"Semi-finals, nothing less" says Cessnock Hornets coach Michael Gatt ahead of 2021 season kick-off

EXPERIENCE: Cessnock Hornets captain Greg Anderson will lead a young but promising side in 2021.
EXPERIENCE: Cessnock Hornets captain Greg Anderson will lead a young but promising side in 2021.

Running a rule through the Cessnock Hornets last season is enough to drive a supporter mad.

Consider this: they had the second-best defence in the league, and were only beaten four times throughout the campaign. And they didn't lose a single game to a top five club despite playing them all twice.

On paper, that's a team going deep into the play-offs, right?

Wrong. They missed the finals altogether - again.

Coach Michael Gatt isn't looking for excuses, but admits there were a number of mitigating factors.

"Our guys play with heart, they're physical and committed," he said.

"I want that from them. But with COVID last season it meant for quite a number of weeks there we were playing Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday.

"That's a hard slog and it took a toll with a lot of niggling injuries.

"We tried yoga, and stretching and ice packs, but in the end it was too much."

It's fair to say the Hornets had a very young squad - probably the youngest in the competition - with perhaps not the depth of some of the other clubs.

With players forced to sit out, or limp into games, it meant he was forced to blood some young players who will certainly be better for it this season.

"We have to invest in our young players, they're our future," Gatt said.

"Our captain Greg Anderson is our oldest player in his early 30s, vice captain Brad York is about 25, then we have a host of players from 18 through to about 22.

"So there's a lot of natural improvement there and the experience of last season will benefit us for sure.

"Beside that, it's not easy getting players out of Newcastle to come up here to play.

"It's a lot of travel, so we need a good supply of young local talent coming through. We're really working hard on that."

The achilles heel or the Hornets was getting the ball into the back of the net - a not insignificant issue.

Gatt admits his side "created a million chances" but that it didn't translate to the score sheet.

To help remedy the situation they have recruited former NPL player and occasional Edgeworth first grade striker Jacob Golding to lead the line.

"He played for Thornton last year and is still young, 21 or 22, and very quick and strong on the ball," Gatt said.

"He will partner Zac Kronholm up front and that will be a very speedy, very skilful attacking threat. They'll cause some headaches."

Gatt has also adopted a new, proactive philosophy.

"Rather than sit back we're pressing higher up the field and looking to attack more," he said.

"It's high energy stuff but as I said, we're a young side and can handle that.

"We've played three trials and scored 15 goals and conceded three, and we're scoring right across the park.

"So at this early stage the ball is finding the net. Obviously we need that to continue."

The Hornets have a run of home games to start the season, starting with Kahibah on Sunday. Kahibah squeezed into last season's finals and will be a good measuring stick for the Hornets.

So what's the goal going into this season for Cessnock? The coach lays it on the line.

"Semi finals, nothing less. That's the goal. It has been quite a while for this club and it's time."

It has been quite a while for this club and it's time

Cessnock Hornets coach Michael Gatt on the team's goal to make the semi-finals in 2021