A successful recruiting campaign, a high retention rate of players and improved fitness levels - everything points towards Castlemaine improving in 2022.
Considering the club hasn't won a senior game in four years you'd be worried if there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Coach Don Moran is adamant that there's more than a glimmer of light emanating out of Camp Reserve.
The 1992 premiership player with the Pies is not expecting finals in 2022, but he expects a marked improvement and dare he say it a "win".
"I'd be seriously disappointed (if we don't win at least one game this year),'' Moran said.
"We're trying to build this football club and change the culture that you can just turn up on a Saturday and pull on your boots and jumper and play.
"We have a list of about 30 players that could play senior footy this year. We're not in a position where we are scrapping to fill the last two senior spots each Saturday.
"If we don't reduce our margins and/or get a win on the board then I'll probably be looking for a new job.
"Apart from the Strathfieldsaye game last year I thought we were pretty competitive.
"The games blew out in quarters for us last year. This year we want to be still in the mix late in games.
"If we can do that, you increase your chances of winning some games of footy."
The Pies improvement starts with its recruiting of largely home grown talent.
Strathfieldsaye premiership player Bailey Henderson headlines the additions, while exciting key forward Zac Denahy also returns.
Former club captain Zac Hansford is back at the Camp Reserve as is ball magnet midfielder Tommy Horne.
Tom Kane, Kaleb McBride, Brendan Josey and Mark Noonan are other former Castlemaine players who have returned to their home club, while Tyson Hickey and Dylan Hickey join the Pies from Sea Lake Nandaly.
Henderson's availability hinges on his commitments with Richmond in the VFL.
"Bailey played across half-forward in an intra-club game and really dominated,'' Moran said.
"I know that was only a game against our kids, but he's super fit and ready to go.
"When he's available he's going to be super for us. Bailey can clunk it in the air, but he's very good on the ground as well.
"His ability to break the lines is going to be awesome for us."
When Henderson does play forward alongside Denahy the Pies have a potent one-two punch that they haven't had for a long time.
"Zac can play either end of the ground,'' Moran said.
"Right now, our focus with him is to play as a key forward, but he could play down back, in the ruck or even as a bigger midfielder.
"Zac is a really versatile player."
The recruits will benefit the Pies' impressive young players - Brodie Byrne, Callum McConachy, Will Moran, Declan Slingo and Jack Chester - who had to carry a big load in 2021, particularly through the middle of the ground.
"Rather than having an average age of 19 through the midfield we've got some older and more experienced bigger bodies in there,'' Moran said.
"They'll help the young boys out and I'm really looking forward to seeing what the growth of our young players is like."
Moran said Horne and Hansford's return to the club shouldn't be understated.
"Tommy has been fantastic and he hasn't missed a beat during the pre-season,'' Moran said.
"He reads the ball so well and just knows how to find the footy.
"He's going to be one to watch, purely on the amount of work he has put in.
"We'll ease Zac in. He's missed some footy and is coming off a couple of operations.
"We'll probably look to play him behind the ball. The main thing is it's great to have Zac back involved at the club."
Coaches: Fiona Fowler and Gary Cooke.
Placing when season ended last year: Did not field an A-grade team.
Arrivals: Fiona Fowler, Kelsie Rainbow, Maddy Vaughan, Maddie Carter, Emma Webb, Jane O'Donohue, Caitlyn Richardson, Zoe Douglass, Taylah Sartori, Abbey Grindal, Bridie Semmens, Brianna Pedretti.
Last A-grade premiership: Never won an A-grade flag.
Summary: Back in A-grade for the first time since 2017 and well-armed with high-level talent, Castlemaine is intent on making a powerful instant impact.
Just like Kangaroo Flat last year following a fruitful and high-profile recruiting campaign, the Magpies have been the talk of Bendigo region netball, with few, if any, involved in the game expecting anything but a highly successful return.
The Magpies made a giant splash early with the signing of former Super Netball star Fiona Fowler and former multiple-premiership winning coach from Hepburn Gary Cooke as coaches.
The pair made it clear from day one that their intention was to win games and win often.
They were quick to announce a star-studded cast of recruits with elite-level experience, led by former NSW Swifts goaler Mikaela Vaughan, current Melbourne Vixens Academy member Kelsie Rainbow and former Australian Netball League and Victorian Netball League premiership player Maddie Carter.
If the intention was to make the rest of the league sit up and take notice it worked, with plenty of eyes on what came next.
"The feedback I am getting from players is very positive and they can't wait to get the season started.- Fiona Fowler
Fowler - who is due to give birth to her and partner Jack's second child in the coming weeks and will have a delayed start to the season as a player - and Cooke have assembled a formidable array of young and experienced talent on top of their high-profile signings.
They include star former Kyneton midcourter Emma Webb, Caitlin Richardson, who finished runner-up in the Maryborough Castlemaine District league's A-grade best and fairest last season as a 17-year-old, and former Golden Square defender Zoe Douglass, who is based in Castlemaine.
Importantly, for a club attempting to reconnect with its grassroots, the Magpies have been able to lure back former Castlemaine juniors Bridie Semmens, Taylah Sartori and Brianna Pedretti following stints elsewhere.
The massive recruiting spree has generated plenty of enthusiasm around Castlemaine, says Fowler.
"We haven't even started the season yet, but I can feel the culture and the excitement the girls who have been at the club in recent years are feeling by having Gary and myself and all of these new players come to training," she said.
"The feedback I am getting from players is very positive and they can't wait to get the season started.
"Hopefully we are successful in all grades, but just being able to field all grades is really exciting.
"It starts with the juniors."
ROUND 1 - April 9
ROUND 2 - April 15
ROUND 3 - April 23
ROUND 4 - April 30
ROUND 5 - May 7
South Bendigo (a)
ROUND 6 - May 14
Kangaroo Flat (h)
ROUND 7 - May 28
Golden Square (a)
ROUND 8 - June 4
ROUND 9 - June 11
ROUND 10 - June 18
ROUND 11 - June 25
ROUND 12 - July 9
ROUND 13 - July 16
ROUND 14 - July 23
South Bendigo (h)
ROUND 15 - July 30
Kangaroo Flat (a)
ROUND 16 - August 6
Golden Square (h)
ROUND 17 - August 13
ROUND 18 - August 20
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