East past to guide future

East Gambier has swiftly announced its new-look coaching line up for the 2022 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season after the departure of Matt Willson.

The red and black will deeply miss the expertise of Willson on and off the field after his five years in the driving seat, but two wily old dogs have been brought in to take the team into a new chapter.

“Willow’s” co-coach Jayden Eldridge will remain in the top job and will be joined by a familiar face having a second crack.

Journeyman forward Matt Scanlon returns to the coaching position at McDonald Park having previously performed the role before Willson came on board.

Scanlon and Eldridge will share the coaching duties next year and form a combination few other teams can match in terms of experience.

Both players are two of the club’s favourite sons having have been around the “Kennel” for more than a decade.

This amount of loyalty and knowledge are major reasons why East looked to looked within rather than externally.

Eldridge said he cannot wait for preseason to roll around and get to work with Scanlon.

“I am super excited to have “Scanners” alongside me this year and be announced as coach again,” he said.

“He will lead me and the team into the right direction.

“I helped out Matt last year, so I am proud and honoured to keep coaching.”

After rising through the ranks alongside his brother Frazer, the Scanlon name was synonymous with McDonald Park and it was almost a matter of time until Matt joined the leadership group.

In 2015 Scanlon took on the top job for the first time and his first stint paved the way for one of the most memorable periods in East Gambier history.

The forward coached the team for four seasons and in that time laid the foundations for the breakthrough 2017 premiership.

He was joined by Willson at the start of the special season and the pair generated the game plan to overcome North Gambier and win the club’s first flag in 29 years.

Scanlon took a step back after the huge triumph, but remained a notable leader on the field during the 2018 and 19 seasons.

At the turn of the new decade, the forward had his eyes on a new challenge and signed for Penola, but was never able to wear the blue and white due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With his brother Frazer also stepping away from the “Kennel” to take on the coaching gig at Glencoe, Matt sensed an opportunity in the Mid South Eastern Football League.

Scanlon excited to run out alongside his brother wearing the Murphies maroon, but sadly injured himself in the warm up of this year’s round 5 fixture against Hatherleigh.

It could have been a blessing in disguise as Glencoe lost by 99 points, but it left Scanlon uncertain when his next game would arrive.

He decided to return to his natural home at McDonald Park and by two months later he was playing for the red and black once again.

Representing East for the first time in two years, Scanlon strung five games together at the back end of the 2021 season and resumed his role kicking goals.

Eldridge said Scanlon’s attitude to the game will give the Bulldogs a huge boost.

“He came in and played the last five weeks of this year and his voice and leadership on the field went a long way,” he said.

“I think he brought a lot of excitement to the group and got us more pumped up.

“He is a hard nut, well drilled and can kick a lot of goals, so the boys listen to him.

“He will be a big part of East Gambier in 2022 and come preseason there will be a lot of hard work and commitment.

“We have fallen short the last couple of years, so we need a bit more toughness.”

Eldridge is relatively new to the coaching scene, but completed his apprenticeship alongside Willson this year.

Having got the debut year out of the way, he feels eager to go all in next year.

“I will go into next year with a lot more confidence to lead the group in hopefully the right direction,” Eldridge said.

“Willow took the main role doing most of the talking, while I sat back seeing how he went about things.

“This year I think “Scanners” will let me take a little bit more of the reigns.

“Having a really good game plan is the goal and having Matt, he can steer me back onto the right track.”

Last week’s coaching announcement was a major moment at the “Kennel” towards 2022 as Eldridge confirmed preparations are ramping up.

“Coaches have just been announced and we are starting to get the boys signed up again,” he said.

“I have not heard of too many going anywhere else, so we should be around the mark again and are starting to recruit a few now.

“It was disappointing to lose to North because we thought we were a better side than what we produced that day, so the boys are fired up to go further into finals.”

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