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Valentine ready to lead Falcons forwardMonday, March 4, 2019 - 2:24 PM - by Chris Pike

REPLACING the club's all-time longest-serving and winningest coach is a big job, but Geoff Valentine is ready to be a WAFL senior coach as he takes over at West Perth confident in the playing group he has to work with.

For the first time in a decade West Perth has a new senior coach in 2019 with Valentine stepping into the role left vacant by 2013 premiership winner Bill Monaghan who departs having coached the Falcons to the most ever wins and most games in the rich history of the club.

That leaves big shoes to fill but also a fresh voice to the experienced members of the playing group like Shane Nelson (139 games), Aaron Black (173), Trent Manzone (104), Blake Wilhelm (70), Corey Chalmers (65), Kris Shannon (89), Tyler Keitel (78), Mark Hamilton (57) and Ben King (51) who have played their entire WAFL careers under Monaghan.

But at the same time, Valentine has served an impressive apprenticeship at West Perth, Swan Districts and Claremont in the WAFL on top of plenty of other football-related roles at different levels.

West Perth is coming off a Grand Final appearance in 2018 as Valentine takes over and while there has been some key losses led by Chris Keunen, Jay van Berlo, Luke Meadows and Kody Manning.

But Valentine is still confident of fielding a strong team and he feels ready to step up as a senior coach in the WAFL in the next step of his football journey.

"I'm feeling really comfortable," Valentine said on 91.3 SportFM.

"I feel a bit blessed to land the gig at West Perth and last year's finals series showed what a tremendously resilient playing group West Perth has with how they pushed the financial issues and noise around the club aside and deliver the performances they did. 

"Obviously they fell short in the Grand Final but that was more a testament to Subiaco's strength than anything West Perth delivered. It's a great playing group, our facilities are second to none in the WAFL and our strength and conditioning staff who have been in place before I arrived are leading edge. 

"I'm feeling comfortable knowing I've come into a strong football organisation with a strong footy department. 

"My time out at Swan Districts under Greg Harding for many years gave me a great grounding with the way he goes about it and obviously reconnecting with Darren at Claremont last year whetted the appetite to put my hand up for a senior coaching role. It's exciting and I'm feeling very comfortable about it at this stage."

A big reason why Valentine has optimism of the Falcons playing group again being a force in 2018 is the fact that the majority of their core players are either in the prime of their careers, or have yet to reach it.

There's a good core down back with Jordan Mills, Mark Hamilton, Blake Wilhelm, Ben King, Nathan Alexandre, Zac Guadagnin and Scott Nelson as well as Aaron Black, Shane Nelson, Trent Manzone, Mitch Peirce and Corey Chalmers through the middle, and then Andrew Strijk, Tyler Keitel, Michael Lourey and Keegan Knott in attack.

"Even our better players like Shane Nelson and Aaron Black are only around that 25 mark and you'd like to think that just about everyone on our list bar Andrew Strijk still have their best football ahead of them," Valentine said. 

"And even the way Andrew has been training, there's no reason to suggest he won't be able to continue performing at the exceptionally high levels that he has been able to in recent times. We are really confident with the group that we've got. 

"We have added nine new fellas in outside from the graduating colts and they've added some size and height that the side needed. At this time of year you always feel like you are going well and they seem in a good place mentally so we are looking forward to getting into the season."

Meadows is one player that is going to be a challenge to replace for the Falcons given he was in the prime years of his career while the likes of van Berlo and Keunen retired having given great service.

Having started at half-back, meadows turned himself into a tremendous on-baller for West Perth but Valentine is looking for some talent from within to step up and cover his absence.

"It just opens up opportunities and there's a kid like Connor West who came in to play nine or 10 games last year, and performed really strongly in the finals. He's just jumping at the opportunity to get in and amongst it this year," he said.

"There's another guy, Liam Tedesco, who had a really strong start to the season last year and is built very similar to Luke Meadows. He has had a really strong pre-season and Alex Coe is another one who has played a couple of games of league football and has had a cracking pre-season. 

"There's three or four of those guys that are really keen and then a whole bunch of other guys. Laine Rasmussen has rejoined the club and he'll certainly move through the midfield at different times so we'd like to think we have strong depth through our midfield."

The ruck is another area that is a great unknown for the Falcons coming into 2019 following the retirement of 209-game premiership winning big man Keunen.

Valentine, though, is now looking forward to new recruits Troy Yukich and Ben Delaporte battle it out with Michael Ashfield and possibly even Mitch Dzelebdzic, Slade Hawkins and at times Michael Lourey, Mark Hamilton and Tyler Keitel to spend the most time in the middle.

"Troy Yukich has come across from Swan Districts and we've been really pleased with the way he's gone about it in his two or three months at the club. He gives us something that we didn’t have at the club in terms of being a genuine big-bodied ruckman at over 200cm and 100kgs," Valentine said.

"That's a big body for our mids to work off. We've also brought across Ben Delaporte from Claremont who is another 200cm young fella and he gives us a bit more depth. 

"We're really happy with how Mick Ashfield has continued to develop out of the twos and we are fortunate to have two other young fellas around who didn’t play much last year through injury, Mitch Dzelebdzic and Slade Hawkins. They've been able to put together really strong pre-seasons.

"That gives us four or five ruck options there and if you asked me who is our No. 1 right now, I really couldn’t give you an answer at this stage until we get into genuine match play to see who grabs that opportunity. But they are pushing each other on as a ruck group and I'm happy with how they are coming together."

While the Falcons remain in a fight to turn around their fortunes off-field after some serious issues came to light in 2018, Valentine is glad that the club is allowing him to just focus on coaching and he's confident the right people are in place to take West Perth forward.

"Linda Hamersley does a great job in terms of looking after the off-field stuff to allow me to concentrate on what's happening on-field," Valentine said.

"I'm not privy to what's happening off the field in terms of our financial situation, but I have full confidence in what she's doing along with the board. 

"I've had a couple of meetings with Ros Kelly and we don't talk about anything from an administrative point of view, but you just know that you've got the right people with Neale Fong and Ros Kelly there overseeing what's happening.

"We've obviously not in a great position but I think all WAFL clubs are almost on that hand to mouth existence. We need to find other revenue models and what exactly they are is outside of my scope. 

"I feel a little bit privileged that they are allowing me to just focus on the football side and we are all geared up for a positive season."