SANDHURST is one win away from its first BFNL grand final appearance since 2004 after it defeated Gisborne by 42 points in Sunday’s qualifying final at the QEO.
The Dragons led by just two points at three quarter-time, but an eight-goal to two burst in the final term put the Bulldogs to the sword.
The 15.18 (108) to 10.6 (66) victory snapped Sandhurst’s four-game losing streak in finals.
“The lack of success in finals is probably in the minds of people around the club more so than the players,’’ Sandhurst coach Brett Fitzpatrick said.
“Those sort of things hold weight if you let them get anywhere near you.
“So to get a win the way we did when the pressure was on at three quarter-time was great for the club.”
Not even the most passionate Sandhurst fan could have predicted the eight-goal last quarter blitz.
In the first three quarters the Dragons had struggled to break open a gallant Gisborne outfit.
When they did get opportunities inside forward 50 they squandered them.
For the 11th time this season the Dragons kicked more behinds than goals.
At half-time when they had just 3.12 on the board it appeared as though Sunday would be the day that poor kicking would let the Dragons down.
It didn’t work out that way.
The third quarter move of Matt Thornton from centre half-back to the forward line proved to be pivotal.
After trailing Gisborne by nine points at the main break, Sandhurst added four goals to two in the third term to grab a slender lead.
Thornton’s move forward took some of the heat off Ben Anderson and it meant Gisborne star Tim Walsh couldn’t zone off at will.
In the first 20 minutes of the critical final term it was Anderson who tore the game apart.
After having little influence in the first three quarters, Anderson took five marks, kicked 3.1 and had a hand in another Dragon major.
Thornton also chipped in for a last quarter goal to give the Dragons’ twin towers five goals between them in the second half.
Fitzpatrick lauded Anderson for his final quarter heroics and also paid tribute to youngster Lachlan Ross, who was moved to defence on Gisborne star Ben Sonogan when Thornton went forward.
“He (Lachlan Ross) does it comfortably, he doesn’t panic and it allows us a fair bit of freedom,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
“I’ve learned to have more confidence in the players individually and as a group than what I did earlier in the year.
“Anderson didn’t look like causing many headaches for Gisborne, but it was a fantastic effort to stand up like he did in the final quarter.”
The Dragons most damaging forward over four quarters was Joel Wharton.
The left-footer might be skinny in stature, but he produced a heavyweight performance when it mattered most for the Dragons, kicking a game-high four goals.
The most pleasing aspect of the win for the Dragons was the form of midfielder Lee Coghlan.
In the absence of skipper Blair Holmes, the Dragons needed a spark in the middle and it was Coghlan who played his best game of the season.
“We’ll need to have more influence on the stoppages and contested ball against Strathfieldsaye,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
“They’re very good at that across the ground.”
The Sandhurst versus Strathfieldsaye second semi-final will be played on Saturday night.
Fitzpatrick expects Holmes (hamstring), full-forward Ryan Haythorpe and teenager Tom Cole (back) to be fit to play.