Darley Football Club has been left with a significant void to fill following the departure of 2015 Henderson medallist and star player Steve Kennedy.
Kennedy will return to his junior club Altona, where he played in its 2012 one-point grand final victory, after three seasons with the Devils.
The classy midfielder won Darley’s best and fairest medal the past two seasons as well as being named in the Ballarat Football League’s team of the year in both years.
Darley football manager Craig Baker said it was a “huge loss” for the club but understood the ever-present temptation to return to his home club.
“We understand. It was a very hard decision for him but he weighed it all up and he just lent towards playing with his mates and that’s something he’s wanted to do for a while,” Baker said.
“He’s really well liked and respected around the club and he’ll be a huge loss.”
Despite the disappointment, the club will quickly turn its attention to replacing the elusive onballer.
While Baker concedes trying to replace a player of Kennedy’s calibre is a tough ask, the club will begin searching for players to add to its midfield rotation during the off-season.
“You can’t dwell on these things and we’re going to have to try and get someone to replace him.”
After winning the 2015 premiership, Darley were hit hard by injury and never got its season fully back on track after losing its first four matches, qualifying for the finals in sixth position albeit four games behind fifth.
It was eventually knocked out by Sunbury in the elimination final.
“We dropped off last year, but we had a lot of injuries. Touch wood all those players will be back this year. They’re 15 of the main players that played in our premiership team.
“We don’t think it’ll take a lot of players for us to rebound.”
Kennedy played 17 matches in 2016 and was named among the best on 11 occasions.
The untimely departure deals former Carlton star and new Darley coach Heath Scotland an early blow.
The 200-game AFL player and former Darley junior will have the challenge of returning the Devils to the top of the Ballarat Football League ladder.
Scotland returns to Darley Park after two years with Doncaster in the Eastern Football League, having joined the Sharks after retiring from Carlton in 2014.
Scotland fills the vacancy left by Jarrod Edwards, who coached the Devils for three years - taking them to their first BFL premiership in 2015.