HUNTLY is a victory away from its first senior premiership in the Heathcote District Football League.
The Hawks soared into the grand final after they beat North Bendigo by 66 points in Saturday’s preliminary final at Colbinabbin’s M.J. Morgan Reserve.
Huntly’s slick ball movement, relentless pressure and well-drilled attack proved too much for the Damien Lock-coached Bulldogs.
Final score: Huntly 20.18 (138) d North Bendigo 11.6 (72).
The Hawks gained a 25-point lead by quarter-time.
Huntly led 67-22 before Bulldogs’ full-forward Michael Spooner booted consecutive goals.
North Bendigo ruckman Josh Gitsham played a key role in a mini-fightback by winning at centre bounces.
A Hawks’ goal was soon answered by Spooner to cut the margin to 33 points.
Although the Bulldogs were winning a lot more contests across half-back and through midfield, they were often let down by turnovers going into the forward 50m arc.
Huntly kept motoring on and had doubled the Bulldogs score by the long break.
The Hawks had eight players goal in a dominant first half.
Braidy Dickens was in superb touch and kicked three goals in the first half on the way to a team-high six.
Hawks’ team-mates Luke Ross and coach Stacy Fiske had kicked two each as the attack finished off the great work by the likes of Tom Curry, Ryan Semmel, Michael Fitzgerald and Cory Lobb.
The second half began with North Bendigo’s Ryan Alford intercepting a kick inside the 50m arc and goaliing.
Inaccuracy was the only blight on Huntly’s game as it added 1.6 in the third term, but the defence teamed well to limit North to 1.2.
Huntly’s desperation and ferocity was summed up best by Curry’s tackle in the forward pocket to force a turnover on which Fiske swooped on the loose ball and goaled.
At three quarter-time, Fiske urged the players to keep the pressure up and be relentless in their pursuit of the footy or opponent.
A 44-point lead was quickly increased when Ross roved a contest and goaled.
A high leap and mark by North Bendigo captain Jordan Ford gave the fans something to cheer about.
Although the Hawks fans were already looking forward to a grand final, the players had a quarter to contest and did so brilliantly by adding 7.4 to four goals.
Spooner made the most of limited opportunities to finish with a match-high seven goals. North Bendigo’s best were Gitsham, Ford, Alford, Spooner, Ash Craig and Cameron Lomas.
Runner-up last season, North Bendigo’s bid to win its first premiership since 1977 has to wait at least another year.
Huntly coach Stacy Fiske praised the team on its four-quarter effort.
“At the start of the game we spoke about leaving nothing in the tank.
“We threw everything at North Bendigo in terms of pressure and keeping it a high level all match.
“The play by our defence was fantastic,” Fiske said.
“Week in, week out they just keep getting the job done.
“It’s not just about stopping the opposition from scoring, but also their run and rebound that’s been great all season.
“We had 22 contributors and that’s what it’s all about.”
Then the message quickly switched to Saturday’s grand final showdown with Lockington-Bamawm United at Elmore Recreation Reserve.
“No playing group at Huntly has gone this far in the HDFL,” said Fiske.
“We have worked extremely hard to get to this position – on and off the field.
“To be in a grand final is an incredible achievement, but let’s not be satisfied by being there. We have worked hard to earn this chance.”
A formidable Lockington-Bamawm United team, coached by Kahl Oliver, is chasing a premiership hat-trick and stands in the way of Huntly’s run to glory.