THEY'RE not ranked solely on their efforts last season, or form over their careers. Here are the 40 players I expect to have the biggest impact on the 2014 Ovens and Murray season.
1. BRENDAN FEVOLA Yarrawonga
RECLAIMS the No.1 mantle, despite kicking less goals than he did in 2012. Why? The former AFL star averaged more than six goals a game during the finals last year and showed his true worth at the business end of the season. Quite simply, he was the difference in September. Fevola is still yet to be kept goalless in his 33 games for the Pigeons and is undoubtedly the most unstoppable force in the league when on song.
2. CHRIS HYDE Albury
IS he getting better? In the eyes of plenty, the Albury co-coach had his greatest season yet at Tigerland last year. That’s saying something, considering Hyde has been arguably the best player in the league over the past five years. The former Richmond utility has made his name as one of the Ovens and Murray’s premier midfielders, however, showed his worth sweeping across half back and even as a goalkicker last season.
Still one of the best to watch.
3. DREW BARNES Yarrawonga
YARRAWONGA’S playing coach went to another level last year. Held in the highest regard down the river, Barnes showed the rest of the football world why with an invaluable performance in last year’s decider.
Footballers make their names in big finals and Barnes did exactly that. Still just about the most versatile player in the league and hard as a cat’s head.
In a word — warrior.
4. JOEL MACKIE Albury
INJURY limited Mackie’s overall output last season but his best was still as good as anyone else’s. The 2012 Morris medallist strikes fear into opposition camps like few others and it’s with good reason. Rarely loses a one-on-one contest and has become a dangerous weapon up forward for the Tigers when resting from his midfield duties.
Plays his 100th game for the Tigers in a couple of weeks.
5. ADAM PRIOR Lavington
IT’S no surprise Lavington pushed so hard to land the star forward. The three-time Doug Strang medallist is one of the very best players in the competition and could well end up being the difference between a premiership or not for the Panthers this year.
The strongest mark overhead in the Ovens and Murray and a beautiful kick for goal, Prior has all the tools you want in a key forward. Expect plenty of bags this season.
6. KAYNE PETTIFER Yarrawonga
THE former Richmond livewire kicked 64 goals last year in a team that almost always kicks it to Brendan Fevola first and asks questions later. Pettifer had to work extremely hard for his goals last season and spent plenty of time further up the ground, too. He made several crucial cameos for the Pigeons and has a level of class only the very best in the league possess. Pettifer is a genuine match-winner.
7. DEAN POLO Albury
IT’S unlikely anybody else in the league had more touches of the footy than Polo did last year and he was a deserved runner-up in the Morris Medal. Whether it’s winning clearances, or mopping up across half-back, Polo has made a habit of being in the right place at the right time for the Tigers. The former Richmond and St Kilda midfielder is one of the most selfless stars in the league and will do whatever he has to for the team.
8. CRAIG EDNIE Yarrawonga
YOU can mount a case that Yarrawonga’s magician is getting better with age. Now a three-time premiership player, the evergreen Ednie took out the Pigeons’ best and fairest award last season after lifting his team on several occasions. Fevola might be the most talented, and Barnes the on-field general, but Ednie is still the man Yarrawonga looks to when a game is on the line. Is very likely to retire as Yarrawonga’s greatest player, if he isn’t already.
9. BRAYDEN O'HARA Albury
SHOULD crack into the top-three by season’s end. Albury’s star recruit is yet to prove himself in the O and M but you’d be a brave man to think he won’t. Coming off a best and fairest at a SANFL heavyweight, O’Hara looks to be a genuine A-Grader and takes Albury’s already fearsome midfield to another level. Excluding the league’s array of former AFL stars, it’s hard to think of a more credentialed player to join the competition in recent years. Should dominate.
10. BRAD MURRAY Myrtleford
ONE of the league’s most respected players and consistent performers. Added a Myrtleford best and fairest to his long list of achievements last season.
Gives the Saints genuine star quality.
11. DANIEL LESLIE North Albury
THE Hoppers’ main man was another star of the league to finally win a club best and fairest last year. Thrown into the unfamiliar surrounds of defence by coach Jason Akermanis, Leslie took it all in his stride and went from one of the league’s best forwards to best defenders. Will have to carry a young side this season but few players are better equipped to handle that burden. Still does his best work up forward, in my opinion.
12. JUSTIN KOSCHITZKE Lavington
THE former St Kilda big man has created genuine excitement since his arrival at Lavington. While he’s unlikely to play every week, Koschitzke’s output will still be invaluable for the Panthers. Koschitzke’s two best skills at AFL level were his contested marking and accuracy in front of goal. That’s all he needs to succeed in the Ovens and Murray. I think he will.
13. SETANTA O'HAILPIN Albury
MAKE no mistake, the big Irishman could easily be one of the league’s most influential players by year’s end. His size is going to trouble plenty this year. Capable of playing forward, back or in the ruck, O’hAilpin is going to be unbelievably difficult to match up on. He played plenty of good games at the highest level and there’s no reason to suggest he won’t here.
14. JAMES SAKER Lavington
THE Panthers’ coach had a few question marks next to his name heading into last season and boy did he answer them all.
Not only did Saker become the league’s premier defensive stopper, he also gave Lavington serious drive out of defence.
Kept Brendan Fevola to just one goal in round 15 last year — Fevola’s lowest total since joining Yarrawonga. Has one of the best football brains in the league.
15. DEAN LIMBACH Wodonga Raiders
HAD an outstanding season last year and I’m tipping him to get better. Limbach booted 68 goals in the worst team in the competition and should logically kick more in a better team. Brings genuine star factor to Birallee Park and is genuinely exciting to watch.
16. TYSON HARTWIG Wangaratta Rovers
IT’S almost impossible to split the Hawks’ skipper and Saker as the best defender in the business but for me, Saker just gets the nod. Take nothing away from Hartwig, though. The burly backman gets all the big jobs down back and it’s hard to think of a game where he hasn’t broken even with his opponent at the very least. Could get even better this year with more help down back.
17. XAVIER LESLIE Yarrawonga
THE reigning Morris medallist just keeps on keeping on. Still one of the league’s most productive midfielders and he rarely plays a bad game. Calm, classy and respected by every team in the league.
18. MICHAEL HANDBY Yarrawonga
THE Pigeons’ best recruit has surprisingly flown under the radar over the summer but is tipped by plenty of good judges to take the league by storm. Has an imposing size for a midfielder and should hit the ground running after spending the summer months playing in Darwin. One to watch at the Albury Sportsground today.
19. LUKE WELLS Albury
ALBURY’S big man made his mark last year with a stellar first season. Should improve with help from the O’hAilpins this year.
Takes plenty of marks and does plenty around the ground.
20. JAMIE ALLAN Wangaratta
WE all know how good he can be. Has elite fitness and ball-winning ability and will inject plenty of class to the Pies’ midfield upon his return. Needs to get better at the defensive stuff.
21. BRYCE CAMPBELL Corowa-Rutherglen
INJURY is the only question mark. Hasn’t played much footy over the past two years but if he gets himself fit and firing, Campbell could make a mockery of being ranked at No.21. You don’t play more than 100 SANFL games if you’re no good.
22. KRISTAN HEIGHT Myrtleford
MADE a huge impact last year and should do so again this season. Kicks goals, wins the footy and is one of the more difficult players to man up on. Would dominate at Albury or Yarrawonga.
23. JAMIE SHEAHAN Wangaratta Rovers
GUN. Doesn’t lose many one-on-one contests and is vital to the Hawks’ chances of staying in the top-five. A goalkicking midfielder who doesn’t take a backward step.
24. MATT GROSSMAN Wangaratta
HAS pace to burn and clearly Wangaratta’s best player last season. Should form a dynamic partnership with Jamie Allan.
25. LUKE GARLAND Lavington
STILL one the league’s elite players. Racks up plenty of the footy when running through the midfield and kicks multiple goals when resting forward. You can’t ask for much more than that.
26. TYLER BONAT Yarrawonga
FIT, strong overhead and creates an awkward match-up for opposition sides. Can negate, as well as win the ball himself.
Played a ripping grand final last year and slowly becoming more and more crucial for the Pigeons.
27. MARCUS McMILLAN Yarrawonga
NOT quite as lethal as he was in 2012 but still close to Yarrawonga’s most valuable player. Needs to stand up in defence this season. Steers clear of the media and prefers to let his footy do the talking.
28. LONNIE HAMPTON Albury
HAD a breakout season last year and shown no signs of slowing up. Has added size but not at the expense of his pace. Watching him tear down the wing at full tilt is one of the best sights in Ovens and Murray footy.
29. MATT PENDERGAST Lavington
STILL the core of Lavington’s midfield. Despite being one of the biggest names at the club, does all the dirty stuff to make his lesser known teammates look better. Starting to sneak forward and kick goals more regularly.
30. JARRAH MAKSYMOW North Albury
THIS kid can seriously play. Makes the impossible look freakishly easy and has blistering pace. Leaves you speechless at his best but consistency is now the key.
31. KADE STEVENS Lavington
CLASS is permanent. Not getting any younger but still one of the league’s most polished performers. Will have plenty of fun kicking the ball to good mate Justin Koschitzke this season.
32. LUKE PACKER Albury
HIS body continues to fail him, but Packer is still one of the league’s elite small defenders when he gets on the park. Was Albury’s best player in last year’s decider and despite the constant injury battles, has shown no sign of slowing up.
33. SAM CARPENTER Wangaratta Rovers
INJURY ruined last year for him but still finds the footy like few others can. Every chance of shooting back up the list by season’s end.
34. LUKE GESTIER Corowa-Rutherglen
THIS bloke will give the Roos the target in attack they’ve been crying out for. Has proven himself in a quality league and looks set for a big year. Could be the difference between making finals or not.
35. JOHN MITCHELL Albury
SERIOUSLY underrated. Uses the footy exceptionally well and is close to the best player in the competition at getting front and centre for crumbs inside 50.
Keeps getting better.
36. DANIEL ARCHER Wangaratta Rovers
SHOULD kick at least 50 goals as the Hawks’ main target in attack. Presents strongly, takes strong marks and is a booming kick for goal. Needs to prove himself, but could be higher on the list by the end of the year.
37. BRANT DICKSON Lavington
LAVINGTON’S handy man who is one of the league’s quiet achievers. Is constantly thrown around the ground but still plays well week in, week out. Relished in the ruck last year.
38. MYLES AALBERS Lavington
CLASSY performer who could have easily taken out the Panthers’ best and fairest last year. A match-turner at his best and particularly hard to match up on. Generally plays well when it counts.
39. BEN HOLLANDS Wodonga
STAYED on the park last year and his form spoke for itself. Still super classy and calm under pressure. Won’t have to shoulder as much as he did last season after a few handy additions but he’s still Wodonga’s best player.
40. ADAM FLAGG Lavington
JUST sneaks in. Was good, not great, last season but tipped to do big things this year.
I’m backing him in to run riot with Justin Koschitzke and Adam Prior around.