By Josh Ward.

It was a strong 2022 for the South Croydon Football Club and they’ll be looking to build on that this coming season.

The men’s side made it four consecutive finals appearances last year off the back of winning their last six games of the regular season at home. Winning their first two finals they would then fall to eventual premiers Noble Park in the Preliminary Final.

Marcus Buzaglo will be at the helm for his third season at Cheong Park, recently saying that there was plenty of excitement amongst the playing group ahead of their clash this weekend against local rivals East Ringwood.

“I said to our guys last (Tuesday) night Round 1 is exciting no matter what year it is, we’re looking forward to it,” Buzaglo said.

“We learnt last year that if you don’t finish top two in this comp it’s very tough to get the job done at the end of the year. We can’t afford any slip-ups early on, every game’s important”.

Majority of the senior playing group has signed on, however the Bulldogs will be without star defender Nic Evans who has gone travelling whilst other names such as Jason Want and Samuel Allen have also departed.

“You’ve always got some changes around your list, that happens every year, it’s just a general transition of players, but we’re excited about what we’ve brought in.

“Matt George, Brandon Wood, Devon McKernan who’s a really good young player from Mooroolbark who wanted to test himself at the higher level, he’s a really good chance to play Round 1. (We’ve also) got a couple of ruckmen from Port Melbourne.”

Whilst the Port Melbourne listed players in Tom Hofert and Paul Hunter will be predominantly focused on the Borough, Buzaglo added that they were excited about potentially playing with the Bulldogs this season.

“We chat with them regularly and they’re looking forward to playing (with us) when they can, but we haven’t seen a lot of them yet.”

Wood comes in off the back of a couple of years away from footy as well as with experience on VFL lists.

“He’s come back with a real hunger. The first few sessions you could tell he hadn’t played for a little while, but he’s built over the preseason, he’s managed his loads through the practice match period.

“If you look at our final against Noble Park we were beaten around the ball a little bit and he’ll certainly help us around that area.”

Matt George also comes across from divisional rivals Park Orchards, with Buzaglo saying that he had slotted right into the playing group.

“He’s learning to fit into a different system and he’s done that. He’s fit, he’s strong, he’s a real competitor, kicks the footy well, he suits the way we play.”

Buzaglo has also been impressed by the efforts of McKernan in preseason, with the ex-Mustang coming off 14 senior games for them last season.

“We played him in a variety of roles over the practice match period just to have a look and see what role suits him and us and he’s taken on every role really well.”

There are also some younger players from South Croydon that could be set for big seasons too, including ex-Eastern Ranges prospect Mason Helleren

“Mason Helleren was at Ranges last year and surprisingly wasn’t picked up by a VFL club. I think he’ll have one really good year with us and I’d be surprised if that doesn’t happen in the near future, he’s like a new recruit for us.”

Despite Premier Division being as even as ever this season, Buzaglo believes that his side can be right up there come the end of the season.

“We still believe our best footy marries up. We saw last year there’s always gonna be challenges presented to every side, it’s how you overcome those challenges.

“Injuries play a part, you need some luck at the right time. But we’re here to win a flag, we’ve got guys who haven’t tasted that yet and are really hungry to do so, certain guys that have and want to do it again.”

Meanwhile the Bulldogs women’s program continues to go from strength-to-strength. Finishing in third in Premier A, the side would go on to win their first two finals to make a Grand Final appearance before falling to the Eastern Devils on the big day.

Premier Division Team of the Year coach Simon Hammersley will lead the senior side once again this season. Hammersley recently said that it’ll be a different looking Bulldogs side come Round 1.

“We’ve got about 10-11 players that played on Grand Final day last year that are not gonna be playing footy this year, which is a bit of a void to fill,” Hammersley said.

“It’s been a bit of a different offseason but we have managed along the journey to find some new ones or they’ve found us.”

Majority of the core has signed on, however they will be without the majority of their defensive unit from last year.

“The backline is on a European Vacation. We’ve lost a lot from defence, they’re all travelling which you can’t knock them for, it’s been a tough few years so they’re taking the opportunity to go and do something different.

“We’ve got a couple having babies as well. Yeah it’s gonna be a different look for us this coming season.”

Amongst those signings include ex-Collingwood VFLW player Kara Colborne-Veel, Vermont star Amy Whittle, former Blackburn player Loz Sorono, Wantirna South junior Haylee Brebner, Carlton VFLW-listed player Amy Malander plus Heidi Sandlier from Ringwood.

“It’s great to have good, quality people come and join the team. Our list is not really a young list, our junior club is still a couple of years away from seeing bulk numbers out of there transition to senior footy, a lot of the group has been playing for a few years.

“They’re getting there on their own but we always welcome good quality people to the footy club…

“We’re trying to get our club to (also) be more of a transitional space for players that are trying to push through and get to higher level footy and the ones that are coming back the other way that want a good home to play their footy at a club.”

One player that will take the leap from the EFNL and VFLW is Maggie McKellar who signed on at Port Melbourne this offseason, joining Jamie-Lee Morrow (Essendon) and Amy Malander (Carlton) on VFLW lists.

Whilst all three have had their commitments at their VFLW clubs Hammersley added that when they’ve come down they’ve had a major impact on the playing group.

“They tend to turn up, they don’t do a lot of training with the group outside of what the VFLW commitments are, they train two or three times a week.

“But they quite frequently turn up to training, hang out, have a chat…it’s great to have them around and great for them to get that experience and bring some of that back to club level for us.”

Despite the change the side will go through as well as the change into one Premier Division, Hammersley said that his side can build into the season and push for finals once again.

“I don’t think anyone’s gonna see us do our best work early for various reasons, it’s a new look personnel wise and some of them have been in other places through preseason so we’re getting the band together for Round 1.

“It’s probably gonna take a little while to get back to our best and to where we were last year.”