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Positive vibes aplenty at Tigerland Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 4:37 PM - by Chris Pike

FINALLY a pre-season in their new Claremont Oval facility, the signings of Kane Mitchell and Tom Curren and some tough lessons learned from 2017 all have Claremont coach Darren Harris confident the Tigers can overcome the loss of some key players and thrive in 2018.

It was a rollercoaster ride for Harris in his first season coaching Claremont in 2017 and his first year back at the helm of a WAFL club since his final season with West Perth back in 2005, where he was a premiership coach in 2003 on the back of his outstanding playing career with the Falcons.

Things started well for the Tigers last year with three wins but then injuries began to mount and they lost the next six games. Throughout the second half of the season they did build some momentum and find some impressive form winning despite only winning five of the last 11 games.

Three of those losses were by four points or less and if each of those went the other way Claremont would have finished inside the top five and anything could have happened there given Peel Thunder did win the premiership from third position.

So, there was plenty of things to be encouraged by at Claremont by the end of the season despite not playing finals football. 

Three of those big positives was the emergence of fairest and best winner Bailey Banfield along with Zac Langdon and Matt Guelfi but they were so impressive they have now found themselves in the AFL system. 

With knee injuries forcing Jack Bradshaw, Matt Davies, Anthony Morabito and Ryan Neates to retire as well as workhorse dual premiership-winning ruckman Mitch Andrews also calling time on his career, there is some holes left in the Tigers line-up.

It's not all bad news at Tigerland though. Another dual premiership player and Sandover Medallist Kane Mitchell returns for the first time since 2012 while former St Kilda midfielder Tom Curren is on board as well.

With Brenden Abbott and Alec Waterman also returning to the club and former Murray Bushrangers captain Isaac Wallace another signing, there is good reason for optimism from Harris about the Tigers' hopes in 2018.

But first and foremost, just having their new facility at Claremont Oval ready for a pre-season for the first time has given everybody at the club a significant boost not only in feeling at home, but also for the players physically.

"We're pretty happy that we've got a facility now so that's been great for the lads. This time last year we were still at a park with no goals and no gym or any facility so it's been fantastic to have such a great set up there now. The boys have definitely enjoyed that so it has been a different pre-season for us," Harris told 91.3 SportFM.

"I think it does have a massive affect especially when you do compete against AFL players with the way the system works, you do need a gym and to have a structured program to make sure you are physically strong enough to be able to compete.

"To be able to get into the gym, a lot of blokes have been there since September, makes a massive difference. All of a sudden you start to see a different physicality about them which hopefully will enable us to compete."

While Harris would never say he was satisfied with a seventh placed finish like the Tigers had last year, there were enough signs there that things were heading in the right direction.

He's fully aware it wouldn't have taken much to go right for them to end up playing finals.

"The second half of the year we really saw a glimpse of where we want to go to. Statistically we went really well in the key measures, particularly the inside 50s," he said.

"We had a game we lost where we had 62 inside 50s to 38. You just have to kick your goals and make the most of your opportunities. We were right around the mark. 

"We were really pleased with that but the season got away from us when we lost six in-a-row and we had to do a fair bit of soul searching during that period of time. 

"It was also a great learning opportunity and some kids really stood up. Seventh in a nine-team competition isn’t acceptable but we also saw the positives to set us up for this year."

Planning ahead for the 2018 season isn’t without its challenges for Claremont, though, particularly with the drafting of three key players from last season Banfield, Guelfi and Langdon.

Then with the loss of 135-game ruckman Andrews that's going to take some work to cover along with the losses of Neates, Davies and Bradshaw, which Harris isn’t shying away from.

"We had six drafted, which is outstanding for our footy club, but we've lost our fairest and best winner Bailey Banfield to Freo, Matty Guelfi won our Players' Player award and he's gone to Essendon and Zac Langdon has gone to GWS," Harris said.

"They were three important players who nearly played the whole season last year who will be sorely missed, but then someone like Mitch Andrews will be tough to replace. 

"He's in that time of his life where he's got work and kids, and he's been such a great servant and premiership player but we lose him. 

"Ryan Neates and Matty Davies both have knee injuries that have curbed their careers and finished them up a little bit early. There's some big losses with Jack Bradshaw also going with a degenerative knee. There are some pretty big losses."

It's in the ruck where Harris is really challenging the likes of Jeremy Goddard, Eddie Simpson and Oliver Eastland to make their mark after the remarkable job Andrews has done carrying the load for the Tigers since crossing from West Perth in 2011.

"Our young kids have to step up in the ruck," he said.

"When you lose a big fella who has been absolutely outstanding for us the last seven or eight years, you're looking at Jeremy Goddard, Eddie Simpson and Oliver Eastland to step up. 

"They've had good pre-seasons and we'll put experience midfielders around them, but they need to not only have an impact in the ruck but up forward as well."

Welcoming back dual premiership winner and 2012 Sandover Medallist Mitchell along with Curren who played 25 AFL games with St Kilda is a huge boost for St Kilda.

Adding that pair to a midfield already including Jye Bolton, Jared Hardisty and Ryan Lim is a big factor in Harris feeling Claremont can have a successful 2018 season.

"What a great recruit he (Mitchell) is. He's just walked back into the place and it's like he never left. The boys love him," Harris said.

"You add him along with Tom Curren from St Kilda and they are two mature-age almost captains who come in straight away. We are rapt to add those two to our midfield. 

"They are both such professional blokes that our younger blokes will learn a lot about how to be your best. They've been fantastic additions and as long as they are fit and healthy, they'll have a big impact in the WAFL."