Jason Heatley says the onus is on North Heidelberg’s next wave of players to drive the club forward in 2020.
The club’s playing list has undergone an overhaul over the summer after playing off in the Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 preliminary final in each of the past two years.
Among those to bid farewell are former captains Leigh Gilbert (Kinglake) and Daniel Bramich (Thomastown), representative utility Jhye Baddeley-Kelly (North Heidelberg) and premiership ruckman Michael Florance (Diamond Creek).
Shane Biggs will be unavailable after undergoing hip surgery, while Brent Harvey’s availability may be limited after taking on an extended match-day role at North Melbourne.
Heatley said the club had been targeted with its recruiting to ensure it remains right in the premiership mix.
“The realities are what the club’s been able to do in the top-flight over the past couple of years has been quite extraordinary, to play off in a couple of prelims,” Heatley told NFNL.org.au.
“You have to sit back now and look at reality and there are a couple of sides that we’re certainly chasing, and we have to get better. With the scenario of getting better, there has to be some change involved in that to be able to take the steps that we need to moving forward.
“Those guys that have left the club, whilst we would have loved them all to stay, they have been stalwarts for the footy club and are always welcome back.
“The flip side is that it’s given us the opportunity to freshen our list up to really target recruit in terms of deficiencies that maybe we thought the side had had. It’s allowed us to do that.
“We’ve got some really good results out of that so we’re really bullish with some good personnel that we’ve brought into the club and some really flourishing youth that we’ll have a pretty good mix moving forward.”
The Bulldogs have welcomed Northcote Park duo Jackson Starcevich and Charles Le Fanu, along with 2012 Cougars premiership midfielder Doug Morris, Airport West ruckman Anthony Daw and Greensborough forward Caillin Kett.
Meanwhile, youngsters Braidyn Hirt, Brock Perichon, Jared Crosbie and Curtis Howden-Crhak have impressed on the track over summer and are likely to be given the chance to establish themselves in the senior line-up.
Starcevich has been one of the competition’s most damaging key forwards in recent years, booting 69 goals in 26 appearances for the Cougars.
He snared 15 goals in the opening four rounds of 2019, before having his season curtailed by injury.
Le Fanu was also limited by injury for much of last season, while Morris returns to football after sitting out the past three seasons.
“We certainly explored that (injury concerns) when we were having the discussions with recruiting them,” Heatley said.
“I go back a long way with Doug. He’s had some challenges with his body, but I must say the condition he’s in right now – he’s back to his playing weight already and we’re certainly starting to see him move like the Doug Morris of old.
“Jackson Starcevich had some challenges last year but he’s leading all our running groups and is in fantastic shape.
“Charles Le Fanu has fitted in like a glove. He’s a state league premiership player so he’s going to bring a wealth of experience to what already is a pretty good backline.”
Heatley said the addition of Starcevich would relieve pressure on Shane Harvey, who will enter the 2020 season needing just 10 goals to reach the landmark 1000-goal tally for North Heidelberg.
“The good thing with Jackson too is he’s taken real ownership and leadership of our forward line as well,” Heatley said.
“What it’s going to do is take some pressure off Shane Harvey and these sorts of players.
“With both Brent and Shane, my clear direction to them is they don’t need to be match-winners anymore or have the weight of expectation on their shoulders.
“I want them to just enjoy the place, enjoy the twilight years of their footy careers. They’ve been wonderful servants to our footy club.
“One of the targets that I have, and Brent and Shane both know this, is we have to prepare this club long term for life without the Harveys and that’s just the simple reality.
“This is part of that process, but I have no doubt they’ll be around for years yet.”
Heatley’s journey back to North Heidelberg has been some time in the making.
A best and fairest winner in 1992 when he claimed the Division 1 goal kicking award with 118 goals, he returned to the Bulldogs as a playing-coach in 2001 and was a member of the 2005 premiership team.
He has since enjoyed premiership success as a coach with Heidelberg (2016), Northcote Park (2012) and Wantirna South (2008).
Having been away for the club for close to 15 years, Heatley said he was enjoying his homecoming at Shelley Reserve.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with a couple of great clubs. Now to come full circle and return to a club that I played at makes me feel really good,” he said.
“I’ve watched the club from a distance for quite a while. They’ve certainly had some challenges and it’s great to see them rebounding now and putting themselves back in the position we were many years ago.
“The club is really well run. It’s always had good people involved and I think there are some exciting things that are happening.
“We’ve got a junior pathway that’s very close to completion. We’ve got some pretty good kids that are running around and obviously we’ve still got a really good core of veterans who will play good solid footy for us.”