WODONGA Diamonds coach Jimmy Bell admits the development of his young squad has caught him a little off guard.
The league and cup champions suffered a mass exodus after last season, losing striker Nagus Henry, Jedd Gvozdenovic, Brett Delphin and Dylan Gavel.
Add long-term injuries to defenders Jesse Stephens and Dan Millynn and Diamonds could have been excused for going through a “development” season.
But a hard fought loss to Twin City and a polished performance against Hotspurs last week has Bell talking up the rest of the season.
He said in some ways losing Henry had opened up opportunities for others.
“As good as Nagus was at the end of last year we were probably guilty of being a bit one dimensional,” he said.
“We would go to Nagus expecting him to deliver.
“But we have a number of options with these young guys, and of course Jarrod Herzina and Paul Brunec.”
Bell has blooded many teenagers from the Diamonds production line that last year saw all 13 teams play in cup finals.
They include now regular seniors Jason Colomberas, Darcy Pawlik, Mohamad Abbas and Matthew Simpkin.
Others to have played senior soccer this year include Dylan Nhansana, Josh Gigliotti and Patty Allen, while Tom Morrison, 17, who was a key to Diamonds run last year, is expected back from long-term injury late in the season.
Bell said he was awakened to the talent at the club by third grade coaches Delphin and James Dexter last year.
“They were at me all year to look at these boys,” he said.
“As a new coach coming to Diamonds I only knew them from the outside but when you are part of the club you start to see the depth of talent at its disposal.
“We knew that if we didn’t give them a chance they would most likely move to other clubs to play seniors, and in some ways that was the catalyst to moving some older players on in the off-season.
“But even I’ve been surprised at how quickly they have adapted to the physicality and speed of the game.”
Bell said the loss to Twin City had him confident Diamonds were on the right path.
“The boys had nothing to lose and seriously tested Wanderers in that 3-2 loss,” he said.
“With their natural development and the likely return of some of our injured brigade I think we can still give this a real shake.”