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Can Magpies challenge the ‘Big 3’?

North Geelong coach Darren Ryan. (krockfootball.com.au Image/Al Packer)

DARREN Ryan believes the rest of the competition will again be chasing Bell Post Hill, Inverleigh and Bannockburn when the 2018 GDFL season gets underway.

The Panthers, Hawks and Tigers have occupied the top three positions for the last two seasons, with Ryan’s North Geelong and Thomson rounding out the final five both years.

However, the Magpies have been held to a combined five goals by Thomson in their two elimination appearances, giving a further indication of the gulf that exists.

“It just shows where the club is at and we realise we’ve got to change,” Ryan said. “I came back last year and the improvement in the competition surprised me a little bit, but it shows where the club is at and we’ve got to catch the top three sides.”

“That’s the reality. Between us and Thomson last year, we were the teams that were (lucky) to be there and the top three sides are the ones we’re chasing.”

GDFL: WATTS BACK FROM THE WILDERNESS

Making life tougher for the Magpies is the loss of leading goal kicker Jamie Pitman to Anakie.

While he didn’t top the ton like his Whitley Medal winning year of 2015, he still kicked 38 goals, 15 clear of North’s next best Luke Parker.

However, Ryan is confident they will have enough avenues to goal.

“We’ve got some exciting stuff happening,” he said.

“We’ve going to go a lot smaller and have a bit of speed in there. Tommy Mathieson has come back and he’s going to be pretty handy for us and Toby Ryan will play a full year for us. He missed nine games last year, so we’ll be more mobile.

“Mitch Habib will be a lot fitter. He came in about Round 8 last year, so in terms of our forward line it will be far more functional than it was and far less reliant on one fella.”

GDFL: MAGPIES MAJOR DEAL

North Geelong has also welcomed back Braydee Watts and Daniel Kee.

Watts hasn’t played since captaining the 2013 premiership team as a 23-year-old, while former Magpies coach Kee spent last year at GFL club Grovedale.

Kee has barely played any football in the last two years because of injury, but Ryan is confident he can have an impact.

“Yeah, he’s looked after himself this pre-season,” he said.

“He’s trained with us a couple of times, but it’s more about us managing him and letting him understand his body.

“He’s the only one who can do that, we can’t push him out on the field, he’s got to understand his body and know where he can go with it.

“He’s at a mature age now where he has to man up and own it.”

Reigning best-and-fairest Derek Fitzsimmons and veteran defender Darren Mathisen will both play, however they are likely to both be seen more often at 12 o’clock than 2pm.

“I hate to put fear in the competition but the man’s decided his body has had enough and he’ll kick on at 12,” Ryan said of the highly-decorated Fitzsimmons.

“He’s got work commitments at stuff like that, and at his age now, he’s decided that he wants to wind it back a bit and enjoy himself and we’re happy with that.”

North Geelong will get an early indication of where it sits in the pecking order with a trip to Inverleigh to open the season.

“You’ve got games that are going to be tough and games that are going to be easy, let’s be honest, Ryan said.

“Our first five weeks of football is going to be tough — I think everyone faces the same demon — but Inverleigh Round 1 is a big ask, we know that and it will be a good measuring stick to see where we’re at.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for them, and football wise, we think they’ve got the best team in the competition, but they haven’t been lucky enough to pinch a flag off the mighty Bell Post Hill.”

MEANWHILE, Winchelsea has announced its leadership group for 2018 and also confirmed two more recruits.

Clinton Place and Alex Gubbins will co-captain the Blues, replacing Byron Mathison and Josh Carracher, while Matt Worland will be their deputy.

New faces include Kyle Brookes (Grovedale) and Jacob Hernan (Wedderburn).

AND at Bell Post Hill, the experienced Dan Gibbs has joined Brad Martin’s coaching staff as senior assistant coach.

GDFL: PRACTICE MATCHES

Twitter: @tom_king79

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