Clay Smith in action in 2012
WESTERN Bulldogs youngster Clay Smith is adamant the club can defy its doubters and climb up the ladder in the 2013.
The Dogs won only five games last year, finishing15th, but Smith – a hard-nut midfielder who played 15 games in his debut season in 2012 – believes brighter days lie ahead.
"The public might not be expecting much from us, but everyone should take into account that we had a new coach and a new game plan last year, so it took a while for everything to come together," he told AFL.com.au.
"We got things right at times, but we couldn't pull it together for four quarters.
"We'd put it together for three quarters or three and a half sometimes, but being such a young team we weren't running out games properly.
"After getting another pre-season into us and learning a lot more about the way that Brendan McCartney wants us to play, I think we can improve a fair bit."
Smith has been buoyed by the arrival of fellow midfielders Koby Stevens and Nick Lower.
Stevens previously played 11 games with West Coast, while Lower played 20 matches for Port Adelaide and another 22 for Fremantle.
"They've had a really positive impact," Smith said. "I think they've slotted straight in well."
Smith and Stevens were close mates while growing up in Bairnsdale in Victoria's far east.
"I used to go up to their house probably every weekend," Smith said.
"His old man got my old man a job (at the Patties Bakery factory), and his old man was my coach in the under-14s and under-16s.
"So we've known each other for years."
Lower was one of Fremantle's best players in 2011, but he was held back by injuries last year.
"He's a genuinely good bloke," Smith said. "We knows he's going to give the club everything he's got.
"So we've had two really quality blokes come to the club."
Smith and his teammates have also been buoyed by the number of non-playing recruits that have arrived in recent times.
Ex-Geelong key position player Ben Graham, who is back in Victoria after a successful stint as a punter in the NFL, is among the new backroom staff.
In addition, the Dogs have new fitness coaches, while club legend Brad Johnson has returned as a part-time assistant coach.
"They're really putting a good core group of people around us, I guess, just to benefit us," Smith said.
"The more that they know, the more they can teach us, and the more it's going to help us on the field.
"I think they've got a lot of quality people that know a fair bit, and they're working real hard with us all.
"It's really good."
Adam McNicol covers Western Bulldogs news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_AdamMcNicol