Echuca has signed former Carlton star and hometown hero Andrew Walker as playing coach for next year.
Walker will work alongside Simon Maddox, the club’s new non-playing coach, under a new-broom management approach with Murray Bombers premiership player and coach Ash Byrne, the club’s president elect — a position expected to be ratified at November’s annual meeting.
Walker is the club’s biggest name player/coach signing since Mitiamo’s Ken Sheldon, another Carlton legend, came home in 2001 and coached the side to a flag.
Announcing the signing of the co-coaches, Byrne said it signalled a new era for Echuca and, hopefully, the Goulburn Valley League.
‘‘While we haven’t achieved the success we would have wanted in recent years, we know we are knocking on the door,’’ he said.
‘‘We have a rock solid playing list, we have some of the GVFL’s most exciting players and the majority of those who are the core of our team have all re-signed.
‘‘And we have an outstanding crop of youngsters coming through the system — that our retention rate is so good is an indication, I believe, of a strong club and a strong future.
‘‘What we really want is simply for our club to play its best footy, because when it does it is a very good team.’’
Walker and Maddox played together in the losing 2003 grand final side, which Byrne coached, against Tatura.
The three know each other well and all agree that will be the cornerstone of the club’s progress in the next few seasons.
‘‘It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do, being an Echuca boy,’’ Walker said from Fiji on Tuesday, where he is holidaying with his family.
‘‘It was always a dream, one, to play for the club, and two, to lead the club.
‘‘It’s something I’m excited to do, it’s probably happened a little bit earlier than expected, but I’ve got a business opening there (an indoor children’s play centre to be called Gravity Shack) on December 10.
‘‘The kids are really excited; it’s a bit earlier than expected. We sat down with them and gave them some options, to stay in the city or to go to Echuca, and they’re excited to get here.
‘‘They have six cousins here around their age, all younger than nine.
‘‘So I’m giving up my gig at Carlton and moving up to help get the club back to where it should be.’’
Walker was Carlton’s development and integration coach this year, helping the first and second year players settle in as well as an indigenous liaison role (which he will continue with, but on a scaled-back basis).
‘‘I loved coaching this year, I’m really in no hurry to move on from the role, but one thing we wanted to do was put a lot of time into our business,’’ Walker said.
‘‘I’ve been back a few times, I’ve still got a couple of mates there.
‘‘Briggsy (outgoing Echuca coach Andrew Briggs) has done a great job getting the club back up there, the boys started well this season, but injuries are always a concern and that’s something that stopped the performances from continuing through the season.
‘‘Briggsy has put the club in a really good spot for us to take over and add something.
‘‘I’m really excited to get back and really enjoying playing some country footy.
‘‘Really, that’s the reason we all play, because we love it, and I want to bring that feeling back to the club.’’
Walker’s playing prospects have also taken a giant leap forward with his participation in an osteoarthritis drug trial — he played 15 of 18 games (and one final) for West Preston Lakeside in Melbourne this season.
It has taken his battered body from a pain level of 10 to two.
When he was still playing AFL, he was having a 10cm oedema in his knee drained three times a week.
Since starting on the drug Pentosan, he has not had his knee drained for a year and the oedema has been shrunk to just 1cm.
Maddox, who has had a year out of football after coaching Moama last year, will run the team from the sidelines.
And like Walker he is looking forward to ‘‘coming home’’.
‘‘I have been out of the game and when I was approached about this role it was an incredibly appealing challenge,’’ Maddox said.
‘‘I agree we have a seriously strong list, and we will be looking at it in great detail soon, but might try and find one or two specialists to help bolster a couple of spots where we could be stronger.
‘‘This is a new role for Andrew and me, as joint coaches — and for the club — so it will be good to see how well we can make the most of the opportunity.
‘‘We can’t say enough for the work Briggsy has done and we will be looking to get even further improvement out of the senior playing group with a few extra ideas we will bring with us.’’
Preliminary finalists Shepparton and Seymour are yet to appoint coaches for next year, with Brad Campbell and Brent Colbert stepping away from their roles when their teams’ seasons finish.