The Positivity Files is The Standard's new mini series which celebrates the reasons Hampden league fans can be excited for their club's fortunes in 2022.
SO close, yet so far. Warrnambool's 2021 campaign was littered with challenges - a lack of a home ground potentially the biggest - and injuries to several key prospects at the wrong time.
Still, the Blues managed to finished sixth, just outside finals, but were three wins behind fifth-ranked Portland.
But next season should give those donning Navy Blue more reason to smile. Some minor adjustments and improvements could see Ben Parkinson's side back competing with the Hampden league's best in August and September.
Here's why Warrnambool supporters can feel optimistic about 2022.
Most clubs consider their youngsters to be a point of positivity but in Warrnambool's case, the fact several have managed serious senior game time in 2020 could be a godsend going forward.
Parkinson and his staff trusted youth when key veterans went down with injuries and they didn't disappoint.
"I think we played 13 or 14 guys for the first time in seniors and lot of them came through the junior system," Parkinson said.
"Benny Howard played every game, but you look at the back of the season and Theo Opperman got his opportunity and really impressed and held his position. A guy like Adam Sztynda, he came in very late in the season but his one per cent count through the games he played was like second for those games.
"I think he had nine tackles one game and seven or eight in the next. He doesn't have an overly strong build but he just puts himself in the right positions and has that work ethic to defend and do things like that and there's plenty of other good stories too."
Parkinson insists his young players will have opportunities to impress but won't be given senior games for the sake of it in 2022.
Instead, they'll need to keep showing their wares and earning it as they look to lock down a spot.
Warrnambool secured Deakin University's The Pond as its home ground in the absence of the under-renovation Reid Oval ahead of 2021 but the venue's muddy surface through winter meant administration and coaching staff needed to find alternate grounds to train and play towards the back of the campaign.
For 2022, the Blues will have access to a brand-spanking Reid Oval complete with a state-of-the-art playing surface. No more stress in searching for a venue and supporters will once again be able to watch their team play and train from the comfort of their clubrooms.
Warrnambool will be hoping a more settled environment on the track can equate to more consistency on Saturday.
"It'll be good to get some familiarity on where we're training and it'll just be a load off our minds," Parkinson said. "They won't have to look at our team page to find out where we're training and say 'oh, we're Monday-Wednesday this week boys, actually now we're Tuesday-Thursday. Then we get locked down, and we come out, it's just been really hard that way."
THE SPEARHEAD'S RETURN
Jason Rowan's serious shoulder injury in round three put a major dent in Warrnambool's ability to score as the prolific forward spent a large chunk of the season on the sidelines.
But a better-than-expected prognosis meant the legendary forward could return before the season was out. The Blues will be keen to see the natural goalkicker get a full run at it in 2022 as he works to fire Warrnambool back into finals contention.
Parkinson said while Warrnambool didn't expect Rowan, who is now 35, to kick 80 goals a season but knew the dynamic forward was still among the most dangerous in the league.
"He's obviously a really talented player. Getting injured in the first two minutes of round three isn't what you want for any player, let alone one of the key pillars of your side," he said.
"We didn't expect to kick 80 goals or anything like that but he has the potential to do that if we use the ball well.
"For him to only play five or six games - three at the start and three at the end of the season - and probably the early two games where we beat Hamilton and lost to Portland, I think he kicked six against the Kangaroos and that gives you a bit of promise." Rowan was sadly one of many Blues top-enders who missed a large chunk of the season through injury.
Darcy Graham was also hampered by an osteitis pubis flare up and only managed four games despite leading the club's fitness through the pre-season. Graham was returning from an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered while playing for NEAFL club Redland in late 2019.
Veteran Tim O'Keeffe (plantar fasciitis) only had three matches while Jordy Foott (hip) was only available from round eight onwards.
"Sam (Cowling) had a hamstring - which are going to happen - but missed three weeks as well. Those things are just going to happen," he said.
"Even Dan Weymouth, he played every game but he didn't train once after March but he has a tear in his hip that he's having surgery on that he's having surgery on in a couple of weeks.
"It's a huge job for him to get up and carry us every week in the ruck. Those sort of things all add up. If you're not training, you're pulling up sorer because you body isn't conditioned.
"Dan did a terrific job. He swam for most of the week and basically rehabbed himself all week to get ready for Saturday. There's lots of things in the background that people don't know what's going on that add up to our win-loss ratio.
"In saying that we did cough some games up through skill errors and the footy side of things as well."
THE NEW ADDITIONS
Parkinson expected new faces to add to the competition for spots which is building at the club.
While its unclear what calibre of player will join the 160-year-old club, the club could benefit from an out-and-out star to complement the wealth of top end talent it has already in Sam Cowling, Jackson Bell and Jye Turland.
"We don't want to be just finding guys all the time because we're injured, we're short or we're a bit light on," Parkinson said.
"As hard as it is for a coach you probably want to be omitting players from time-to-time because you've got people knocking on the door that have to be rewarded."
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.