MILTON-Ulladulla Bulldogs coach Brenden Fernley will be the first to admit that the 2018 Group Seven season took its toll on him – saying he was a ‘broken man’ by the end of it.
After pouring his heart and soul into his first season at Bill Andriske Oval, injuries to more than 60 per cent of the first grade playing group quickly derailed the Bulldogs’ season, seeing them once again miss out on the finals.
“There’s no doubting it was a tough end to last year, especially as we promised so much in the early rounds,” Fernley said.
“I know all teams get them but injuries to our key players halted our momentum and realistically derailed our finals chances – I honestly think we would have been pushing for a spot in the top five if not for the injuries.”
With this being the case, Fernley honestly didn’t think he’d be returning to the club – originally thinking a year off would ‘do him some good’.
Fast forward a couple of months and Fernley has rediscovered that hunger and has just signed on to coach the first grade men’s side next season.
This move signals that the club is once again heading in the right direction, despite its future looking quite shaky towards the end of the 2018 season.
“At the end of last season, there were rumours going around that the club might not be able to field a first grade side next season,” Fernley said.
“But a number of former players and juniors got wind of this and decided to come back and help the proud club return to its former glory – they still have pride in that Bulldogs jersey
“Those players also spoke to me and wanted me to be a part of their mission going forward, which is one of the main reasons I came back – having the players backing is massive to me.
“The town itself deserves a strong footy side and it would be devastating not to have a side in the top grade.
“Especially with such a strong junior base here at the club, we need somewhere for those juniors to strive to play for and first grade offers that.”
As such, Fernley is now excited for what next season could potentially entail.
“Last season, I had to start from scratch with a lot of the systems I wanted to put in place,” he said.
"But this season, with a number of last season’s players returning, as well other junior products who have played at a high level coming in, we should be on the same page from day one.
“I won’t have to do as much football coaching but rather work on combinations and polish up our plays.
“The main thing is that everyone is buying into the commitment and sacrifice needed to succeed in this competition.”
Now that Fernley is on board, the next couple of weeks are big for the club, starting with their club barbecue at Mollymook Oval this Saturday from 1pm.
“The next two weeks are massive for the club and we have a lot of work to do,” Fernley said.
“It’s an exciting time and if we can get all the players that we want on board, we are going to have strong depth – which should help across all the men’s grades.
“All the returning players could be in for a rude shock, because I know this year is going to be another step up, which is what the club needs to achieve the success it wants to.”
While Fernley said official pre-season training won’t start until the new year, he has got most of his troops on specialised weight programs for the gym.
As well as doing their own workouts, the players have being doing their bit for the community, running seafood raffles.
“The Bulldogs are such an integral part of the community down here – I know everyone wants to see them succeed,” Fernley said.
“I’m excited for what lies ahead and I hope all the players are ready to rip in."
As well as Fernley returning for 2019, Mick Hampson is once again the club president – being voted in at the club’s recent AGM
Hampson will be supported by senior vice-president Adam Woodward, junior vice-president Adam Tracey, secretary Sharon Dowton, treasurer, Sue Hensley and vice-treasurer Sue Whitford.
Other members of the committee are Kirra Dowing (social media and registrar) and Cheyanne Hatch (social media) and Toni Conlon (registrar) with Sandra Woodward, Graeme Martin, Dean Jones, Jamie Jones, Cohen Smith and Greg Cassin all on the general committee.