The Gundagai Tigers have moved on from the disappointment of an unfinished season cut short by Covid and have started looking to next season.
Luke Berkrey will be back as captain-coach and the club already has a big signing in star South City five-eighth Nathan Rose.
A player who has proven to be the Tigers’ nemesis at times over the years, Rose will help fill a void left by the departing James Smart and Dane O’Hehir.
The defending premiers are coming off a challenging season where a crippling injury toll had an impact, but Berkrey believes the adversity will stand the club in good stead for next season and beyond.
“We had so many injuries and it got to a point during the middle of the year where it was tough to deal with,” Berkrey said. “Yeah, it was pretty challenging at times.
“While we’re extremely lucky we have so much depth, you don’t count on losing two of the best players in the competition in James Smart and James Luff.
“I think it did put a hole in our confidence – when you’re warming up for a game, not having those two next to you will have an impact.”
There were some uncharacteristic losses during 2021 for a club that has been so hard to beat in recent seasons, but there was also a silver lining, Berkrey said.
“We gave a lot of young guys a lot of opportunities and that holds us in really good stead for next season,” Berkrey said. “It puts the club in a good position.”
After a tough run through the middle stages of the competition, Gundagai was building some momentum heading into the back end of the year.
Luff was back as good as ever, and while Smart’s long-awaited return was short-lived, Gundagai was building nicely towards a tilt at the finals amid challenges from an improved Young, perennial heavyweight South City and arch-rival Tumut.
Unfortunately for everyone, Covid struck and the competition was shut down, just as the Tigers were heating up.
Berkrey conceded it left a hollow feeling.
“It was disappointing for everyone, but it can’t be helped,” he said.
“There was a lot of work that went into it from lots of people, and not much repayment. All you can do now is move on.”
Berkrey said he’s learned a lot from what is his second stint as a captain-coach – he had a year in the role at Cootamundra – and said it’s important he does lose sight on his own game, a common trap for playing coaches.
“I think that’s one thing I took out of the year, that I really have to be focussed on playing good footy myself,” Berkrey said. “That’s something I can pick up on. As much as I’m always going to be worried about the team, I need to make sure I’m playing well.”
“And following on from that, people don’t care too much what you say, it’s what you do.”
While O’Hehir and Smart are definite outs, the Tigers will work through what other holes they need to fill over the off-season, but Berkrey doesn’t expect to be chasing too many players.
“We showed last year that we have the locals there to do a job,” he said, and I’d expect a lot of those young blokes to only improve.”