Todd the man for Willow Grove

Incoming: New Willow Grove Cricket Club playing-coach Todd Mann. Photograph Liam Durkin





THIS might just be the biggest challenge in local cricket.

After taking the quantum leap of fielding an A Grade team last season, Willow Grove Cricket Club has taken the next step, and has now appointed a senior coach.

Journeyman cricketer Todd Mann has been signed for the next two years, and will lead the Wolves as playing-coach in the Latrobe Valley District Cricket League.

The task ahead looks difficult to say the least.

Mann is taking over a side that did not win a game last season, and one that, as a team, scored a combined total of just over 1500 runs.

Mann is realistic, and knows he isn’t going to change things overnight.

“I’m just hoping to bring in a bit of structure … they didn’t have that last year,” he said.

“I’m not going there to change the club, I’m there to put in a bit of structure and go ‘okay, this is what we’re doing, let’s all be on the same page’, if we can all be on the same page, we’ll be doing something right.

“If we win one or two games I’m happy. I’ve got no expectations of winning six/seven games, I know it’s going to be hard.”

Mann is making the move fresh off a premiership-winning season with Warragul in the Warragul District Cricket Association.

The fast bowling all-rounder knows what success looks like, with his most recent flag one of four he has won at A Grade level with four different clubs across Gippsland.

Willow Grove players will be hoping to lean on Mann’s guidance, and knowledge base from a career that has seen him inducted as a Champion of Gippsland Cricket for his deeds in representative matches.

The new coach said he would be looking to teach players, most of whom spent last season operating under a ‘trial and error’ system, the finer points of the game.

“It’s going to be a lot about education,” he said.

“I want to be attacking, I’ve told the boys I’d rather us get bowled out for 70 in 20 overs then 110 in 50, let’s be attacking but let’s be smart about it.

“I’m big on structure, I’ve got whiteboards for every captain, they take it to away games and home games, we’ve got goals, we’ve got club goals and A Grade, B Grade, C Grade, women’s (goals), they’ve got a whiteboard, every captain is going to take it with them, look at the goals, it might not happen in two weeks or two months, but at least we have something we want to achieve.”

While realistic about what the season has in store, Mann is hopeful of engraining some habitual habits into the group that will help them in the long run.

“My theory is we’re going into every game thinking we’re going to win, if you go in with that mindset, it’s a good mindset, don’t go in thinking ‘we’re going to lose, we’re playing this team’, there is no point going out,” he said.

“I just want people to buy-in.

“I’ve had a look at the core group. I watched them on a Sunday when they played Centrals at Yallourn North, that wasn’t a good day for them (outright loss). I had a look through their stats and know I’ve got a good number three batsman, Nathan Wheildon, I’m excited to see what he can bring this year.

“A few of the boys that have been there for a while, Hamo (Josh), there is a lot of young kids like Darcy Walsh, I think he is going to be a gun, I’m excited about watching all the juniors develop.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m that excited.”

As senior coach of the entire club, Mann said he was there to help any player from any grade.

“The culture, it’s a good vibe, everybody gets along, they’re always happy,” he said.

“Before they joined A Grade they were pretty successful in B Grade, to their credit they put their hand up to go into A Grade.

“It’s an unbelievable atmosphere to be around, if we can take that atmosphere and put it onto the field on a Saturday in all grades, then we don’t have a problem.”

Mann has previous coaching experience, taking Yarragon to finals in the WDCA.

The Wolves are preparing well for the season, with a number of preseason sessions organised, as well as a practice match.

The club’s annual meeting is also coming up on Sunday, July 2 from 5pm at Willow Grove Recreation Reserve.

Regardless of what happens on field in season 2023/24, for a town the size of Willow Grove to have a full complement of senior teams, junior teams and two women’s sides, means they have already won before a ball is even bowled.

With Mann at the helm, expect plenty of smiles every time a ball is bowled.

“That’s the main thing, you’ve got to run in with a smile,” he said.

“It’s all about enjoying your cricket, I can’t wait to see the smile on their faces.”