Bungaree coach Heath Pyke and his men have worked hard in the off-season to bolster a list that failed to stack up when the whips were cracking last year.
The Demons were inside the top four after 13 rounds in 2017, but slipped to finish seventh before an elimination final defeat.
A more experienced Bungaree outfit looks to have been assembled. And that’s largely through a string of handy inclusions.
The club’s 2014 premiership players Joel Mahar, who was captain for that breakthrough triumph, Jason Linke, Scott Mann and Leigh Billington are all back with the Demons, while former Redan star Ryan Waight has signed on as Pyke’s playing assistant coach.
While probably not at his brilliant best these days, Waight is a Victoria Country representative and All Australian footballer of the past.
Pyke, who is heading into his fourth season at the helm, said he felt there was “differences” between the 2017 and 2018 senior lists.
“I think our list at the moment is a lot more progressed than where it was last year. Last year, with the young blokes that we did have on the list, there was still a fair bit of unknown as to what those blokes could or would do,” Pyke said.
“Where as this year we’ve got a little bit more exposed form with those kids, plus the addition of some premiership players and a couple of other handy recruits.”
Last season’s leading goal-kicker Joel Mirtschin has left the club, but there will be confidence that his brother Luke can shake ongoing injury concerns and return to his best form in attack. Key forward Shaun Finlayson is still recovering from a knee injury that ruined his 2017 season and is hoped to make a comeback during the middle of the year.
The loss of Mitch Bowman will hurt, as will the departure of Zac Denham.
“Probably from where we finished last year in seventh, definitely an improvement on ladder position is the initial objective for us heading into the season,” Pyke told The Courier.
“If we can beat the sides around us (on the ladder) – I think we beat some last year, but not all – if we can make some strides in that area, by all means top four is definitely a possibility.”
Q: What do you see as your key on-field strength?
Our on-field strength is probably our versatility along with our depth and youth.
Q: What is your key message as coach in 2018?
To keep developing and improving.
Q: How have the pre-season preparations gone?
Like all coaches this time of year, I have been fairly happy with our preparations. It can always be better though.
Q: Which player are you most excited about?
Probably no individual player as such, but I'm looking forward to seeing which young guys have come on from last season.
Q: Which is the team to beat this season?
There are a few that have appeared to recruit well, but if I had to pick one it would be Beaufort.
The Demons’ Fact File
Heath Pyke (returning)
Seventh, 11 wins, five losses
Top goal-kicker: Joel Mirtschin, 38 goals
Best and fairest: David Benson
Geoff Taylor Medal top vote-getters: David Benson 28 (winner), Matthew Sheridan 8, Chase Morgan 5, Benjamin Willian 4, Joel Mirtschin 3, Steven Ryan 3, Luke Mirtschin 2, Mitchell Humphries 2
Joel Mahar (Collie Eagles), Jason Linke (Qambatook), Scott Mann (Pyramid Hill), John Butler (Edenhope-Apsley), Ryan Waight (Redan), Leigh Billington (overseas), Aiden Murphy (travel)KEY DEPARTURES
Zac Denham (Tyntynder), Mitch Bowman (Ballarat), Joel Mirtschin (Bell Post Hill)
R1: Dunnstown (a)
R2: Beaufort (h)
R3: Hepburn (a)
R4: Waubra (h)
R5: Rokewood-Corindhap (a)
R6: Skipton (h)
R7: Creswick (a)
R8: Carngham-Linton (h)
R9: Clunes (a)
R10: Smythesdale (h)
R11: Learmonth (a)
R12: Newlyn (h)
R13: Daylesford (a)
R14: Springbank (a)
R15: Gordon (h)
R16: Buninyong (a)
R17: Ballan (h)
Last season, the Demons were probably just a touch behind the best teams in the competition, but competitive with most on their day.
The solid recruiting drive looks to have added some much-needed experience and should see Bungaree contend for a top four spot.