APOLLO BAY Football Club is starting to reap the rewards of its improved junior program with up-and-coming players like Dustin Walters coming through the ranks.
The club has dedicated a lot of time and effort into improving its junior program in recent years, after the Hawks had only reached junior finals once between 1997 and 2013.
The dedication paid off last season when the Hawks ended an 18-year under-17.5 grand final drought, and now the rewards are starting to flow into the senior ranks.
Walters, 17, is among seven players who have joined the seniors this season from last year’s under-17.5 grand final team.
Walters was in the senior Hawks’ best players in their loss to Birregurra last round, while Tyler Thompson, Liam Dorney, Jack Bazell and former junior captain John Tucker all featured in the club’s reserves team.
Walters, who also plays top-grade cricket for the Bay, said he was excited to step into the senior football ranks this season despite still being eligible to play junior football.
“Last year was the first time I’d played football finals and it was really good to be a part of, because our juniors had struggled for so long,” he said.
“But this season I just wanted to concentrate on playing senior football, I’m still eligible for juniors but I really want to improve my footy.
“I played five senior games last year, it’s a bit scary when you first start out but after a few games you start to get your confidence up, and adjust to the speed and the bigger bodies.”
Walters said he hoped a pre-season with the Geelong Falcons, along with fellow Hawks, had set him up for a big season.
He played as a small lead-up forward on Saturday, alongside the Bay’s key forwards Casey McDonald and Chris Canavan.
“We started pre-season with the Falcons in November, it was hard work but it was good,” he said.
“I learnt a fair bit, and there are some good experienced forwards at the Bay to learn from like Casey and Chris Canavan, and even Marty White who’s playing a bit more forward this season.”
The Hawks will face another major test when they battle an improved Lorne team in tomorrow’s Coastal Cup clash at Lorne.