A string of trade deals have fallen through at Ballan, tempering the expectations of first-year coach Tristan Batten.
Batten, who took over the top job from Jason McNamara after the 2018 Central Highlands Football League season, has had to refocus his goals given four key signings have declared they won't be with the Blues this year.
The club thought it had locked away Inverleigh gun Blake Hutchinson, former VFL player Luke Edmondson and Bannockburn duo Matt Tyquin and Jordan Malden, but changes in their own off-field circumstances mean they won't be in the navy blue during 2019.
Batten said playing finals was well and truly on the agenda when those players put pen to paper.
"I was probably thinking finals footy, definitely. If we didn't, it would have been a massive let down in the season with the calibre of those guys coming," Batten said.
"And I rate our young guys. That's why I took on the job. I reckon they've got a lot of upside, they're fit and they're all guys that love their footy.
"I just had to compliment that and we thought we did. The wheels have sort of come off a bit, haven't they?"
Batten said the loss of last season's skipper Jake Wilkie, as well as key figures Sam Sher, McNamara and Sam Hitchings, has also hurt.
This has seen him reassess the Blues' overall chances ahead of their first game of the season this Saturday against Clunes.
Ballan had the bye in round one, but will fancy its chances of beating a Magpies outfit that was well held by Creswick last weekend.
Batten said he expects other key recruits Jak Kennedy Hunt and Simon Seddon to play with the Blues, despite only featuring at a few training sessions during the pre-season.
"We're going to be in that bottom to mid group again...," Batten told The Courier.
"We just don't have any room to get any injuries. If Darren Tanti gets injured or Harley Bongart... our midfield has been cut really short."
Ballan won six games under McNamara last season to finish 11th on the ladder.
The Blues have not played finals since 2015 when under the care of former AFL player Mark Williams.
After this Saturday's clash with Clunes, Ballan has its first home game of the year against Learmonth.