LEITCHVILLE-GUNBOWER’S premiership triumph on Saturday was one of, if not the local sporting moment of the year.
The storylines were tantalising — LG seeking revenge, North Bendigo looking for a third straight title, and the fierce rivalry that has developed between the Heathcote and District league’s best two clubs.
The game lived up to the occasion, although the Bombers always seemed somewhat in control of the contest without kicking away, saving a burst for the final quarter to put the game to bed.
It’s hard to say if it’s worse to lose in a grand final or simply lose all season and not make finals, but you’d have to think no team has suffered as much heartbreak as LG in the previous two seasons, with grand final losses of 10 and 20 points.
There was a sense of relief for some Bombers just as much as elation after the final siren. The nine players that played in the two previous deciders were spared the blushes of a third straight heartbreaking loss against the same opponent.
A fiery contest was expected; a back and forth between coaches in the lead-up regarding the perceived targeting of LG big man Michael Pilcher only adding fuel to an already burning rivalry.
The suggestion from the Bombers’ camp that Pilcher had been deliberately worked over physically in the semi-final between the two teams before receiving a corked thigh that eventually ruled him out of the grand final was not taken kindly by North coach Rob Bennett, who took the accusation as a personal attack on both him and his players.
Encounters between the sides have been physical, Hawken suggesting his younger players had received a lesson in borderline-legal play from the Bulldogs in the away trip to North Bendigo earlier in the season.
But neither this rivalry, nor the grand final, is defined by violent play but by the competition and respect between the sides.
Both teams realise how strong the other is and bring the best football out of the other. This is surely one of the many reasons why the LG triumph was so meaningful.
The emotion of the players and coaches was on full show at the final siren. And nobody was more emotional than the loyal Hoby Bussey, who after nine years at the club finally tasted the ultimate success.
Mainstays like Steve Pretty and Lee Pollock also had earned the reward as had Daniel Couwenberg, Matt Perri and Tim Lincoln, the trio just some of the 2015 inclusions coinciding with the young club’s most successful period.
They also pin-pointed what was needed in recruiting when addressing the 2016 grand final loss — on-field leadership.
Pilcher was brought in as an assistant coach and was crucial in getting the Bombers back to the big dance, while Matt Pollock and Joel Donehue both came across from Echuca, coaching the club’s under 17s to a grand final win as well as bringing leadership to the seniors.
Premierships can be deserved — no club deserved a premiership more than LG — but it’s more about earning them and working hard for it, exactly why the Bombers were able to break through this season.
The players and coaches spoke of what it meant to the two towns, as well as committee members, families and supporters. It was clear they realised the importance of the premiership, and rose to the occasion as a result.