As the Tumut Blues prepare to celebrate the 2018 season at their annual presentation night to be held at Club Tumut on Saturday, they will be reflecting on a tough year which saw all five senior grades miss out on the finals.
The Blues saw more defeats than victories during 2018 highlighted by a frustrating first-grade campaign that finished with the Blues in sixth position with seven wins and eight defeats.
This trend was reflected in the other senior grades with the under 16’s and under18’s getting close to a finals position while league tag and reserve grade both had years to forget.
But at the start of the year, it wasn’t just results that local coaches Dean Bristow and Adam Peace were focused on.
Instead, the pair of Blues juniors set their sights on re-building the culture of the club they grew up in which Bristow says had gone missing in recent years.
“When I came back here in 2016 all of the stuff I was brought up with during my time as a junior had gone by the wayside,” he said.
“So taking the reigns this year with Adam, our big thing we wanted to implement was that culture and that close-knit group that was there in previous years.”
But finals footy was also high up on their list and some disappointing results late in the year prevented them from reaching that goal.
The Blues came into the season not knowing what to expect after losing nine players from their roster last year and relying heavily on developing young local talent to fill their squad.
And the uncertainty around the team made the opening rounds tense for the Blues.
“I sort of went into it not really knowing much we lost a fair few players from the year before,” Bristow said.
“Before we kicked the ball off at the start of the season, I just didn’t know where we’d sort of stack up and then obviously losing a few players in the first weeks I was a little bit worried about where our season could have ended up.”
But the Blues were able to put their worries aside and start the season strong bagging two wins in their opening two matches.
A 26-12 win over the Young Cherry Pickers followed up by a strong 30-22 win over the Wagga Kangaroos in their first home game of the year, gave the Blues some much needed confidence after a tough pre-season.
But the winning ways quickly stopped as the Blues came crashing back down to earth with back-to-back heavy losses, and Bristows says their early form prevented them from seeing the errors in their game.
“Those losses at the start of the year were probably good for us,” he said
“We might have got a bit ahead of ourselves with a couple early wins and it probably overshadowed a few things that were hanging out because we’d been winning.
“But when we had those two losses we went back and addressed some key areas that were pretty simple things so once we rectified them it was definitely a turning point of our season.”
The Blues managed to win three of their next four matches and found themselves sitting pretty up the top end of the ladder.
But despite adding points to their season tally, the Blues struggled to string together multiple wins and build momentum coming into the back end of the season.
And after reflecting on the season, Bristow says inconsistency was one of their biggest downfalls during the year.
“Inconsistency was always going to be an issue with the young squad we had,” he said.
“It’s a tough comp to get up in week in and week out.
“We just struggled to get any real momentum.
“You look at the sides that won the grand final, Southcity had a 10 game winning streak and Gundagai had an eight game winning streak and that’s the kind of momentum we struggled to catch throughout the year.
“It was definitely a good learning curve for us.”
At the halfway point of the season, the Blues found themselves sitting in fourth place with five wins and three losses and in a strong position to claim a spot in the finals.
But as the end of the season drew closer, the frailties in the Blues armor began to show as they lost some crucial matches which in the end, prevented them from playing in the finals.
Coming up against the winless Young Cherrypickers, the Blues let a 10-nill lead slip to eventually lose 16-10 in front of a home crowd.
Two rounds later the Blues couldn’t hold out competition heavyweights Brothers Wagga despite leading with just four minutes to go, before finding themselves in a strong position against arch-rivals and eventual premiers, the Gundagai Tigers in round 14.
The Blues fought hard against the Tigers but a lack of respect for the footy and simple errors in their own end proved too costly as they lost 20-14, in a must win match to keep their season afloat.
And capped off with a disappointing 24-all draw against Cootamundra despite leading with just minutes remaining in the match.
If you turn the results of those losses around the Blues finish in third place.
And Bristow knows how close his side came to playing in the finals and hopes the disappointment of missing out this year, makes them better off for it next season.
“The big thing going forward is the feeling most of the playing group have is looking from the sidelines during this finals series and knowing that should have been us,” Bristow said.
“Hopefully that adds some fuel to the fire in the off season and we come back next year ready to go.”
The Blues finished the season by pushing competition leaders, the Southcity Bulls, to the brink in their last game of the season.
Despite not getting the results on the field, Bristow says they went a long way to rebuilding the culture in the first grade team after it going missing in recent years.
“We had a big recruitment drive last year that went out but that was just to get us back on the planet and get people interested,” Bristow said.
“This year we’ve just re-built a locally based team and that will be our focus moving forward.
“It got a really great feel about the club again and it was definitely an enjoyable season for me.
“We’ve got a great group here and we had a lot of fun off the field and that probably came through on the field for us too.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction and we’ve learned a lot of things being first-time coaches and implement them going forward.”
One of the highlights for the Blues this year was Zac Masters being awarded with the Wiesel Medal after his blistering year for the Blues.
“That’s a huge achievement especially coming from a team that didn’t play finals football,” Bristow said.
“That’s a moment that shone brightly for us and also Adam making the team of the year.
“It just goes to show the way the culture changed, a whole bus load of us went to the awards and got around him and it just shows the tightness of the group we have at the moment.”
Talent isn’t an issue for the Blues boasting many highly skilled players in all age groups, but the issue lies in getting the numbers back into the club according to Bristow.
“Probably the biggest thing in the club at the moment is just the sheer lack of numbers,” he said.
“The 16s probably had the most talented team in the competition but they struggled to put a team on the paddock week in week out.
“Under 18s were probably in a similar situation they’ve got a talented team and were heavily reliant on 16s to fill their team.
“And reserve grade were just happy to scrape a team together going forward, we were very light on depth wise.”
But Bristow believes the culture himself and Adam are attempting to build will encourage people back into the club.
“I want to expand on what we have in first grade and get a lot more players involved and just really showing the enjoyable side that the Blues club is,” he said.
“I’m just hoping people have looked in from the outside this year and words got out that it is enjoyable.
“The club fell on tough times a few years ago and I don’t know if that scared a few people away but it’s definitely not like that at the moment.
“We’re more than accommodating to anyone that turns up and build a bigger tight knit family club and be bigger and better next year.”
And considering all the hardship and struggles the Blues faced in 2018, Bristow believes the club is better off for it and will be bigger and better next season.
“I think its been a step in the right direction this year,” he said.
“There are some great young kids coming through the under 15s who just missed out this year so we’re obviously very optimistic about our future and also first grade making the finals.”