LOCKINGTON-Bamawm United is through to its fifth-consecutive Heathcote District Football League grand final.
The Cats proved too strong for Leitchville-Gunbower in Saturday’s preliminary final, winning by 31 points at Elmore.
The 14.12 (96) to 10.5 (65) victory was a reverse of the qualifying final result between the two sides a fortnight earlier, which the Bombers had won by six points in extra-time.
The Cats will take on North Bendigo in next Saturday’s grand final at Huntly.
The Cats are gunning for their fourth flag in a row - they’ve won the past three since losing the 2010 grand final to Heathcote - while the Bulldogs will chase their first premiership since 1977.
The Cats suffered two injury concerns out of the preliminary final and played the last two-and-a-half quarters down two rotations.
Coach Adrian Dohnt hurt his shoulder when he was tackled during the second term and was taken to hospital - leaving John Halloran to take over the coaching duties - but he expects to be clear to play in the grand final.
“It’s not broken or anything like that, so we’ll see how we go through the week, but I’ll be right,” Dohnt said.
And in his return from more than a month out with a hamstring injury, Jonathan Hay was sidelined from early in the second quarter.
Hay had ice on his left hamstring, but the Cats said it was precautionary after it tightened up and that he would also be right to play in the grand final.
However, before Hay’s game ended, he made his impact on the contest with a dominant first term.
Playing at full-forward, Hay kicked three of the Cats’ five goals in the opening quarter - two from marks and one from a free-kick.
The Cats’ big game experience shone in the first term as they shot out of the blocks to lead by 27 points at quarter-time, 5.3 to 1.0.
As well as Hay on fire up forward, the Cats were relentless in their pressure, while the Bombers constantly butchered the ball and were fumbly.
And despite Hay and Dohnt leaving the ground, it didn’t get any better for the Bombers in the second term when the Cats added another four goals to one to lead by 45 points at half-time, 9.6 to 2.3.
The Bombers’ backline was constantly under siege, with the inside-50 count in the first half 34-14 in favour of the Cats.
The Bombers’ only goals of the first half were kicked by Riley Keath and Jake Williams - the latter coming from one of the rare fluent passages of play from Leitchville-Gunbower in the first hour.
With a blowout looming, the game finally came to life in the third quarter when the Bombers made a run mid-term.
Three goals in the space of five minutes to Marty Hore, Jake Truefeldt - both from stoppages - and a set-shot on target from Joel Helman brought the Bombers within 27 points as the momentum of the contest shifted.
However, when the Cats’ Leigh Deledio marked unchecked in the goalsquare and goaled with 20 seconds left on the clock, it pushed the reigning premiers’ lead at three quarter-time back out to 33 points, 11.8 to 6.5.
The Bombers wouldn’t lie down, though, and kicked four of the first five goals of the last term in the opening 11 minutes.
The fourth - courtesy of a strong contested mark from Ryan Hocking - brought the Bombers within 15 points, the closest they had been since the first term.
At that stage the Bombers had kicked eight goals to three in the second half and for the second time this finals series against the Cats threatened to come from nowhere to run over the top of them.
However, just as they had done in the first quarter, the Cats’ experience was pivotal late in the game as they denied the Bombers the ball and locked the game down over the final 15 minutes.
Hocking’s goal would be the Bombers’ last score of the game, while the Cats had the final six scoring shots, kicking 2.4 to push their winning margin out to 31 points.
The best for the Cats was Marcus Angove. He ran with the Bombers’ Russell Lee early, but later was lively across half-forward and through the midfield and kicked two goals.
Co-captain Matt Bongiovanni and veteran Mick Dobson were both super through the midfield, while Trent Bacon provided plenty of zip and young defender Gavin Broad, who played on Helman, was also in the best players.
While he didn’t see the second half, Dohnt was rapt with what he saw of the first half when the Cats set the game up.
“The pressure right across the ground was really good in that first half,” Dohnt said.
“It sounds like it got a bit tight in the second half, but we got the result we’re after and we’ll look forward to next week.”
The Bombers named captain Jye Keath, who played half-back and midfield, Hoby Bussey, who held Lachlan Collins to two goals, Russell Lee, who barely wasted a possession all game, defender Jackson McEwen and the lively Riley Keath (two goals) their best players.
Truefeldt was the Bombers’ leading goalkicker with three.
“We were a bit flat early on and they are a well-drilled, experienced side and were able to get on top of us,” Bombers coach Marty Shadbolt said.
“But to the boys credit, we really fought it out in the second half to get back into the game, but we spent a fair bit in doing that and just couldn’t go on with it. After a couple of big games in a row, it caught up with us a bit today.”
After an elimination final and preliminary final appearance in his two seasons in charge, Shadbolt has stood down as Bombers coach.
• Match statistics:
Centre clearances: LBU 15; Leitchville-Gunbower 13.
Inside 50s: LBU 60; Leitchville-Gunbower 35.
Stoppages: LBU 15; Leitchvile-Gunbower 25.