Mernda coach Robert Fletcher believes his club is poised to end a five-year finals drought after several narrow misses in recent seasons.
Fletcher guided Jacana to the EDFL Division 2 premiership in 2017 and joined Mernda last year, leading the Demons’ under-19 side to a preliminary final appearance.
He believes the previous association with the club has enabled a seamless transition into the senior coaching role, where he replaces Paul Derrick after two years at the helm.
“Being involved with the 19s last year, I knew a lot of the kids and a lot of the players, so it’s been a good transition,” Fletcher told NFNL.org.au.
With a larger player presence at pre-season prior to Christmas, the playing group is in better shape going to into the 2020 season than it was last year.
Fletcher believes the fitness level of the squad is a key area of improvement as the Demons look to rise up the ladder after consecutive fifth-place finishes in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3.
“Our numbers last year weren’t great for pre-season,” Fletcher said.
“This year we’ve averaged 55 players for all sessions, so the fitness is good.”
Additionally, Fletcher said another area of focus for Mernda would be scoring more prolifically.
The Demons have addressed this issue by signing Craigieburn duo Shannon Smith and Bryce Kimuliatis.
Smith kicked 41 goals in the EDFL Division 1 competition last year to steer the Eagles to premiership success. The former Lalor captain is no stranger to the NFNL and has joined Mernda as a playing assistant.
Kimuliatis booted 45 goals in the EDFL Division 1 competition last year and was a member of Jacana’s premiership team in 2017.
“We lacked kicking scores last year,” Fletcher said.
“It’s a big thing we want to work on our forward structure and make sure we get that right.
“I think that shows in our recruiting in the signings of ‘Kimo’ (Kimuliatis) and Shannon Smith.”
Additionally, another Craigieburn player in Jacob Austin has also made the move across to Waterview Recreation Reserve, along with veteran ball winner Jarrod King, who has also signed on as a playing assistant.
King was a member of Bundoora’s coaching panel in 2019 and has enjoyed a long and distinguished playing career with the Bulls, Lalor, North Heidelberg and Epping.
Fletcher is excited about the new recruits and believes they will bring much needed experience.
“All are experienced in high divisions coming down, so they should add some really good experience for us,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher believes the recruits will complement a strong core of emerging players coming through the ranks.
Nic Aleksovski was a revelation in eight senior games in 2019, scoring 18 goals, and took out the Division 2 under-19 best and fairest.
Fletcher is also expecting big things from Riley Edwards and Kyle Yankos, who he coached in the under-19s last year.
“Riley Edwards is probably a standout as an under-19 coming up,” he said.
“He played a fair bit of senior footy last year (along with) Kyle Yankos. Having a year under their belt, I’d say they’re going to have a big season.”
Reigning best and fairest winner Brad Dimech has been denied a transfer to return to Roxburgh Park due to a contractual agreement. Fletcher remains confident Dimech will remain a Demon in 2020.
Mernda’s campaign will commence on April 4 with an away game against Heidelberg West at Heidelberg Park.