Pioneers in race to play at national under-18 footy titles

SEVEN young guns from the Bendigo Pioneers squad are in the running to represent Victoria Country at this year’s AFL national under-18 championships.

Key forward Jake Stringer, onballers Oliver Wines and Sam Heavyside, midfielder Harry O’Meara, ruckman Zac May, key defender Isaiah Miller and half-back flanker Liam Byrne are in the 50-player squad.

Coach of Victoria Country’s team is Mark Ellis, whose seven-season stint as Pioneers head coach ended last August.

Ellis said yesterday the feedback from this year’s Pioneers coach, David Newett, played a key part in selecting the squad.

“Thoughts of all Victoria Country coaches are really important on working out the initial squad and for the championships,” said Ellis.

Earlier this year, Stringer and Wines travelled across Europe with the AIS-AFL under-18 Academy.

Wines is captain of the Pioneers this year, while Stringer has fought back from a second-ending leg break in round one of the 2011 season.

Heavyside won the Neville Strauch memorial trophy as club champion last season.

The play of O’Meara on a wing and Byrne across half-back and through the centre has impressed the Pioneers coaching staff.

“David Newett is rapt with their play in their first TAC Cup season,” Ellis said.

May stayed on with the Pioneers as a 19-year-old and has become a more consistent player this season.

“Zac has worked really hard on his game, and his experience from the previous two seasons is a huge plus,” Ellis said.

Victoria Country’s build-up to the titles gains pace this weekend with training and a hit-out against Victoria Metro at Carlton’s Visy Park.

“We will train late Saturday and then have a scratch match against Vic Metro on Sunday,” Ellis said.

“There are plenty of challenges ahead, but the one that will test us is the amount of travelling some players will have to do for training and matches.

“It’s a huge logistical exercise,” Ellis said of preparations for the first-round clash in 18 days.

The Pioneers also have Moama’s Christian Burgess, who plays senior football with Echuca, and Wentworth’s Sam Clyne in the NSW-ACT squad.

Victoria Country’s campaign starts against NSW-ACT on June 2 at Blacktown’s Olympic Park.

Other matches are against Queensland at Carlton’s Visy Park on June 10, and then across to Subiaco’s Paterson’s Stadium to play Western Australia on June 17.

The fourth round involves the all-Victorian showdown on June 29 at Geelong’s Simonds Stadium.

Victoria Country’s final match will be on July 4 at Etihad Stadium against South Australia.


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