by Matthew Elkerton
AUSSIE RULES: For the first time in years the Grafton Tigers are roaring into the 2017 season with a full book of coaches covering all grades including the brand new Girls Youth division.
For club president James Hourigan, the most pleasing aspect is the level of pride and dedication his coaching team have for the black and gold jersey of the Tigers.
Club veteran Warren Bagnall will have a clipboard in his hand again in 2017, but this time he will just focus on the burgeoning Under 18s while fellow club hero Chris Leslie will take on the Under 15.5 side that made the preliminary finals in 2016.
Former leading goal kicker for the Tigers, Lee Anderson, will take an exciting bunch of Under 13 players through 2017 while Damien Irvine has picked up the coach's whistle for the next generation of AFL stars in the Under 11 ranks.
AFL development officer Luke Stanford will take the captain-coach reins of the senior side while Victorian convert Nicole Mussett will step up to lead the rising crop of female players.
"It is unreal, it's quite good to have a full complement of staff, that is for sure,” Hourigan said.
"All of these coaches bring an awesome level of footy experience with them as well, which makes it just that much better for us.
"Last year was a very tough year for the Tigers, but already I am liking how we are progressing. This year is definitely shaping up better than where we were.”
Hourigan is especially excited by the prospect of a Youth Girls league on the North Coast as the local body aims to capitalise on the success of the inaugural AFL Women season.
The president believes he could not have secured a better leader than Mussett.
"Nicole has more than 20 years of experience playing and coaching AFL in Victoria,” he said. "The Tigers girls side is still definitely in developmental stages.
"We have had three girls play among our junior sides over the last couple of years and they have all gone on to representative level.
"With the explosion of Women's AFL across Australia this year the pathways for girls are better than they ever have been.
"It is the perfect time for girls to get involved in the sport and we welcome anyone who wants a run.”
With the Tigers kicking off the North Coast AFL season at home on April 1, Hourigan is hoping to see as many fans around Ellem Oval as possible.
”The guys have been coming into their own in the pre-season and all seem to be building well for the season,” he said. "Let's hope they can all hit their straps on April 1.”