As last season ended in heartbreak, Barooga co-coach James Hazelman could find solace in the fact all that stood between his side and a grand final appearance was a 15-minute power burst from serial winner Nathalia.
Five Purples goals in that period of play in a dominant third quarter proved a bridge too far for the Hawks to overcome after they failed to kick a goal in the second half of last year’s preliminary final.
While pleased to be in contention for a grand final berth, for Hazelman it still felt like an opportunity missed considering how the side performed during the year to finish third on the ladder.
‘‘To get to a prelim, which was our first since 2009, was obviously pleasing, but I still think we underachieved,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘On our day I definitely thought we were good enough to go all the way.’’
The disappointment in Hazelman’s voice is obvious when he talks about Barooga’s failure to take that final quantum leap towards premiership success, but he knows his team is not far off.
‘‘It’s probably been a slow build for us the last three or four years. We’ve made finals, but just haven’t been able to take that next step, but last year we took that step, but it still wasn’t quite far enough,’’ he said.
With the Hawks coming so close to a grand final berth last year, it will be more of the same this season with a strong focus on their work around the footy and adding to their defensive stocks after being exposed by Nathalia’s big-bodied forwards in the preliminary final.
Hazelman said Barooga would not be deviating too far from what worked so well last year. It will be more a case of ironing out little deficiencies and tweaking with personnel, which the club will be hoping will take it back to the promised land of success.
Coming in to bolster Barooga’s defensive stocks will be Cameron Sudholz, who played in Rennie’s fairytale Picola District league south-east premiership.
Hazelman said Sudholz would certainly help fill a deficiency down back.
‘‘At this stage Sudholz will play centre half-back, but we’re still on the hunt for a couple more key position players,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘It’s been a slow period so far for us in terms of what we’ve picked up. But in saying that, we’ve only lost one guy from our prelim side, so we are in a very similar position to what we were.’’
While question marks still loom over the Hawks’ defence, what cannot be doubted is their potency up forward.
The four-pronged attack of Matt Demaio, Tyrone Downie, Will Gorman and Spiro Vourgaslis can be more than a handful for any backline in the league.
Just how efficient Barooga can be in delivering the footy to those players will play a huge role in determining this year’s success.
‘‘It’s definitely one of our focuses to make sure that when we are going forward that we’re making the most of it, because once it’s in there, I definitely think we can score a lot of those times,’’ Hazelman said.
For the playing coach and other coach Nick Flanagan, one of the most exciting aspects about the dynamic of the side is that the leaders and some of the better players are young.
Co-captains Callum Leighton-Daly and Jake Russell are 21, while other youngsters such as Demaio and Tim Brooks provided valuable contributions last year.
Keeping this core group of younger players together will only help drive the club towards a sustained run of success, in Hazelman’s opinion.
‘‘We’ve got a really good core group of 19 to 23-year-olds at the moment which are local guys, which in the past we haven’t had a lot of or they haven’t stuck around,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘That’s the most pleasing thing about our side — some of those younger local guys are starting to become some of our better players and also our leaders as well.’’
●It will be a family affair at Barooga with James’ sisters Taylah and Sharni to take the reins of the Hawks’ A-grade netball side this season.
The sisters take charge of their childhood club after Sarah Bruce relinquished the role at the end of last season.