ON face value, North Albury’s 75-run loss to Tallangatta in round 5 looked like just another bad day at the office for the young Hoppers.
It was the fourth defeat in five matches for Matt Kirkwood’s line-up.
But Kirkwood walked away from Bunton Park feeling optimistic the club could turn its season around and still challenge for finals action.
He was on the money.
North Albury has since gone on to defeat reigning premier Lavington, Albury and Belvoir and, remarkably, finds itself sitting in fifth position on the ladder.
“The catalyst was the Tallangatta game,” the first-year skipper said.
“We got beat, but we still played pretty reasonable cricket.
“It was a turning point for us and it flowed on to the next three games.
“I think the young blokes got some real belief out of it and started to feel comfortable.”
The transition period was understandable considering the wealth of experience that has departed North Albury in recent years, and Kirkwood warned the Hoppers still have a long way to go.
Ash Borella, Brendan Simmons, David Farrell and Kirkwood are in the top 17 run-scorers in the competition while opening bowler Robbie Hartnett has led the way with the ball with 12 wickets.
“Robbie Hartnett has been really good opening the bowling for the past six or seven weeks, Brandon Purtell has done well since coming from New City and Ash Borella and David Farrell have been making good starts at the top of the order,” Kirkwood said.
“I think more than anything it’s getting games into blokes and them being accustomed to their role in the side.”
Kirkwood, who returned to North Albury last season after playing in two flags with Euroa, said the return of Gerard Midson as coach after a stint with district clubs Howlong, Dederang and Wodonga Raiders had helped fast-track the Hoppers’ youngsters.
“It’s good to have somebody who has come in from outside the club and can share their experience. He’s brought fresh ideas and a different energy,” he said.
With less than three points separating the fifth and eighth-placed teams on the ladder, Kirkwood said any lapses in the run home would prove costly.
Tallangatta, Wodonga, East Albury and St Patrick’s look safe with five rounds left with North Albury, Lavington, Belvoir and New City to fight it out for the two remaining semi-final positions.
“We have St Pats, Wodonga, East Albury, Wodonga Raiders and New City ahead so it’s going to be solid,” Kirkwood said.
“It’s important we keep looking to win. Whoever clicks come March will have a fair chance of winning it.”