Losing six premiership players is always going to leave a decent hole in any side attempting to defend its crown.
That was the challenge that faced Central Highlands Football League reigning premiers Waubra, who entered the 2021 season with a new-look, younger side than it fielded in 2019.
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2019 premiership star James Lukich headed to East Point, Dean Robertson, Andrew Wettenhall and James Petrie all moved away, Josh Crawford went to Ballarat and Ryan Head retired.
Add in senior player Jarred Crabtree, who missed out on the 2019 triumph, who also left and it's a big hole to fill for coach Matt James.
A host of young players were welcomed in the door, however, and while not as strong as 2019, Waubra still remained a premiership threat.
Monty Judd came from Redan, Will Green and Lachlan Rinaldi moved from Ballarat and Bailey Colligan joined from Gordon.
Along with the experienced addition of Nick Sullivan from Beaufort, it was a handy mix of recruits for the Roos.
"Our young guys were really impressive, whilst we had a couple of losses along the way we had some important wins in which they made big contributions," James told The Courier.
"They will be far better for the run."
The season could not have started better, an eight-goal first quarter against Dunnstown handing Waubra a 43-point quarter-time lead.
While the Towners reduced the margin to 17 points by game's end, the damage had been done early in the contest.
A 93-point win over Beaufort followed in round two and the Roos looked as strong as ever.
It was a round three wake-up call from Hepburn in a grand final rematch that put Waubra back in its place, the Burra piling on 14 goals to two in the second-half to hand the Roos an 89-point defeat.
They gave up a 25-point three-quarter time lead the following week to Rokewood-Corindhap to lose by three points and all of a sudden the early season dominance was squashed.
The Roos won five of their next seven games and continued to remain a top four chance, but fell to eventual finalists Skipton and Gordon, the latter an 80-point loss.
What the remainder of the season proved was that with the big losses in terms of personnel, Waubra had fallen back to a middle-tier finals team, proven by its eventual 7-4 record.
The positive is that the gap is not a big one to becoming a top four side again.
Waubra challenged Gordon strongly for two-and-a-half quarters and Hepburn for a half.
It held big leads over other top four sides Rokewood-Corindhap and Dunnstown, the latter resulting in a win.
Four quarter performances potentially turn these three losses into wins and just like that, the top four is locked in.
The Roos beat strugglers Beaufort, Ballan and Carngham-Linton strongly and answered big challenges from Creswick and Daylesford with impressive last quarters to pull out wins.
"I guess you can't argue with the end data of the ladder, I still felt we were better than that," James said.
"Our best was (better) than a handful of the top-end teams, we were five goals up at certain stages against the third and fourth teams which demonstrates our capacity, we were just not able to bring that enough."
As the off-season approaches, Waubra knows another pre-season and regular season of development for its young brigade will take it a long way in 2022.
"I'm confident we don't need a lot," James said.
"Our internal growth within will hold us in a good position going into 2022.
"We had six guys playing regular senior footy under 20 (years of age), including two 16-year-olds and competed well which is really promising for the future."
Having star ruckman Geordie Lukich back and healthy for much of the season would be a plus after he missed a bug chunk of 2021.
Same goes for key-forward Hayden Hughes and rebounding defender Caleb McGrath, who both missed large portions of the season.
With these key senior players back in the side, it will only benefit the young core that is building at Waubra and see it challenge at the top-end of the ladder once again next year.
7-4, 63.64 per cent games won, 127.21 traditional percentage
Austin Murphy (16)
Round one: defeated Dunnstown 12.11 (83) - 9.12 (66)
Round two: defeated Beaufort 16.18 (114) - 3.3 (21)
Round three: defeated by Hepburn 6.8 (44) - 20.13 (133)
Round four: defeated by Rokewood-Corindhap 10.13 (73) - 11.10 (76)
Round five: defeated Creswick 12.10 (82) - 8.6 (54)
Round six: defeated Ballan 18.9 (117) - 4.4 (28)
Round nine: defeated Daylesford 13.6 (84) - 8.9 (57)
Round 10: defeated Carngham-Linton 21.14 (140) - 8.5 (53)
Round 11: bye
Round 12: defeated by Skipton 5.9 (39) - 7.9 (51)
Round 15: defeated Newlyn 11.14 (80) - 6.7 (43)
Round 17: defeated by Gordon 7.9 (51) - 19.17 (131)
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