By Tim Miller

ONLY 10 days remain until the TAC Cup season commences on March 24 and for the coaching staff and players at Calder Cannons, that day cannot come soon enough.

The male Cannons’ season kicks off with a historic double-header at RAMS Arena.

Ahead of the boys team’s clash with the highly- fancied Eastern Ranges, coach Andrew Johnston is confident his squad has what it takes to succeed.

“We are looking forward to the whole group improving in some way,” Johnston told Cannons media.

“The nature of the competition tells you that you have got to improve week to week, month to month and by the time the finals come around then you give yourself a chance.

“If we don’t do it as a team, the individual stuff doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”

The squad of 55 is spread out evenly between bottom and top-agers, with 27 17-year olds and 26 18-year olds- as well as a pair of 19-year olds - Jean-Luc Vellisaris and Aidan Tilley - following in the footsteps of Sydney recruit and former Cannons top-ager Ben Ronke.

And Johnston hopes the presence of the younger players will push the senior boys to greater heights.

“There’s some really good 17-year olds coming through who are going to push up for selection in that first round, which puts a little bit more pressure on the 18-year olds and the 19-year olds,” Johnston said.

One of the major talking points of the Cannons’ season will be the emergence of several future father-son candidates around the club, but Johnston is keen to keep the excitement in check for now.

“We have got some good pedigree, like Rhylee West [son of Western Bulldogs midfielder Scott] and young [Mason, son of Essendon legend Dustin] Fletcher, and [Lachlan, son of Carlton wingman Brett] Sholl, those sort of guys coming through.

“But at the end of the day, it’s just a name and they have got to prove themselves.”

Johnston believes this year’s top-age crop is more even than in previous years, but there are still several potential future superstars worth keeping an eye on.

“There’s probably not one or two that stand out ahead of the pack,” Johnston said.

“But you’ve got guys like Brad Bernacki, who was third in our best and fairest last year, Ben Caluzzi played quite a few games. These sort of guys, you would hope, would step up a little bit this year.

“Then you’ve got some other guys who have played some really good senior footy. At Craigieburn, Tye Browning played in a senior Grand Final. Curtis Taylor, who played in a senior Grand Final at Keilor.

“These sort of guys have played against men. The challenge for them is to show that sort of form and leadership this year on the track and in games.”

The Cannons’ pre-season hit a speed bump in their last practice match in the form of their Round 1 opponents, Eastern Ranges, but Johnston insists the team will be better for the experience.

“They (Eastern Ranges) are probably number one or number two in the competition at the moment,” he said.

“It was a good learning curve for us. We have to learn from not only games we play well, but the games we struggle a little bit and come up against good opposition. Eastern Ranges certainly showed us on the weekend what we need to do and improve on the track.”

The Cannons have been troubled by inconsistency over the past two years, failing to progress past the first week of the finals, but Johnston believes that has all been part of the side’s learning experience.

“The TAC Cup lends itself to that [inconsistency] because you get a lot of private school kids,” Johnston said.

“They don’t necessarily play every game. What it does is give other kids an opportunity to come up and play and be experienced at this level.

“You are always going to have a little bit of inconsistency. But you would hope that with the structures and the things we put in place, the guys that do come up when they are not playing actually perform well and do the team stuff.

“The results, they have to look after themselves.”


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