THE Bendigo Football Netball League finals series has started with a bang.
On Saturday night, Gisborne stunned hot favourite Sandhurst in the elimination final, while in yeserday’s qualifying final Golden Square somehow held on to defeat Eagleawk by four points.
Those results leave Eaglehawk and Gisborne to clash in a cut-throat first semi-final under lights this Saturday night, while minor premier Strathfieldsaye and Golden Square will meet in Sunday’s second semi-final with a grand final berth the spoils for the victor.
The Hawks only had themselves to blame yesterday as they squandered a golden opportunity.
After trailing by three goals at the first change, the Hawks had the better of the second and third terms to grab a four-point lead at three-quarter time.
The Hawks had most of the play in the final quarter, but they couldn’t make the Bulldogs pay.
Goals to James Bristow and Nick Carter gave Square the lead with six minutes to play.
The ball was in Eaglehawk’s forward line for the majority of the final six minutes.
With three minutes remaining, star forward Kain Robins missed a set shot from 50m out in front.
Full-forward Matt Gretgrix had a set shot from 40m out in front to tie the scores in the final minute, but his shot faded to the right.
In the dying seconds the Hawks pumped the ball forward to the goalsquare, the ball spilt from the pack and looked set to be collected by one of three Borough forwards.
However, Golden Square defender Jon Coe made a desperate dive through the pack, grabbed the footy and smartly pushed the ball through for a rushed point.
After the kick-in the final siren sounded and the Bulldogs celebrated a 10.9 (69) to 8.17 (65) win.
“It hurts,’’ Eaglehawk coach Luke Monaghan said after the loss.
“We have to cop it and move on quickly. We’ve got Gisborne on Saturday night to focus on now.
“The positives were we controlled the play for about 60 per cent off the match.
“Square’s execution was better than ours and when you kick 17 behinds you’re not going to win too many games of footy.”
Golden Square coach Rick Ladson admitted his side had a dodged a bullet.
“Eaglehawk had plenty of opportunities,’’ Ladson said.
“We knew it was going to be a tight contest and to Eaglehawk’s credit they played a great defensive game.
“I’m proud of the way our boys fought it right out. It was a great feeling to be in front when that final siren sounded.”
Golden Square won the game despite the loss of star centre half-back Travis Baird.
The Bulldogs said Baird was a late withdrawal because of a groin injury, but it’s believed he was left out of the final team for breaking a team rule.
Baird’s absence was felt across half-back as Robins dominated for the Borough.
Robins grabbed 12 marks and kicked three goals in a best on ground performance.
Darcy Richards played arguably his best game of the year for the Borough across half-back, while Lucas Matthews was inspirational in the middle of the ground. Brodie Collins earned high praise for his tagging job on Square star Mark Lloyd.
A positive sign for Golden Square is that it had few four-quarter performers, but still won the game.
Simon Rosa and Jack Geary were the Bulldogs best, centre half-forward James Bristow took eight marks and kicked three goals and full-back Dale Young stood up well under extreme pressure.
“We can use this as a real springboard,’’ Ladson said.
“The boys are well aware that we didn’t play great today. We were lucky to get across the line, but now we have a chance to have a good crack at a quality side next week.
“We will be better for that performance.”
Square had a clean bill of health injury-wise and should regain Travis Baird for next Sunday’s game.
Monaghan expects Eaglehawk to be at full strength for the first semi-final, with star defender Tim Hill (leg) and midfielder Tyson Findlay (knee) both to return from injuries.