HE is the best and fairest player in the Tallangatta and District league, but Barton medallist Cameron McNeill says it’s one of his teammates who shapes as Barnawartha’s finals wildcard.
Peter Cook is back.
The Tigers’ star goalkicker recently shelved plans to retire after ongoing back troubles and returned to senior level with a bang, booting four goals against Rutherglen last Saturday.
Cook has booted a whopping 264 goals over the past three seasons — more than anyone else in the league in that time — and McNeill said his return undoubtedly boosted Barnawartha’s chances of winning back-to-back premierships for the first time.
“It’s great to have him back,” McNeill, 25, said.
“Mentally, he’s turned a corner.
“He’s up and about and getting round the younger guys which is great to see.
“His presence on the ground is big for us and you can run forward confident if you keep kicking it into him.
“At the very least, he’s just another player teams need to find a good defender for.”
McNeill, who joined illustrious company by winning a third league best and fairest on Monday, admitted he was shocked to win back-to-back Barton Medals.
“I didn’t think I was much of a chance,” he said.
“You don’t ever expect things like this, but the calibre of players in the league has gone up this year.
“I thought I was a bit better last year, which is exactly why I didn’t think I was much of a chance.
“But it’s a good feeling to win it.”
McNeill said he had more pressing issues at hand.
The Tigers start their finals campaign on Sunday against arch-rival Chiltern at Sandy Creek.
“They can’t be taken lightly,” McNeill said.
“We know exactly what it’s like.
“They’re pretty similar to us last year, getting in at the finish.
“I think they’ve won eight of their last nine and are up and about.”
But McNeill said Barnawartha had every reason to be confident as well.
“I think we’re just starting to hit form at the right time,” he said.
“We knocked off Mitta and had a fairly handy game against Rutherglen.”
Barnawartha came from the clouds to capture last season’s flag after starting its run in the elimination final.
The Tigers are in the same spot again but McNeill said last year’s mammoth run counted for little this season.
“We’re just approaching it game by game,” he said.
“We won’t refer back too much, I wouldn’t think.
“It’s a different competition this year.
“I think it has improved.
“We’ve bumped up a bit with a few guys but other sides have, also.”
The midfield star admitted he was looking forward to returning to Sandy Creek.
“A big, dry ground will suit us,” McNeill said.
“It hasn’t been played on all year, so it won’t be heavy.
“Hopefully we can get that running game going.”