THE Millicent Saints have marched into the Christmas holiday period with a month of pre-season training under their belts.
Returning A Grade coach Clint Gallio hopes to spur the Saints into action next season, after this year’s deflating premiership defence attempt.
Millicent lost around a dozen players from 2018’s grand final team, while injuries dealt further blows throughout the season, which saw the Saints tumble from the pick of the crop to the bottom of the ladder.
However, with another year of experience for the young Saints who were blooded in senior company last season, as well as the returned guidance of a premiership coach, Millicent will hope to step up in 2020.
Gallio received a warm welcome on his return, but there is no denying the circumstances of his re-election were not ideal.
The 2018 premiership playing coach headed north after the drought-breaking grand final victory over East Gambier, to put his skills to the test in the North East Australian Football League.
However, his 2019 season was cut painfully short after sustaining another ACL injury – the opposite knee to the one which kept him sidelined for much of the 2017 and 2018 Western Border seasons.
With 2019 coach Lyndon Smith announcing mid-season he would not carry on with the role in 2020 due to family commitments, the search for a replacement began.
That happened to coincide with Gallio’s injury and as a result he returned home to recover himself as well as help Millicent rediscover some of its former glory.
While players now enjoy a break over the holiday period, the Saints hit the track over the last month in preparation for the challenge of 2020.
“We did probably about four week’s worth (of pre-season) I reckon,” Gallio said.
“This time of year it is always hard with numbers and people working and all different sorts of stuff going on, but we had pretty decent numbers for this time of year.”
Training has not been too intense, with sessions revolving heavily around fitness, while also some basic skill work.
“We had a good chunk of running, mixed with some shorter handball type stuff – the boys seemed to enjoy it,” Gallio said.
While Gallio said he is happy to be back, it is a bitter-sweet scenario and he will not be expected to return to the ground until the second half of the season.
“I am six months through my rehab and they say it is a 12-month injury,” he said.
“It is going really well – I am running again and just concentrating on getting strength back into my leg to help strengthen that knee.
“I am probably aiming for mid-season at this stage, all things going well.”
Gallio is no stranger to coaching from the sidelines and looks forward to the opportunity to focus solely on the role, all things considered.
“I spent most of the 2017 season and half the 2018 season doing it with the other knee, so I sort of know what it is about,” he said.
“It is a lot easier, you see a lot more and can make changes real quick and adjust to things when they happen on the spot.
“Obviously I would much rather be playing, but I am looking forward to sitting back and trying to help us through the first half of the season from the sidelines.”
As far as whether the Saints will be competitive in 2020, Gallio said it is difficult to gauge where the team is compared to others so early in the piece.
“When you lose about 12 players from a premiership side it does not make it easy,” he said.
“Lyndon Smith did a really good job to hold the group together and it was a pretty young squad, riddled with injuries throughout the playing group which did not help them either.
“It is really hard to say (where we are at) because you do not know what other teams are doing.
“We will definitely be looking to improve and we have some structures in place to hopefully help us do that.”
A young squad can be expected again, but with a season of experience behind some of the fresher faces, they will be eager to step it up a gear next year.
The likes of Sam Willis and Jonah Grimes will be looked to again amongst the leadership group, while Gallio is excited about a few other young faces in the squad.
“Frazer and Kade Bradley and Kade Varcoe – blokes like that who have a few games under their belt now – they will be a year better,” Gallio said.
“I am just really excited to work with the younger boys like that and try to help them grow into some A Grade footballers.”
As far as losses go, Reece Duncan has departed to coach Mount Burr in the Mid South East Football League, but the Saints appear to have picked up a couple of talents.
“We picked up Gene Robinson, who is originally from Murray Bridge,” Gallio said.
“He played at Mannum and played at Port Broughton this year with Hamish Nitschke and they won a premiership there.
“He is a well-known goal kicker, so I am looking forward to seeing how he goes.
“Also, young Hamish McCrae has moved home from Adelaide.
“He has been up in Adelaide on a footy scholarship and he has moved home for a gap year – so he is going to be handy.”
Gallio said there are a couple of other possibilities which are being worked on, but it is still early days, with the new year sure to bring more clarity to how the 2020 Western Border football season will unfold.