COMPILING a list of the top 20 players from within the Central Highlands Football League is a complex task.
How will the competition’s recruits adapt to life at a new club? Will they cope with the league’s style of football? Which established stars are poised to take the next step?
Answering these questions will help give you an array of talent from throughout the 18 sides. The next challenge is to fit that bulging list into a group of just 20 and then rank them according to how you think they’ll perform in the season ahead.
The Courier’s sports journalist Tim O’Connor has done just that.
After careful deliberation, he has settled on Daylesford midfielder Michael Cummings to carry the mantle of the league’s best player into 2014.
Cummings has long been a star of the Bulldogs’ side, but could be ready to take his game to another level.
The Daylesford gun is one of five players that were included in last year’s top 20 to make the cut again this year.
Cummings was ranked second behind Hepburn gun Andy McKay in 2013, with Springbank forward Paul McMahon, Buninyong ball winner Sam Turner and Gordon’s Ash Munari all keeping their place on the list.
A host of new faces have forced their way onto the chart as 15 of last year’s top 20 have either moved on or been overtaken by the ever-growing crop of talent within the league.
1. Michael Cummings (Daylesford) - Quick, with sublime skills and great footy brain, Cummings has been a star performer with the Bulldogs for a number of seasons, but injury has often limited his on-field output. If he stays fit, expect him to have a standout campaign.
2. Paul McMahon (Springbank) - McMahon will be much better for his first season in the Central Highlands and will prove one of the key hopes in Springbank’s premiership tilt. Athletic forward who will kick plenty of goals and bring others into play.
3. Andy McKay (Hepburn) - Seems almost unfair to have this guy as low as three when year after year he is the competition’s most exciting talent. Is still getting better, but may have to share some new roles with the absence of sidekick Lee Cox this season.
4. Jason Delaney (Waubra) - Powerful midfielder who has joined the Roos from East Point this season. Just looks as though the tough Central Highlands brand of football will suit him down to the ground. Expect a big year out of this talented onballer.
5. Tim Malone (Springbank) - Classy midfielder, who will prove one of the Tigers’ big recruits in 2014. Former best on ground in a Ballarat Football League interleague side and best and fairest in a Lake Wendouree premiership team.
6. Nathan Pring (Carngham-Linton) - What a clever footballer this guy is. Dominated week-in, week-out in a Saints side that won just a handful of games last year, kicking plenty of goals from the midfield. Class.
7. Nick Sullivan (Waubra) - Somewhat of a surprise Geoff Taylor Medal winner last year, but there is no doubting his influence. Has great ball winning ability and never backs down from a contest. Expect another big year in a strong onball brigade.
8. Chris O'Keefe (Bungaree) - Returns to his junior club from Spotswood, where he has won two Western Region league best and fairests. Experienced midfielder who is expected to give the Demons a boost in the engine room.
9. Luke Fisher (Springbank) - Underrated Tiger who missed some football last year with interstate working commitments. Is on board for the entire season in 2014 and will offer so much drive out of the midfield and around the park.
10. Justin Harris (Clunes) - Returns to Clunes from time spent playing and working in Canada. Former Magpies best and fairest winner during a grand final season and shapes as a quality hard-nosed onballer for the club.
11. Shaun Finlayson (Bungaree) - Gifted big man, who can play in most positions on the field. Particularly good in the ruck and across half back, Finlayson has a big heart and will to win.
12. Rob Rodgers (Daylesford) - The silky smooth Rodgers is back at Daylesford after a year travelling overseas. Won the best and fairest in the Bulldogs’ premiership year of 2012.
13. Sam Turner (Buninyong) - Continues to grow with age, playing a massive part in Buninyong’s period of dominance. Does plenty of the grunt work around the ground, winning the hard ball more often than not.
14. Ash Munari (Gordon) - Skilful utility, who often runs off half back or the wing for Gordon. Playing well when called up to represent the CHFL at interleague level last year is another tick for this gun Eagle. His output will hinge on how he goes on reality TV show The Recruit.
15. Tyrone Ross (Skipton) - Huge debut season for Skipton last year saw him finish runner-up behind Sullivan in the Geoff Taylor Medal count. Goal-kicking midfielder who should have another standout campaign for the Emus.
16. Ned Gilbert (Buninyong) - Clever mover who had his best year for the Bombers in 2013. Is on the North Ballarat Roosters’ VFL list, but is likely to feature mostly for the red and black. And they’ll be happy about that.
17. Brenton Powell (Learmonth) - Makes his return to Learmonth as a joint coach after a league best and fairest and two premierships with the Cairns Saints. Will add plenty of polish around the ball for the Lakies.
18. Joel Maher (Springbank) - Gun youngster who won the Springbank best and fairest last season. Former league rookie of the year, who is expected to continue his rise through the midfield ranks.
19. Jarrod Morgan (Buninyong) - Hard-running midfielder who was named best on ground in the Central Highlands’ big interleague win last year. Interesting to see how taking over the coaching role will impact his output on field, but expect he will prove one of Buninyong’s best once again.
20. Jarryd Allen (Waubra) - Somewhat of an unknown, but this former St Kilda forward clearly has the ability to be something special. Injury ended his AFL career, but at just 26 he should still have plenty left in the tank.