“IT’S good to prove people wrong”.
So said Eaglehawk coach Luke Monaghan (pictured) last Saturday after the Hawks had just knocked off Sandhurst in the last round of the Bendigo Football League season to book a finals berth.
There was little love for the Hawks pre-game on Saturday, with only two of the 11 tipsters – Richard Jones and “Football Expert” - across the Addy and BFL Record panels selecting Eaglehawk to beat Sandhurst at the QEO.
And there were a couple of one-sided margins in favour of the Dragons that didn’t go unnoticed by the Hawks in the build-up to Saturday’s clash.
But the Hawks rose to the occasion, upset the Dragons, and coupled with Kangaroo Flat’s belting at the hands of Gisborne, have got themselves back into another finals series – their 13th since 1999.
As much Monaghan’s post-match comments after the win over the Dragons point to sticking it up the doubters, it also sums up their whole season now that they’ve made the finals.
Think back to October-November last year when it seemed every couple of days there was news of an Eaglehawk player leaving Canterbury Park.
Kain Robins, Matt Gretgrix, Tim Hill, Darcy Richards, Tyson Findlay, Linton Jacobs, Cory Jacobs, Tony Plim and Luke Milroy were all Eaglehawk players last year who - to borrow a line from NBA star LeBron James - chose to take their talents to the Heathcote District league this season.
They were just the departures to the HDFL – there was more on top of that – and while the Hawks were coming from the base of a preliminary final appearance last year, they were the popular pre-season selection as the sliders of the competition after the exit of so much key talent.
I had them slipping to seventh.
But in what was heralded by Monaghan as a new era, the Hawks have overcome their pre-season hurdles, as well as a team that with constant forced changes has had no consistency week-to-week to snare a finals berth at the death-knock of the season.
The Hawks’ depth has been challenged to the point where with 48, they have used the equal most senior players, along with Kyneton, of any BFL club this year.
But that has created opportunities at senior level for seven under-18 players, as well as six other senior first-gamers in what has been a season that for the bulk of it had been a battle with Kangaroo Flat for fifth spot.
Before last weekend, it was hard to argue that the Hawks didn’t deserve to finish any higher than sixth.
While they had been competitive in all but two of their nine losses, they hadn’t beaten a top five side, or won two games in a row, with the search for consistency a popular theme when discussing the Hawks this year.
However, since Monaghan’s “pressure valve release” comments once their finals destiny had been taken out of their hands after the round 16 loss to Golden Square, the Hawks have knocked over Maryborough by 44 points at Princes Park and backed it up last week with the 19-point upset over Sandhurst, with the return of midfielder Ben McPhee from a broken scaphoid pivotal in the late-season charge.
They’ll now hit this Saturday night’s elimination final against five-time reigning premiers Golden Square with renewed confidence and belief.
And no doubt keen to prove all the doubters wrong again.