Berwick’s Stingrays shine

The Berwick-Stingrays connection: Callum Barnett, Luke Sheppard, Levi Casboult, Riley Heddles, Daniel Harrison, Madi Andrews, Corey Millard and Matt Buntine are part of an impressive list of Berwick footballers in the TAC Cup program this year. 249436 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

LOOKING BACK TO MAY 6, 2009

It might be the finest batch of junior footballers in the region.

Berwick Junior Football Club certainly thinks so and it only takes one look at the Dandenong Stingrays list to see why.

No less than a dozen Stingrays – including under-18 and under-16 players- currently list Berwick as their junior club.

It’s the most impressive group the club has ever had, with six locals vying for selection in the TAC Cup under-18 competition and another six being groomed for a 2010 spot via the under-16 program.

The under-18 crop comprises Madi Andrews, Corey Millard, Riley Heddles, Luke Sheppard, Daniel Harrison and development-listed Callum Barnett.

And the procession from Arch Brown Reserve to Dandenong’s Shepley Oval has continued with Jack Shepard, Matt Buntine, Ricky Bevan, Jake Calvert, Piva Wright and Adam Treloar.

Granted, some are recent additions to the BJFC books, with Barnett, Calvert, Wright and Treloar joining the club only recently.

Mature-age Stingray Levi Casboult also transferred to the Berwick senior club this year after playing his junior footy with Beaconsfield.

But they came across for a reason and Stingrays region manager Darren Flanigan says there’s no secret as to what that reason was.

“There’s no doubt that (Berwick) is a really strong club and there are some really good people in charge,” he said.

“They set pretty high standards as far as their coaching and administration goes and that always reflects in the quality of the kids coming out (of the junior club) and their ability to attract good kids from other clubs.”

Flanigan has seen similar groups of junior club mates come and go at Shepley Oval – last year it was the Narre Warren connection that shone through.

But the former Geelong ruckman believes Berwick’s professional approach to junior coaching is making the club a legitimate powerhouse of the region.

“When you see a group of young kids that get together like that, usually you’ll find that they’ve had a really good coach over a few years through their juniors,” he explained.

“That’s extremely important to the development of young players – the ability of their local coach.”

BJFC committeeman Lew Buntine agrees, but reckons the coaches can only take so much credit.

Having watched many of the Berwick boys develop through the junior ranks, Buntine has always had his suspicions that something special was brewing.

It might have been the three consecutive Dandenong District Junior Football League flags from under-10s to under-12s – a group that included Stingrays’ captain and top AFL draft prospect Tom Scully, who later moved to Narre Warren.

“They had all the makings of being a pretty elite group,” Buntine recalled.

“But it’s something where you can’t tell kids how to do it, you prepare them as well as you can and they do the rest.

“We teach them to aim for the stars – and one day you’ll be one.”

And there are already signs of that motto becoming a reality, with many of the Berwick boys flourishing in the Stingrays system.

Andrews and Heddles both played in last year’s TAC Cup grand final at the Docklands and both are expected to be key players in the 2009 side.

Heddles has missed the start of the season with a broken hand, but looks set to return over the next fortnight.

Millard is a likely key-position prospect who is trialling with the Vic Country under-18 squad, while Wright, Treloar and Buntine were all selected in the preliminary under-16 squad last month.