SOME pundits believe Essendon Doutta Stars could be Strathmore Community Bank Premier Division’s finals bolter in 2019.
The Stars barely survived relegation last year, but the fact they went 3-3 to close out the year left everyone at Nipper Jordan Oval feeling upbeat heading into the summer break.
Ex-Bomber Kyle Hardingham is heading a new-look coaching group after serving as Pascoe Vale’s lead man for two seasons.
The 30-year-old is willing to embrace some of the outside hype surrounding his new club, but he won’t be drawn on whether finals is the target being set for his young playing group.
“It’s always good to be that team that everyone thinks might be a bolter but in our four walls, we know what work needs to be done,” Hardingham told essendondfl.com.au.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to finish in the top four or anything like that because that’d be putting a really high expectation on the group.
“We need to get a few things right first but if we can get the core of that right, then anything is possible.
“I do think the competition is levelling out a bit and I think it’s very even.
“Aberfeldie’s still going to be the team to beat but apart from them, I think it is going to level out and for us, if we can play the game style we want to play this year, then there’s no reason why we can’t push the top sides.”
The increased availability of key forward Alex Boyse this year will provide Douttas with increased potency in attack, while Hardingham himself and Patrick Brookes both add further layers to the Stars’ forward structure.
While the Stars did wave goodbye to a handful of senior regulars, Hardingham is feeling buoyant about the young list of emerging on-field leaders he has to work with.
“The foundations are obviously there with the core group that’s stayed together,” he said.
“You only have to look at the leadership group and they’re all a close bunch of mates that want to see Douttas succeed, so the foundations are there to become successful.
“We’ve just got to get the right pieces of the puzzle together and get it all working together.”
When asked about the brand of football he’d like to see his side implement this year, ruthlessness was the key theme Hardingham focused on.
“The overall brand for us is that we want to be a ruthless side that makes it very tough for the opposition to play the way they want to play,” Hardingham explained.
“I think we have a core group of players that are exciting, and we really want to get that exciting brand and ball movement out of those guys.
“But it’s more that ruthless attitude of just making sure that any team that plays Douttas knows they’re going to get a ferocious opponent that’s going to make them work for a win, basically.”
In: Kyle Hardingham (midfielder/senior coach, Pascoe Vale), Alex Johnson (midfielder, Coburg Districts), Campbell Wearne (midfielder, Morningside), Ivan Pavlovic (defender, St Bernards) & Patrick Brookes (forward, St Bernards)
Out: Cleve Hughes (Milawa), Will Kett (East Keilor), Luke Booth (Old Eltham Collegians), Nathan Karuzo (St Bernards), Josh Blake (Banyule), Ben Caluzzi (East Keilor) & Lachie Mitchell (Kambalda)