Hurstbridge coach Trevor Little is bullish about his side’s prospects in 2018 and believes his side is a real chance to stamp its authority in Meadows Greyhounds Division 1.
The Bridges avoided relegation on percentage alone last year in their first season in the top flight since going winless in 2004.
But despite finishing on the same number of wins as bottom-placed Eltham, the club’s huge potential was evident throughout much of the promising 2017 campaign.
The Bridges beat 2016 grand finalists Heidelberg and Macleod and were one of only five teams to score more than 1500 points – averaging 87 points per game, despite winning just five matches.
The promise shown throughout the 2017 season, coupled with a strong recruiting drive during the off-season has Little confident his side will improve on last year’s effort.
“The belief at the moment is really high,” Little told NFNL.org.au.
“(Finals) is not something we’ve talked about at the moment, but it has to be (on our radar) and you’ve got to aim high.
“We were a fairly attacking side last year. We had our opportunities in most games and I think we led in maybe 11 or 12 last quarters.
“We lacked a bit of, at some points, patience. I blame myself for that because we wanted to play a frantic style of footy and attack.
“We feel like we’ve addressed that situation with the players we’ve brought in so that’s exciting for us.
“We’ve been working on that balance between attack and defence.”
Little admitted a major focus during the off-season was to retain the majority of his 2017 list, as well as trying to fill in the gaps that were exposed throughout his debut season as coach.
The Bridges will this year be without premiership co-captain Micheal Farrelly, who was accepted the senior coaching role at Essendon District Football League club Roxburgh Park, while key forward Daniel Francis has moved to Thomastown following a 26-goal season.
But a busy summer at Ben Frilay Oval has been highlighted by the signing of retired AFL star Travis Cloke and brother Cameron – who claimed the 2013 Frank Rosbrook Medal and two premierships during four seasons at Bundoora between 2011 to 2014.
Dual competition best and fairest winner and Montmorency games record holder Daniel Keenan has also returned after a decorated career at Montmorency Park.
Keenan started his career at Hurstbridge and played 56 senior games before moving to Para Rd.
Meanwhile, 2016 club leading goal kicker Chris Burton is back after spending the 2017 season with Avenel – where he booted 66 goals in 17 matches.
Little said each had made an immediate impact during the pre-season training campaign.
“They’re really strong leaders around the club and have really helped out our younger guys with the experience and level of footy they’ve played elsewhere,” Little said.
“It’s actually quite hard to sort of know how it’s going to work out, but Cameron has been nothing short of fantastic. He’s obviously certainly getting on – he’s no spring chicken anymore – but that’s where he’s going to add so much value to the group.
“Travis speaks for himself. He’s been very vocal on the track and really supportive. And then Bomber (Daniel Keenan) – when you coach against these guys you admire them from afar and you don’t realise how hard they work. He does not miss a beat.”
It’s the air of potential ahead of the 2018 season that most excites Little, with the growth and development of his younger players leaving him optimistic his club will not just be making up the numbers in the top flight.
“I’ve seen enough Division 1 footy to know that they’re absolutely good enough to play finals,” he said.
“We weren’t far off relegation last year as well, so we know we’ve got a long way to go but the competition is that even it doesn’t take too much to swing.
“It’s a critical Round 1 for me and I’m not shy in saying it.
“I just really want to see these guys challenge. We will absolutely come ready to play.”
Hurstbridge fielded an under-23 side against Warrandyte in its first practice match of 2018 on Thursday night, with games against Eltham and Emerald still to come before kickstarting the season with a Round 1 clash against West Preston-Lakeside at Ben Frilay Oval on April 14.