The Western Bulldogs coach, Brendan McCartney, says his players have a long summer of training ahead but Sunday's encouraging performance against Geelong showed the club was on the right track.
McCartney said the Dogs took the Cats on during Sunday's 34-point loss at Skilled Stadium with an intensity and style supporters should expect more of next year, after the club's large crop of young players get through another pre-season.
It has been a bleak second half of the year for the Dogs, having lost their last 10 matches, but there were glimpses against the reigning premiers of what McCartney's men are capable of, at one stage pulling to within 15 points in the last quarter.
The Dogs spoke straight after the loss about the importance of ending the club's losing streak in this weekend's final-round interstate test against the Brisbane Lions, and going into the pre-season with belief.
"We started to look on Sunday the way we want to look, and we haven't been able to do that for more than 40 or 50 minutes," McCartney said.
"We saw people coming off their opponents and helping each other in the air, we were stronger around the ball and a bit of belief came back with people prepared to take the game on."
McCartney, the former Essendon assistant, said his first season as a senior coach had been a challenging year but he saw nothing to suggest the club should divert from its long-term strategy of patiently developing its young players.
He said the club would not be aggressive during trade week, instead going to the draft to find more youngsters to fit the team's game plan, which has a heavy emphasis on winning contested ball.
The Dogs were put through a gruelling pre-season focused on contested ball last summer and McCartney said the players should expect more of the same.
"We've done a lot right and we've got some things that we know we've got to get better at," he said.
"We know we've got a long summer of work ahead of us. We've got to be really diligent through the trade and draft period to bolster our list and continue to build a program that gives our players the best opportunity to grow.
"We firmly believe that we have enough talent here and we have the right type of people in the young group that are learning a lot off our experienced players.
"We just need to continue to work hard through another summer of conditioning and training and game education and get into next year and go as hard as we can."
McCartney said injury-plagued midfielder Adam Cooney pulled up well from his impressive 28-disposal game against the Cats, and the Dogs were keen to see him repeat the effort against the Lions.
The Dogs have won five games, four of which came in the first four rounds and the last of which came in round 12, but disastrous second-half fadeouts have taken the gloss off what was shaping up as a promising season.
They can overtake Port Adelaide and finish in 14th spot if they knock off the 13th-placed Lions and the Power lose their last game against Richmond at the MCG.
McCartney said he thought the club's first half of the season deserved a pass mark, but he did not believe the year should be judged on wins and losses.
"We have probably put ourselves in a position to maybe win another two games than we have and weren't able to do that, so I think that is probably where it sits," he said.
"What has been a tick is that we have shown we are going to be a pretty good contested ball team.
"We've got an enormous amount of growth still to go defensively, but when we do those areas both at the level we should do them at, we score OK.
"We have seen nine youngsters come into the team and all contribute this year. So it probably tells us we are doing a fair bit right."