‘‘DO YOU want to leave a legacy?’’
Leitchville-Gunbower coach Matt Hawken’s powerful question was one sentence in a long three-quarter-time address, but it spoke volumes as his side looked to seal only the club’s second Heathcote and District Football League premiership.
Fierce rival North Bendigo was on the ropes at the final break, down 18 points but still hanging on for dear life.
Hawken’s challenge to the playing group was simple; seize the moment, end two years of heartbreak after consecutive grand final losses to North and become a part of Bombers’ history.
And it did exactly that, the intensity hot to start the final stanza at Huntly’s Specialist Breeders Australia Oval as Daniel Coates capitalised with two huge goals to largely break the Bulldogs’ spirit.
The reigning champions kept fighting but couldn’t break down the stubborn LG defence, which held up superbly all day to shut down a brilliant forward line.
When Luke Sevior goaled late in the contest, the Bulldogs were officially broken, and the Bombers had sealed their breakthrough premiership.
Emotions were high after the match, the club’s loyal players finally having a chance to lift the silverware.
Hawken said the team-wide effort with an emphasis on youth had got the team across the line.
‘‘It’s elation. The group’s worked really hard over a number of years and with a couple of runners-up’s, it’s great reward for them today,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s 10 or 11 guys who haven’t played in those losses and they all brought a bit in. Matty Ladson was one of them but there’s a couple of kids like Logan Prout and Brady Hore.
‘‘They were running hard those 17 and 18-year-old kids. They took the game on and we backed youth and backed speed, and as the game wore on they really stretched it.’’
He said the period directly after three-quarter-time showed the group’s ability to rise to the occasion, and desire to bring a premiership back to Leitchville-Gunbower.
‘‘We were full of running. We still missed a couple of opportunities but we were hungry,’’ Hawken said.
‘‘We gained that momentum on the back of Coates’ goal, and we really felt like we generated some good momentum throughout.
‘‘It was similar to just before half-time when we got some good momentum our way. North came again at us and we missed a couple again in the third and we couldn’t quite put them away, but five or six minutes into the last quarter we had them really on the ropes.’’
The Bombers came out hot, imposing themselves on the contest right around the ground as star forward Matthew Perri kicked the first three of the game.
He entered the game with 118 goals for the season but they were almost meaningless in comparison to his massive six-goal haul in the decider, his lead-up play and finishing ability particularly in the first half huge in LG gaining the ascendancy.
LG led by four points at quarter-time, but trailed late in the second quarter before Tim Lincoln kicked two goals and the influential Mitch Bruns one to pinch a 16-point gap at the main break.
‘‘Momentum swung a bit and it was back and forth but probably that patch before half-time was pretty important,’’ Hawken said.
‘‘A couple of the mids got their hands on it a bit and I thought our forwards really were able to take their defenders outside of their comfort zone.
‘‘Our forwards really lead up, Joel Donehue played a really strong game, and everything we worked on worked pretty well.’’
LG had contributions across the board; Lincoln won the AFL Victoria Country medal for his best-on-ground performance, but Jackson McEwen, Prout, captain Daniel Couwenberg, Bruns and Ladson were all phenomenal as the Bombers defied their underdog status.
Hawken said beating North Bendigo and avoiding a third consecutive grand final defeat meant more than beating any other side.
‘‘They’ve been here five of the last six years so to beat them is really significant,’’ he said.
‘‘They’re really strong opposition, and everyone probably wondered how much they’d win the grand final by at the start of the season but we worked our way back into it and got the result.’’
LG addressed on-field leadership as a problem in the previous grand final defeats, but wherever you looked yesterday the Bombers had leaders, Couwenberg, Lee Pollock, Ryan Prendergast and Hoby Bussey crucial in keeping the team composed.
For North Bendigo, Brady Herdman was superb with four goals, at times the only real threat the Bulldogs had going forward.
Rhys Ford took his chances with four goals, while Cheatley Medallist Jarrod Findlay led the way in the middle.
Earlier in the day LG’s under 17 side took down Lockington-Bamawm United to win the premiership.
The teams were tied at three-quarter-time before the Bombers piled on five goals in the last quarter to break away for a 21-point win, 8.12 (60) to 5.9 (39).