WHEN Alex Dicker took over the Shoalhaven United coaching position at the end of 2017, the Bears had just completed a four-win campaign.
Since then, Dicker's Bears have been gradually improving - so much so, they qualified for the minor semi-final last season, only to be eliminated by St Georges Basin.
"When I first started in 2018, it was about putting in place the building blocks for a new-look squad and playing style," Dicker said.
"Our focus was on promoting players from our youth teams to lift and challenge the guys in the lower grades in the short term with those same players potentially challenging for spots in first grade in the medium term.
"The fresh injection of youthful enthusiasm sparked a fire at the club and the younger players developed quicker than we could've imagined.
"After hitting our objectives in 2018, we were able to focus on going out and getting familiar with winning football games again in 2019.
"As such, I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished as a club last year.
"Not only did we manage to put together three teams but we were also ultra-competitive in all three grades - finishing in the top three across the board."
In just two seasons, Dicker is over the moon at the position the club is now in.
"We went from two lowly placed teams in 2017 to three finals teams in only two years," he said.
"A lot of credit must go to the players for having the belief and desire to turn it around.
"I couldn't be happier and I get the feeling at training the boys are prepared to step it up again this year."
To ensure their trajectory continues its upward trend, the Bears started pre-season training in February, which also included a number of trial matches.
"Our training numbers are through the roof and I think that is a lot to do with the newfound competition for spots and that desire to improve, which I'm extremely pleased with," he said.
Highlighting this depth are the additions of Jason Button, Thomas Ireland Watson, Conor Devereux and Dean Atkinson, while also welcoming back Ryan Miller, who ruptured his achilles in round one last season.
"We are expecting to see a much more solid unit defensively this year which is something we identified as a weakness in all three of our grades last season," Dicker said.
"If we can work hard on that aspect of our game, it will round out our teams."
On the flip side, Dicker knows where the strength of his squad, who have lost Harry Temple and Mitch Harding, lies.
"Our attacking players were among the most lethal in the competition last year, scoring an unmatched 183 goals in 58 games," he said.
"With Ryan Miller back and the constant improvement of young attackers such as Luke Kellett and Ryan Rigg, I can only see this continuing in 2020."
Unfortunately for the Bears and the rest of the Shoalhaven District Football Association competition, the start of this year's season has been delayed due to the coronavirus epidemic.
"This is an unprecedented event which means, as coaches, we have to try and be innovative and think on our feet," he said.
"I will be taking the opportunity to use technology to keep in touch with the players and provide them the resources to stay fit, healthy and raring to go."
When play does resume, which won't be before April 14, Dicker can't see any reason why his team can't go all the way in 2020.
"We believe we had the better of that semi-final [against St Georges Basin] and we can't wait to get another crack at it," he said.
"Winning is embedded in the United culture and so the loss wasn't taken lightly.
"The feeling within the club at the moment is very much one of a family.
"It will be that connection and commitment to the club and each other that drives us one step further than anyone else."
As well as have their eyes set on winning the Blackmore Bolden Shield, Dicker's men are also still in the running for the FFA Cup, after defeating Bass Hill Rangers FC (5-3) in round two.
This means the Bears will host Picton Rangers FC in round three at Ison Park.
"The FFA Cup provides meaningful pre-season games with an intensity that is hard to match," he said.
"It's so much fun to be a part of on and off the field.
"We hope by bringing quality football teams to the Shoalhaven, we can push the sport to new heights in the area - the whole club enjoys being at the forefront of that."