Mernda coach Paul Derrick has warned his Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 rivals of the improvement that is still to come from his side, despite a strong start to 2018.
After winning just four matches for the entirety of its 2017 campaign, Mernda sits equal-first on the ladder – along with upcoming opponent St Mary’s – with a 4-1 record, which includes an 83-point smashing of Panton Hill in Round 1.
Further victories against Laurimar, Heidelberg West and Lalor have solidified the Demons’ current ladder position and finals credentials, with Derrick telling NFNL.org.au the best is yet to come.
“I believe our second half of the season will be better than our first half, so we put no limit on what we may achieve (this season),” he said.
A life member at Mernda, Derrick returned to the club to take over the coaching reins in a bid to help propel the Demons back up the Division 3 ladder following a difficult 2017 campaign.
He is looking to emulate the success he had while in charge of Essendon District Football league club Roxburgh Park – who he led to two grand finals in three seasons.
Derrick said he wished to leave his beloved club “better than we found it on and off the field”.
“Since getting the job, the first thing we did was to make sure we kept as much of the 2017 list as possible, while adding good footballers, but more importantly quality people, onto our list,” he said.
“The aim was to bring back a bit of ownership onto the playing group. Our expectation from the beginning was to play finals (and) that is still our aim,” he added.
Derrick believes improvement across this season is going to come naturally, with a plethora of youngsters already tasting senior experience.
Nearly 40 players have been used in five games this season, and while it may hinder the club’s on-field continuity, Derrick believe it will only make the club stronger across the board.
“We think we have a great bunch of players involved from under-19s to seniors, all working hard to improve their football,” Derrick said.
“So far we’ve used around 36-40 players in the seniors (during) the early rounds. Of that group possibly 10-15 have played less than six senior games, so we expect improvement as we get further into the season.
“Pressure for spots ensures a competitive environment, so we think we’ll (be able to) maintain our effort thus far.”
With finals the clear aim for the club since pre-season, Derrick has been impressed with the level of commitment shown by his players to reach that target.
He believes the Demons have the right mix of youth and experience to set “a launching pad for sustained success”, with all players on the same page and heading in the same direction the important factor in continuing their strong form.
“The leadership and commitment from the president and committee has been fantastic. All are there for the love of the club and the effort they put in off the field resonates to on the field,” Derrick said.
“We are coming from a fair way back, but we’re all heading in the right direction. The coaches and players have been fantastic with setting standards and committing to improve.
“There’s no reason we can’t continue to get better and better after averaging 60-70 (players) throughout the pre-season – the more you put in, the more you get out.”
Mernda is one of three sides in the third tier with a total aggregate score exceeding 400 after five rounds, while only South Morang – the only team to topple the Demons this season – have conceded fewer points per game.
It’s potentially the strongest form Mernda has shown since finishing third in Division 2 in 2014, but the club is not getting ahead of itself, mindful of the team waiting to take them on this Saturday.
“St Mary’s will be a great challenge for us, but we give ourselves every hope of getting the win,” Derrick said.
“Obviously they’ve had the majority of their list together for a while now and look to be the measuring stick in a very even competition, so it will give us a great indication of where we are at and need to be. We’ll welcome the challenge.
“We respect all opposition and know you need to bring your best every week to beat anyone.”