North Wagga will be without Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes next season after the exciting young backman elected to test himself in the Canberra competition when he moves to the capital for university.
Fitzgerald-Holmes is coming off his first full season of seniors in which he was among the Saints’ most consistent performers.
Having deferred his tertiary studies for a year, a move to Canberra was always on the cards in 2018.
But the 19-year-old only recently made up his mind on a move to the Belconnen Magpies rather than travel back to the Farrer League.
“I tossed and turned and it was probably only last week that I made the decision,” Fitzgerald-Holmes said.
“It was really tough to leave North Wagga but I thought probably the best thing would be to go to Canberra. It’s a good opportunity and I’m really excited at the chance to play there.”
He’s not the only notable Farrer League departure emerging as the year comes to a close, with Marrar losing forward Jordan Matthews, and The Rock-Yerong Creek confirming they’ll be without Luke Hillier.
Fitzgerald-Holmes will be a significant loss at McPherson Oval but he leaves with the Saints’ blessings. Assistant coach Daniel Jordan put him in contact with Belconnen, and his family also encouraged the decision.
“So I’ll go down and give it a go,” he said.
“I guess the goal would be to work my way in, trying to play first grade down there. Probably early on I’ll need to find the balance between study and footy and not go all footy or all study. I think it’s a realistic goal but it’ll probably take a few weeks to work my way up.”
The Saints have also lost forward Alex Grozinger and defender Angus McRae but have recruited well, including experienced Riverina League footballers Luke Walsh, Lachlan Steward and James Morris.
Fitzgerald-Holmes said he did wonder if it might be the wrong time to leave but said he wasn’t dwelling on the thought.
“It did feel a bit like that but I guess that would be a bit selfish thinking ‘maybe I should stay here, I’d hate to leave and something happened’,” he said.
“I’m excited for where the club’s going. They’ve done well and got a bunch of new blokes in the team. Even if I’m in Canberra, or WA, or the other side of the world, I’d want North Wagga to be going well… so it’s good they’re picking up a few and hopefully they can go all the way.”
Fitzgerald-Holmes also said he wasn’t particularly keen on travelling to play and not being available to train with his teammates during the week.
It’s the same attitude that saw him feature as one of the breakout players in the competition in 2017.
As well as crediting a fitness regime drawn up by his sister, who is a personal trainer, he said he was also desperate not to let teammates down.
“I’m not the biggest bloke running around and (coach) Kirk (Hamblin) and a few others were saying going to the gym would be a good idea,” Fitzgerald-Holmes said.
“So I got my sister to set up a program for me… it was the first time I’d been to the gym and done a few weights.
“But I guess what I’d also put it down to would be the people I was playing with. What motivated me was to be better for the team, to not let anyone down.”