HUNTLY ended a 17-year Heathcote District Football League finals drought on Saturday, defeating North Bendigo by 52 points in the qualifying final.
The Hawks’ 17.10 (112) to 8.12 (60) victory at Gunbower was the club’s first win in a senior final since beating North Bendigo by 20 points in the 1996 first semi-final.
“It has been a big focus of ours after last year when we were probably satisfied just to make the finals that over the past month we really built for today and didn’t leave anything to chance,” Hawks coach Stacy Fiske said.
“North Bendigo really took it up to us and played some good football, but we were able to play our style of footy and get away with the win.”
Only two years after claiming their 10th wooden-spoon in a row, the Hawks are now just one win from what would be their first HDFL grand final.
But first they must get past two-time defending premiers Lockington-Bamawm United in this Saturday’s second semi-final.
The Hawks earned their shot at the Cats after kicking away from North Bendigo after quarter-time in a physical contest.
Huntly led by a goal at quarter-time, 3.3 to 2.3, before adding 14 goals to six after the first break to pull away for a comfortable victory and win their sixth game in a row.
“It was tight in that first quarter, as you’d expect being a final, but we were able to settle and use the ball well going forward after quarter-time,” Fiske said.
“I was really happy with our contested footy today.
“We know North Bendigo has a lot of good contested footy players who put their head over the ball, so we needed to match them.
“We did that, and when we were able to win that contested footy, we had a little too much leg speed around the contest on the big Gunbower ground.”
The Hawks held a 27-point buffer at half-time, and killed off any chance of a North Bendigo revival when they kicked four goals to one in the third term.
Defender Josh Harris was the Hawks’ best player.
“He was unbelievable today... every chance he had to win the ball, he did,” Fiske said.
“His leadership was fantastic.”
Full-back Angus McKinley, the pacy Adam Wicks, backman Michael Fitzgerald and Fiske, who was the leading goalkicker on the ground with five, were other standouts for the Hawks.
The loss was North Bendigo’s sixth in a row, but the Bulldogs remain alive in season 2013 thanks to the double chance.
“I thought we played well today and had a real crack, but we were a bit undermanned at times,” North Bendigo coach Damien Lock said.
“We put them under a lot of pressure and if we had converted a few more chances things could have been a bit different, but we’ll take a few positives out of today.
“It is what it is, and in the end they were just too good for us on the day, but we live to fight another day.
“We think if we can bring the same intensity as we did today to next week, we’ll take a bit of beating.”
North Bendigo’s cause wasn’t helped when it had gun onballer Daniel Sipthorp yellow carded twice and reported for striking and unduly rough play.
Ruckman and dual Cheatley medallist Josh Gitsham produced his usual lion-hearted performance to be the Bulldogs’ best player.
Others in the best for the Bulldogs included captain Jordan Ford at centre half-back and in the midfield, Jordan Collins, Thomas O’Loughlin, Aarryn Craig (two goals) and Cameron Lomas.
Having kicked 10 goals against Huntly in the elimination final a year earlier, Bulldogs’ full-forward Michael Spooner in his return from a foot injury was held goalless by McKinley before leaving the field.