By Luke West
IT'S A question that long-time Pyramid Hill supporters must be tired of pondering every year on the eve of a new season - will this finally be the year the drought breaks?
Again, that same question will be asked as the Bulldogs embark on another attempt to end one of country Victoria's longest premiership droughts when they begin their Loddon Valley league season on April 2.
The Bulldogs have played in all but one finals series since 2003 and made at least the preliminary final in 10 of those seasons, but still haven't been able to break through for that elusive senior premiership they last won in 1950 when they were playing in the Mitiamo District league.
The drought is now at 72 years.
So again, the question is asked - will this finally be the year?
The Bulldogs will be solely coached this year by Nathan Fitzpatrick after he and Adrian McErvale had shared the role last season.
A triple under-18 premiership coach with the Bulldogs, Fitzpatrick has landed a host of new recruits as the pursuit of that long-awaited flag continues.
Among the recruits for the Bulldogs is the returning Steve Gunther, who was a member of the club's losing grand final team to Mitiamo in 2019 before spending last year with St Albans in the Geelong league.
Gunther will slot back into the Bulldogs' midfield brigade, while Pyramid Hill also has another former on-baller rejoining the club in Bryden Morison, a previous best and fairest winner.
The Bulldogs' list of recruits also include Seb Relouw (mid/forward), returning 2019 grand final player Jack Woodward (mid/forward), Ryley Dickens (half-back/mid), Jack Timmins (wing), Will Perryman (forward), former Kangaroo Flat senior player Liam Ly (wing), Ryan Delamere, Lars Casperson, Tom Nunn and Sam Fisher.
"We're really happy with the recruiting we've done and we were able to get a few of the guys in quite early," Fitzpatrick said.
"The main focus for us was trying to top up our midfield and make sure we've got eight to 10 blokes who can go through there.
The main focus for us was trying to top up our midfield and make sure we've got eight to 10 blokes who can go through there- Nathan Fitzpatrick
"Getting that extra midfield depth means for some of our older guys like Gavin James who have been carrying a big load through there can potentially play a different role across half-back."
The midfield additions for the Bulldogs this year add to what was already a solid on-ball brigade featuring the likes of Matt and Brad Ladson, Scott Mann, Billy Micevski and Ben Dalton.
"The midfield group will all be potentially rotating forward as well, so that should give us some more quality in attack as well," Fitzpatrick said.
The Bulldogs' forward line last year was spearheaded by Braidy Dickens (50), Bailey Geroge (29) and Mitch Cheesman (22), who combined for 101 goals, and will now be boosted by the addition of Perryman from Boort as well as the rotating midfielders.
The outs for the Bulldogs, who finished fourth last year with a 7-5 record, are Matt Pollock, who had to hang up the boots last season after a neck injury but will be an assistant to Fitzpatrick, Bailey Goodwin, James Blood, Evan Dorrington and Patrick Blood.
"We're not here to muck around this year, so to speak... we want to make the top three and give us the best opportunity," Fitzpatrick said.
"We probably dropped off a bit during last year through a bit to do with injury and lack of depth.
"But I'm confident that if we're playing our best football we'll be able to match it with anyone."
The Bulldogs take on rivals Bridgewater in their opening game of the season followed by a bye in round two.
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Abbey Dingwall.
Placing when season ended last year: Sixth.
Arrivals: Gemma Scott, Megan Gunther, Jordann Broad.
Departures: Zoe Kennedy.
First game: at Bridgewater (April 2).
After a winless season in 2019, Pyramid Hill rebounded strongly last year to finish as the best team outside the top five.
If not for a heartbreaking two-goal loss to Marong in their second last game, the Bulldogs would have been even closer to securing a finals berth.
Accordingly, hopes are high they will be able to build on that improvement and stage a return to the finals for the first time since their 2017 premiership season.
The Bulldogs will start the season under a new coach, with gun defender Abbey Dingwall taking over the reins from Zoe Kennedy.
In a blow to the new coach's aspirations, Kennedy will not be playing at Pyramid Hill, leaving a massive gap at goal shooter.
With the Bulldogs reasonably well-stocked in defence and the midcourt, Dingwall, who finished fourth in last year's league best and fairest count, is still working on a solution in the goal circle.
Pyramid Hill has retained most other A-graders from last season, albeit defender Caitlyn Murphy is unlikely to be available every week.
An ultra-competitive team, which provided headaches for most opponents, boasts plenty of talent in young centre Imogen Broad, who will be joined this year by older sister Jordann (returning from surgery), Meg Layton and Bec McKnight.
Those playing stocks will be boosted by the return of premiership midcourter Gemma Scott, who is back after a couple of seasons away from the playing court, and will lend valuable experience to a young group.
Dingwall is excited to see what Milly Saville can do given an extended run in A-grade after playing a handful of games late last season and being the Bulldogs' leading votegetter in the league's best and fairest in B-grade.
"Finals is definitely our goal," she said.
"Consistency and accuracy in goals will be the key for us.
"There were some good signs last year. We played Mitiamo late in the season and we were up by three or so at half time, so we were certainly competitive.
"Getting some good people back and with a few younger girls making their way up, I'm pretty excited about the year."
Getting some good people back and with a few younger girls making their way up, I'm pretty excited about the year- Abbey Dingwall
With lots of well-known faces from around the league either taking a year off or having switched leagues, Dingwall is anticipating a more even than usual LVFNL season.
"I'm sure Mitiamo are going to be strong again, even if they have lost a few players," she said.
"But with a few clubs having lost players there's hope we can work our way back into the five."
The Bulldogs will have an interrupted start to the season, playing Bridgewater in round one before a bye in round two followed by a league-wide bye for Easter.
Their second game will be against the returning Bears Lagoon-Serpentine.
ROUND 1 - April 2
v Bridgewater (a)
ROUND 2 - April 9
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Marong (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Maiden Gully YCW (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Mitiamo (a)
ROUND 7 - May 21
v Calivil United (h)
ROUND 8 - May 28
v Newbridge (h)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Inglewood (a)
ROUND 10 - June 18
v Bridgewater (h)
ROUND 11 - June 25
ROUND 12 - July 2
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (a)
ROUND 13 - July 9
v Marong (h)
ROUND 14 - July 16
v Maiden Gully YCW (a)
ROUND 15 - July 23
v Mitiamo (h)
ROUND 16 - July 30
v Calivil United (a)
ROUND 17 - August 6
v Newbridge (a)
ROUND 18 - August 13
v Inglewood (h)
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