Mernda senior men’s coach Robert Fletcher believes the success of the club’s under-19’s and reserves sides last year will help the Demons senior team rise back up the Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 ladder in 2023.
The Demons have won just 11 of their last 30 games in the competition, with seven of those coming in the 2022 campaign.
But with a fresh season ahead, Mernda are hoping to get off on the right foot, with Fletcher, who is beginning his fourth season as senior coach, impressed with his side’s pre-season attitude and commitment.
“Things have been pretty positive, it been a big pre-season and the numbers have been huge, so we are up and about. We also had a footy camp that was well attended in the pre-season so overall all is going pretty well,” he said.
“We have a good playing group and have about 55 on a track each night, the boys have worked hard in the last few months.”
While the club’s senior side failed to make the finals, the Demons’ reserves and under-19’s sides both reached Grand Final’s in 2022.
Despite both teams falling short in their respective decider’s, the work that has been done in the two programs gives Fletcher great confidence that with more senior football opportunities, these players will play a key role in getting his side back into the finals in 2023.
“We played a few people from the two’s in the one’s last year and on top of that, we have some good kids coming through across all our programs,” he said.
“It’s a very young list with lots of kids coming through so seeing them become senior footballers is the most exciting part.
“In the last four years, we have had a full year of COVID and just half a season on top of that, so some of the kids might not played as much senior footy as you would like by now, but they got a few games under their belt last year which will help in the long run.”
The club will have to deal with the losses of former Demons captain Anthony Bradford and 2021 Division 3 men’s Team of the Year member Joshua Mazzarella, who both transferred to Thomastown ahead of the 2023 campaign.
However, the Demons did make some promising signings in the off-season, with the biggest arguably being Billy Morrison who was a standout in Jacana’s 2017 and Craigieburn’s 2019 EDFL premiership wins, where he was named best on ground in both games.
The ruckman has already had a huge influence on the playing group according to Fletcher, adding that he is excited to see what Morrison can bring to the senior side throughout the season.
“He has been massive for us, he has a good footy brain, he’s great at using his voice and he is already emerging as one of the leaders at our club,” he said.
“He has fit in well and he will make a big impact on our footy club as well as the league.”
Mernda have notoriously fallen short of finals in recent history, having finished fifth in three of four campaigns between 2016 and 2019. But a top four finish in 2023 would be their first finals appearance since their third-place finish in the 2014 Division 2 season.
Fletcher didn’t shy away from the club’s ambition to return to finals football, saying that while there will be plenty of sides in the competition capable of taking out spots in the top four, the goal to break the finals drought is as strong as ever in 2023.
“Every year we send the boys out, we always want to play finals. That will be our goal at the moment and if we are good enough to make finals, we will review it from there,” he said.
Mernda’s 2023 campaign kicks off on April 15 against Old Eltham Collegians at Eltham College.