everything he said.
“He is still only 25 and will keep improving.
“We are trying to have more specific line coaches, so Michael is going to take control of the backline and finally make the transition from a very illustrious playing career of more than 300 games to an off field role.
“Rick probably had his best year in 2021 as the vice-captain and we will try to develop some more young kids and teach them how to position themselves to win the footy.
“Those boys are fantastic acquisitions to the coaching group and I really look forward to working with them.”
The club held its presentations earlier this week and spiced things up a bit conducting it on Sunday afternoon with a jumping castle and live music in the background.
It was no surprise for many to see ball magnet Diarmid Cleary, while Scarlett Jarrad claimed the top gong in the A Grade netball.
Forbes said it was a great occasion and fitting recognition for Cleary’s unbelievable season.
“It was a fantastic day with a different format and everyone would say it was a raging success,” he said.
“I think Diarmid won by about 30 votes which I am pretty sure is a club record and was not a shock.
“He is an absolute beast, works hard, can win the ball in tight, but can also hurt the opposition with his run and carry.
“I thought one of his best attributes was his defensive work and in one of the games he had 14 tackles, so just led from the front.”
The final chapter of Casterton Sandford’s journey to Christmas may not involve a Sherrin, but it will be the most emotional and meaningful of all.
The Cats have joined forces with the Redan Football Netball Club to play a T20 cricket match in memory of Gus Cleary.
“There are going to be a lot of mixed emotions around the day, but we think it is very important for the community to reflect on Gus’ life and give him the respect he deserves after being taken too soon,” Forbes said.
“It is also about people who may need support going through difficult times, so the message is no matter what your situation, there is always someone to help or listen.
“We are really looking forward to Saturday and neither us or Redan want to lose the cricket game, so there will be a touch of seriousness.
“We are in the process of raising money towards headspace and will donate $10 to every six hit on the day.”
The Gus Cleary Memorial T20 game will take centre-stage at Island Park from 4.30pm this Saturday evening.