North Heidelberg coach Jimmy House believes the momentum and excitement his side has generated will be a positive during the Northern Football Netball League Division 1 finals series.
The Bulldogs produced a history-making home and away season, finishing in third place on the ladder to become the first reigning Division 2 premiership to play Division 1 finals.
House said he was proud of the Bulldogs’ achievements so far but was hopeful of creating more history in the finals.
“The first message that I want to get across is that this is no reflection on me as a coach, it’s been the effort of the side that has gotten us this far,” House told The Northerner.
“The footy club is loving the position it’s in. It’s really embracing what we have achieved.
“It’s a long time between drinks (reaching Division 1 finals) but we are looking forward to it – we can’t wait.”
After a slow start, North Heidelberg has had an incredible run in the lead up to finals, winning nine of the last ten matches to head into September full of confidence.
House believes the adjustments made in pre-season training were vital to helping North Heidelberg flourish in the top flight.
“There’s probably a number of factors for building our culture but I put it down to the message over the summer. We wanted to take the boys and the club out of their comfort zone,” he said.
“I think anyone that wants to challenge themselves and drive their standards higher needs to remove themselves from their comfort zone.
“We weren’t reinventing the wheel, we were just slightly tweaking some things.
“Don’t be comfortable with what the expected will be, let’s be better. That was the message and that is what has helped us over the last few months.”
North Heidelberg takes on West Preston-Lakeside in the qualifying final at Preston City Oval on Saturday.
The Roosters had the better of the Bulldogs in Round 3 with a 42-point victory, but the tables were turned in Round 11 with the Bulldogs recording a nine-point win at J.E. Moore Park.
With both sides boasting star-studded forward lines, House believes it will be a match decided inside the 50m arcs.
“They score pretty heavily so our back six are going to have to be on pretty early,” he said.
“I don’t think a side against them has kicked 100 points this year so their defence stacks up as well, which means it’s going to be about getting the balance right between the offence and the defence.
“I think the weather is supposed to be pretty ordinary on Saturday, but we’ll just make sure that we get our match ups right and make sure that we are ready for the contest.
North Heidelberg lost its first game since Round 8 in the final round when it went down to Bundoora by seven points at Yulong Reserve. With a top-three spot already sewn up, the Bulldogs were able to manage some players to maintain a healthy side coming into the finals.
“If you look at our side coming into the weekend, Brent [Harvey] didn’t play and Kyle McDonald didn’t play, who are two of my top five midfielders,” he said.
“We made a tough call on the weekend to rest those players and put in a side that gave us the best opportunity to play a finals-like game when we played Bundoora.
“I took many of my midfield and a few others off in the last quarter and we made one interchange rotation for the whole last quarter so that allows us to go into this weekend being as fresh as can be.”
North Heidelberg has been wonderfully served by its star players this year, such as the Harvey brothers, Liam Hunt, Jesse Tardio, Michael Florance and Leigh Gilbert.
However, House lauded the efforts his more inexperienced players have provided throughout the season and feels they will play a key role in North Heidelberg’s quest for success.
“The five or six kids that played in last year’s side like [Liam] Nunan, [Mitchell] Dillon, Jackson Jones, Kyle Green, Liam McLeod, Nick Matthews – the younger brigade, they have been sensational this year. They’ve allowed the club to have depth,” he said.
“Looking at our reserves side on the weekend, we have one player that’s 24 and the rest are 22 and 23-year-olds that are knocking on the door.
“The future has never been brighter at North Heidelberg.”