Shane Valenti at full stretch for Port Melbourne.
“I love him,’’ the Port Melbourne mentor has said more than once in the past few months, reflecting an affection that coaches reserve for players who won them premierships.
But Ayres has applied some “tough love’’ to Valenti as the two-time JJ Liston Trophy winner embarks on a comeback to the VFL at the age of 30.
Valenti left Port at the end of the end of the 2014 season after a 149-game career that earned him a string of accolades.
He joined Noble Park in 2015, only to suffer a serious injury to his left knee.
After a reconstruction, Valenti resumed playing last season at Old Haileybury in the VAFA. But as early as last September’s Liston count he was making noises about rejoining the Borough.
He signed a few days ago after a pre-season in which he admits he had some “touchy’’ talks with his 2011 premiership coach.
Valenti said Ayres presented him with “what if’’ scenarios that he sometimes didn’t want to hear.
What if you’ve lost a bit of your nip?
What if the knee doesn’t hold up?
And what if you have to play in the Development League?
Ayres said he didn’t want the comeback to “end in tears’’.
Valenti was still one of the best on-ballers in the VFL when he left Port Melbourne.
As he returns, Ayres imagines a Borough midfield that could include St Kilda recruits Eli Templeton and Brodie Murdoch, Carlton signing Dillon Viojo-Rainbow, stalwarts Toby Pinwill, Chris Cain and Sam Dwyer, Shannen Lange, Mitch Golby, two other returnees in “Rockin’’ Robin Nahas and Mitch Wooffindin, Tom O’Sullivan, Matthew Arnott, Mack Rivett, Leigh Osborne and Alex Urban.
Shane Valenti has returned to Port Melbourne after two years out of the VFL.
But Valenti is backing himself to win back his senior position. He said his knee was fine, he was in good shape and he was ready for the challenge of returning to a competition mostly populated by players under the age of 23.
“Very happy to be back and chasing, I guess, one last bit of success in the VFL and Port Melbourne,’’ he said.
“It’s a massive challenge. They’ve got a good side. We had a game yesterday (intra-club) and they’ve got good depth, a lot of depth.
“I don’t think I’ve lost it. It’s a matter of getting used to the speed and the standard. I’m feeling really good, conditioning-wise, strength-wise.’’
Valenti said his discussions with Ayres had been “a little bit touchy at times’’. The coach never left it unmentioned when Valenti missed a training session with work.
“Yeah, I won’t lie. He’s put it out there, it is what is, you’re coming back from injury, two years out, you’re a bit older. Obviously these things don’t always pan out the way you want, and he made me aware of what could happen. But I think he’s got confidence in me to perform, and that’s what I’ll do.’’
Valenti said he was impressed at Port Melbourne’s squad, noting a blend of experience and youth. “It’s always hard, but I think we can have a crack at it if everything goes well.’’
Ayres said this morning that “as much as I love him’’, he had told Valenti he had to open his mind to the possibility of playing in the reserves.
Ayres said he’d reminded Valenti that the standard of the VFL had picked up considerably in the past two years.
“I’ve had to make him fully aware of where things are at,’’ he said.
“He’s one of those boys I’ll always have a deep affection for, because they went way over and above and did something so special for the club over a long period of time.
“Shane was a massive part of that and that’s why I’m hoping like hell he can play his very, very best.’’
Valenti won his second Liston Trophy’s in Port’s premier-and-champion 2011 season.