The Goulburn Valley’s four Bendigo Amateur Soccer League teams all hold ambitions of pushing into finals in this year’s competition as the season springs to life tomorrow. Reigning champion Shepparton South is looking to make it two in a row, but will have to stave off a field of rampaging contenders. Included in that class is a Tatura side brimming with new talent, led by incoming coach Sean Grant who has made the move from the champions. But Shepparton United is also ready to launch, looking to build on last year’s fourth-placing.
Dillon Shelley enters his second season as coach of Shepparton hoping his troops can continue a build up the BASL table.
Seventh last season but with a goal difference of -21, the coach said consolidating was top of the agenda.
‘‘Slowly but surely we’re getting there — last year being my first as coach, I’m really keen to step on from there,’’ he said.
‘‘The club’s in a transition period, with a couple of mainstays retiring there’s new blood.
‘‘There’s a few changes to the squad, but it’s mostly about consolidating last year and keeping what we’ve got.’’
It’s clear pre-season work centred around out-working opposition — Shelley adding fitness would be a weapon his side would look to use particularly late in games.
‘‘Fitness is a big area, we want to come in and out-run opposition teams across 90 minutes,’’ he said.
‘‘You might not play the best for the game but if you can beat them for endurance that can win games.’’
Last year’s BASL champion is looking to double its success in 2018 under new coach Reno Lia.
Six months on from a memorable 2-1 win against Eaglehawk in the grand final, Shepparton South has welcomed a host of new talents, making it a dangerous prospect moving forward.
Shaun Kane and Hussein Sumaili join from the Goulburn Valley Suns, Carlo Meola from Cobram and Brendan Barton from Wangaratta City among other moves making South the competition front-runners.
Lia said pre-season had involved incorporating the new talents with an aim towards playing attractive football.
‘‘It’s been as good as we expected, we knew we’d get some different personnel so we’ve worked on fitting them into our style of play,’’ he said.
‘‘I always think about our style of play being something fans will go away and remember as entertaining.’’
Coming off the ultimate, Lia said the natural expectation was to return to finals and try and do it all again.
‘‘We always aim for a good finish and finals — that’s our expectation,’’ he said.
‘‘Even though we’ve had a fair change, we’ll keep improving and playing the way we have. I think it will take a good team to beat us.’’
Shepparton United’s move from Central Park to McEwen Reserve is hoped to be matched by a leap from fourth on the BASL table right into title contention.
United played strong football in 2017 and was just 12 points back from top spot; coach Roven Shaholli was keen for even more in 2018.
‘‘We’re definitely aiming for top two, we’re going all out this season,’’ he said.
‘‘We haven’t seen much of what other clubs have been up to, except the Shepparton sides, but it looks like Tatura has gone for it.
‘‘Finals are just as important though in the Bendigo league, so we have to be playing our best at that stage of the season.
‘‘We needed to add depth and we’ve got that, which is exciting.’’
GV Suns pair Fabrice Ebe and former coach Nick Kalafatis join the Blues in exciting additions of quality.
Shaholli said pre-season, and his squad, was shaping up well heading into a round-one clash with Eaglehawk — the side that ended United’s 2017 in the preliminary final.
‘‘It’s been a good pre-season, a few signings are always exciting and we get to play the team that cost us a chance to play in the grand final,’’ he said.
Tatura has already captured the hearts of the region’s round ball fans with an entertaining FFA Cup run this year — but now the challenge is to recreate that form in BASL competition.
The Ibises made the third round of the Victorian stage, playing impressive football in the process.
A new-look side, fronted by Sean Grant after making a bold switch from rival Shepparton South, enters the campaign red-hot, and with a target on its back.
Grant, who brought former Goulburn Valley Suns import Lewis Coyle with him, said he expected his side to hit the ground running, starting with the weekend’s clash with South.
‘‘I think we will benefit (from the FFA Cup), we’ve played nine matches in total since January,’’ he said.
‘‘The match fitness will be there straightaway which is always good, it’s something that can normally take two or three rounds to get.
‘‘It’s a very interesting clash this weekend, with me being there last year and the history of both being Italian clubs.
‘‘It’s a good rivalry and being back there early in the season is exciting.’’
Other off-season additions include defender Jarrod Backway and Mason Smith, with the Ibises poised to rise from last year’s sixth-placed finish into title contention.