Depth and flexibility are the two key ingredients Gisborne coach Rob Waters searched for in the off-season.
With added depth and flexibility comes options that Waters hoped would make his Bulldogs a better side in 2022.
The return of Jaidyn Owen and addition of Dan Davie gives the Bulldogs more strength in their key position posts.
Owen is likely to play most of his footy at centre half-back, while Davie will play inside forward 50 alongside star goalkicker Pat McKenna and Jack Scanlon.
Waters revealed that the extra marking option inside 50 could open the door for McKenna to spend more time through the midfield.
"The versatility is really important for us,'' Waters said.
"In our intra-clubs and trials we've thrown Pat around the ball a bit just to free him up a bit.
"When he's in the forward line all the time he has to compete against three defenders.
"Having Scanlon and Davie in the forward line could allow Pat to get up the ground and enjoy his footy even more.
"He'd be a tough match-up in the midfield."
McKenna has again been appointed captain of the Bulldogs, with full-back Jack Reaper his deputy.
The Bulldogs' perceived weakness in 2021 was the ruck.
They haven't recruited a number one ruckman, but Waters was not concerned.
"Benny Eales has had a tremendous pre-season...I think he's only played eight senior games,'' Waters said.
"Braidon Blake will go through the ruck and we have Dan Davie that can go into the ruck as well.
"You have to have versatility and options because you just don't know what's going to happen with injuries.
"We played 43 players in the seniors last year and you can't plan for that... depth and flexibility is so important - right across the ground."
Waters said the wave of young talent coming through the senior group was exciting for the club.
"Our improvement will come from within,'' he said.
"Three young kids who made their debut last year - Harry Thomas, Matt Merrett and Jake Normington - have really stepped up and (former Bendigo Pioneer) Luke Eelings is playing good footy.
"Our older blokes are only 24, so our middle-tier players like Sam Graham, Liam Spear, Mack Lord and Seb Bell-Bartels are flying at the moment. They're the up-and-comers for us."
Two more talented youngsters - Flynn Lakey (Box Hill) and Josh Kemp (Coburg) - are VFL-aligned players.
The group of young midfielders offset the departure of inter-league representative Jake O'Brien.
From the outside it appears the Bulldogs have all bases covered, but the experienced Waters was quick to hose down expectations.
"It's really hard to be too confident because at this time of year you really don't know how good the opposition is going to be,'' Waters said.
"Look at the AFL ladder right now, there's teams at the top that no-one thought had any chance.
"Everyone seems like they've picked up and I haven't watched an opposition team play yet.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint, so we'd like to think we can qualify for the top five, but how high we can get in the top five we'll just have to wait and see."
Coach: Tarryn Rymer.
Placing when season ended last year: Third.
Arrivals: Claudia Mawson, Kirby Elliott.
Departures: Clare Vearing, Tazma Morris.
Last A-grade premiership: 2013.
SINCE winning its one and only BFNL A-grade premiership in 2013, Gisborne has never been far away from a spot in the league's top-three.
But years of success in the period afterward have yielded just one further grand final appearance in 2018, when the Bulldogs went down to Sandhurst in extra time.
And despite their fair share of success during the home and away season against fellow powerhouses Sandhurst and Kangaroo Flat in recent years, the Bulldogs have been unable to find a way past both at finals times.
With both the Dragons and Roos shaping as equally as strong as the past two seasons and a new contender emerging in Castlemaine, Gisborne has not laid idle and has made a pair of significant moves to strengthen an already talent-ladened line-up.
The Bulldogs figure to have one of the recruits of the season in Melbourne University Lightning VNL goal attack and Melbourne Vixens Academy player Claudia Mawson.
Formerly from Echuca, Mawson - a Victorian Fury squad member last season - has excelled during the Bulldogs' practice matches and brings with her plenty of big match experience, despite still only being 20.
Equally exciting for reappointed coach Tarryn Rymer is the arrival of young goal defence Kirby Elliott, from Riddell.
The energetic and enthusiastic youngster won the Riddell District league's Rising Star award in 2019 and will be a classy addition to a brilliant Bulldogs defence featuring 2018 Betty Thompson Medal winner Maddy Stewart and fellow 2013 premiership player Polly Salter.
Rymer could not be excited with her high-profile signings.
"Kirby is a gun. She played at Riddell and we have somehow managed to get her over to Gisborne," she said.
"She just fits in beautifully with the girls and is a bit of workhouse and a perfectionist which we love at Gisborne.
"She's been really committed to her training and working hard, so we are excited to see what depth she brings to the squad.
"She can play circle defence and midcourt, which will give us plenty of flexibility across the court.
"And Claudia, she's amazing and such a lovely player. Her work rate is impeccable. She is one of those attackers who as soon as the ball is turned over is straight back into defence mode. It's awesome to watch.
"We have had two practice matches now (against Macedon and Seymour) and things are exciting.
"Seymour gave us a real nice hit-out - it was good to play someone different from away.
"We are loving all our squads at the moment, in particular A-grade. There's lots of depth in A-grade and A-reserve, so there's a really nice vibe down at Gisborne at the moment."
The departures are headed by former inter-league goal shooter Clare Vearing and Tazma Morris.
A slick and strong Bulldogs midcourt will again be led by dual Betty Thompson medallist Tiana Newman, who finished runner-up in the last league best and fairest count in 2019, and features a host of young guns in Holly Doricic, Emerson Lakey and Kiralee Collings.
A solid 2021 season included nine wins and a draw from 12 matches, with the Bulldogs the only team to take points away from Kangaroo Flat, with the two teams playing out an early-season draw.
Originally appointed at the start of 2020, Rymer is excited by what the new season will bring.
"The girls are fairly strong and things are working well," she said.
"We really wanted to strengthen our side and adding Claudia and Kirby does that.
"We're really happy with where we are at. Obviously, the girls, who play VNL, are back already and into it, so they're fit and ready."
In a boost for team connectivity, all three of the club's VNL players - Stewart, Mawson and Elliott - play at the one club.
Rymer is expecting Kangaroo Flat, Sandhurst and a rejuvenated Castlemaine to all be major contenders in 2022.
"It's going to be an exciting year," she said.
"A full season would be ideal, especially as a lot of players have given up a lot to play this season and last season, so it would be nice to have some sort of finish to the year.
"It's great to have Castlemaine back and for the league to have a bit more depth this year."
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Sandhurst (h)
ROUND 2 - April 15
v Kyneton (a) (n)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Castlemaine (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Maryborough (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Strathfieldsaye (a)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v South Bendigo (h)
ROUND 7 - May 28
Kangaroo Flat (a)
ROUND 8 - June 4
Golden Square (h)
ROUND 9 - June 11
ROUND 10 - June 18
ROUND 11 - June 25
ROUND 12 - July 9
ROUND 13 - July 16
ROUND 14 - July 23
ROUND 15 - July 30
South Bendigo (a)
ROUND 16 - August 6
Kangaroo Flat (h)
ROUND 17 - August 13
Golden Square (a)
ROUND 18 - August 20
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