DESPITE several key departures already, Sandhurst coach Ashley Connick is confident the Dragons will take to the field in the Bendigo Football-Netball League next year stronger than their 2021 team that won 10 of 12 games in the shortened season.
The Dragons, who finished third on the ladder, have lost their top two players in this year's best and fairest in gun swingman Lachlan Ross (Kerang), ruckman Chris Down (Mount Pleasant), 2021 co-captain and experienced midfielder Nick Stagg (Kerang) and Mitch Rovers (returning to Kangaroo Flat).
However, Connick - who has coached the Dragons since 2019 - expects the Dragons' departures to be offset by some strong recruiting, which has begun with the return of hard-nut Zach Pallprat.
Pallprat previously played with the Dragons in 2018 and 2019 before returning to his home club, Benalla, in the Goulburn Valley league.
"We're really happy to have Zach return to the club and we're fairly close to announcing a couple more signings that we're just working through," Connick said on Friday.
"The news is obviously out there that there are some good senior players who have gone, but I'm really confident that talent-wise we'll be in front for 2022 when the dust settles.
"We're really optimistic about how our team is going to look next year."
Connick said the Dragons were well advanced in securing a potential ruck replacement for Down, but there are also existing options already at the club for players to step into the role in Tom Calvert and Connor Sexton.
"Tommy Calvert is a real competitor and we've also got Connor Sexton who will be a Sandhurst senior ruckman and, hopefully, that's sooner rather than later," Connick said.
"So internally there's options and externally with some of the players we're talking to we think we'll have options in terms of the ruck."
Among the re-signings that have been announced by the Dragons this week are their three stalwarts in 2016 premiership captain Blair Holmes, 2021 co-captain Lee Coghlan and key forward Matt Thornton.
Holmes is on the cusp of the 200-game mark for the Dragons, with the disjointed end to the season costing him the chance of reaching the milestone this year.
"Blair has only got three to go to get to 200, so that's something that we're really looking forward to next year and is something he really deserves," Connick said.
Blair has only got three to go to get to 200, so that's something that we're really looking forward to next year and is something he really deserves- Ashley Connick
"He will finish up as a legend of our club and it will be a big occasion for us."
While Holmes, Coghlan and Thornton - all 2016 premiership players with the Dragons - have all been playing senior football for more than a decade, at the other end of the spectrum Connick is excited by the development of the club's younger brigade of players.
"You look at Noah Walsh who came fourth in our best and fairest, Sean O'Farrell has held down a key position (full-back) all year and James Mittell finished top 10 in our best and fairest, so there's some real improvement to come and plenty to look forward to," Connick said.
Meanwhile, the Dragons have announced Jeremy Rodi is taking over as coach of the under-18 team.
The Dragons have long been a power of the BFNL under-18 competition, having played in 11 of the past 12 grand finals, winning five of them.
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