AT HALF time of yesterday's Goulburn Valley League preliminary final, Echuca was in serious trouble.
The Shepparton Bears had all but taken away their lead, and while Echuca was able to get their hands on the ball as the contest became more heated, their forward entries broke down as they struggled to mark near the big sticks.
But it was Ruory Kirkby saving the day, and guiding Echuca to a six-point win.
Kirkby, a man playing just his fourth game in his beloved bottle green in the past two years, who along with Kane Morris, swung the game and sent the Murray Bombers back to the GVL grand final for the first time since 2003.
Kirkby dominated proceedings in the third term of the game, winning near every contest he could impact and booting three majors to give Echuca the lead at three-quarter-time, while Morris was a contested marking force across every line, regularly cutting off Shepparton's momentum.
"To think that five weeks ago he was playing in the reserves trying to work his way back in," Echuca co-coach Andrew Walker.
"His progression to come back and kick four and be a real focal point for us, it shows the resilience the bloke has. It's in his nature to show genuine fight, I wouldn't expect anything else from him.
"His football nouse, his forward craft is incredible. Any forward who wants to learn how to play the game right, no matter what level should spend some time with Ruory. He really is the heart and soul of our football club.
"Kane was huge in our press, he was key in holding our press together at points and in making sure the ball was trapped. He was fantastic around the ground for the whole match and was key in getting us over the line."
Walker heaped praise on his entire playing group for their work not only in the contest, but for the whole season.
"We really have come a long way," he said.
"You have a group of guys, not only in the seniors but in the reserves and the under 18s who are all pushing in the same direction and wanting success, and you could see it in the way we played late.
"We spoke at three-quarter-time about not being the guy who isn't willing to do the work, because everyone else would be, and not one guy didn't listen. Shepp kicked with the wind in the last quarter and we held them to a goal. I couldn't have been happier with that performance."
The Murray Bombers will take on Kyabram in the grand final.