There is something special brewing out at Merrigum Recreation Reserve.
The Bulldogs have enacted a clear modus operandi when it comes to their senior football side – and the path it has set them upon is certainly well-trodden by other successful clubs in the region.
“We’ve had some pretty sustainable list management and been pretty quiet on the recruiting front,” coach Steve Lawlor said.
“Everyone wants to see you out there and selling newspapers, but most of what we’re trying to do is reward our local talent.
“You look at sides like Kyabram, Nathalia and Nagambie and they draw from a strong local base and don’t over-recruit – they do it on a needs basis.
“We’re not building rockets here – we’re just backing our young guys in and trying to make our senior footy side competitive for the next 10 years and not strap ourselves into a short-sighted boom-and-bust cycle.”
As well as a local focus, Merrigum has engineered a list underpinned by the exuberance of youth.
It means that although Lawlor’s list is packed full of supreme talents, they do not receive the same plaudits as others across the competition – although that may be about to change.
“When I go to the supermarket, I don’t like to think I’m particularly tight with my money, but I buy the home brand products because they still do the same job as the ones with the big names,” Lawlor said.
“It’s similar to what we’re trying to do at Merrigum, a lot of our players are still building their reputations and I think this is the year they might start making more of a name for themselves.
“It looks like the league is going up in standard again and we’ll improve as well; we enjoy the challenge of being written off by the media, opposition and mates from other leagues.
“We enjoy punching up (above our weight class), I see the group grow in confidence every time we beat a side rated higher than us.”
Some of those names to look out for in the red, blue and white this season are Josh Smith, Jack Sinclair and Jake Parkinson, while Daniel Dryden will return to the club this year.
“Most of our list is still in their teenage years or early twenties,” Lawlor said.
“Geoff Connally is pushing 40 and he’s the father of the group, but we only have three blokes above 30 on the list.
“You forget how young they are at times and it’s important for us to remember that we have to be a bit patient with them sometimes.
“We want them to be 10 years players, not around for just one or two seasons. We haven’t struggled to keep the group together either, which tells us we’re on the right track, they’re all happy to keep buying in to what we’re trying to achieve here.
“The thing that works in our favour is list continuity and understanding where our shortcomings are. We’re not a perfect side and we embrace that.
“We’ll continue to possibly get exposed sometimes but we’ll get back to training and we’ll learn from it and keep chipping away.”
And after missing finals by the closest of margins in consecutive seasons, Lawlor hopes his club’s fortunes are about to take a turn for the better.
“It’s been pretty disappointing to miss finals by percentage the past two years in a row,” he said.
“I feel like we’re the Richmond of old at times, so hopefully the new Richmond is not too far away.”
COACH: STEVE LAWLOR
2019 FINISH: EIGHTH (9-7)
2019 BEST-AND-FAIREST: JACK SINCLAIR
2019 LEADING GOAL-KICKER: JOSH SMITH (51)
GROUND: MERRIGUM RECREATION RESERVE
IN: Daniel Dryden (Undera), Joel McCarten (La Trobe University)
OUT: Ryan Mangan (South Bendigo)