ALTHOUGH they didn't quite reach the heights they'd hoped to before the season began, the Horsham Saints can walk away from season 2021 with their heads held high.
Coach David Johns, in his first year at the helm of the Saints, said that the Saints had aimed to reach the top three, but in a shortened season filled with COVID-19 shaped potholes, there are plenty of positives for Coughlin Park's finest.
"The best thing that we've been able to do is play a lot of young guys who haven't had senior experience before," he said.
"We've had six or seven first game players this year, which includes four under seventeens. If we can hold onto those guys, if they don't go away to uni, it gives us really good building blocks over the next two to three years."
The Saints finished the season in fourth place, having notched impressive wins over Stawell, the Southern Mallee Giants and even led ladder-leaders Minyip-Murtoa at half time.
Johns recalled a difficult three game stretch as being the highlight of the season.
"The three games in a row where we played Dimboola, the Giants and Stawell, and they were all above us on the top of the ladder," Johns said.
"We were two wins and three losses at that stage of the season, and for us to win three games on the trot despite some injuries through that period was really exceptional."
However, close losses to Dimboola in round one and Ararat in rounds six and 15 cost the Saints the chance to finish higher on the ladder.
"The two losses to Ararat this year probably been their most disappointing moments that' have cost us a chance to finish in the top three, which was our goal at the start of the year," Johns said.
"We just need to work on consistency, which has been hard this year, obviously due to the COVID interruptions throughout. But I think all clubs have struggled with that.
"But like all teams, if you can bring your best game footy every weekend, you're going okay.
"That's where with the young guys, you do get a lot of fluctuation. I think that's probably something we just need to work on over the pre-season."
Johns said he was impressed with how well the younger players stepped up to the demands of senior football across the season.
"All the younger guys have been impressive; they listen, they try to implement what we're trying to do as a team and their growth from where we started in round one has been great.
"They've all started to mature really well."
The new blood in the Saints' side was bolstered by impressive campaigns by some seasoned players.
"Watching Angus Martin every week has been great. He's just a real competitive beast where he just hates getting beaten and he's ability to turn a game with his effort has been really good to watch," Johns said.
"Jacob O'Beirne has also been really good, from a leadership point of view. He's our captain, and he leads from the front with his actions out on the oval."
A memorable moment for O'Beirne was a goal of the year contender, a reverse banana from deep in the pocket against Dimboola in round 10.
However, despite some individual moments Johns said it was the team effort that he was most proud of.
"It's really satisfying from where we're not relying on one or two players to win us games. That says a lot for our team structures and the way we play the game," he said.
"As a side they dig deep together, they do it as one instead of relying or on or two players."
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