THE backdrop to this Saturday’s Heathcote District Football League grand final couldn’t be more contrasting.
While the prize is the same for both clubs – a premiership – there’s a significant difference in just what that flag would signify for combatants North Bendigo and Lockington-Bamawm United.
For North Bendigo, it would finally bring to an end 37 years of chasing that elusive silverware.
On the other hand, while the Bulldogs have gone the best part of four decades without a flag, LBU has won the past three, with a fourth on Saturday to further enhance the Cats reputation as not only the powerhouse of the HDFL, but one of country footy’s top clubs.
The Cats have been remarkably consistent since joining the HDFL in 2001. They’ve made 13 finals series in their 14 years – missing only in 2007 – and finished at least third 10 times, with an overall winning percentage of 68.7.
Since 2011 they have been the HDFL’s hunted, and constantly having to get yourself up each week to take on opposition clubs wanting to make a name for themselves against the defending champions must be a grind. But they’ve revelled in that challenge and have given the farming community in which they are based one hell of a ride.
No HDFL club since Heathcote North in the 1950s has won more than three flags in a row.
Since then Mount Pleasant (three times) and Colbinabbin have won three consecutive premierships, but haven’t been able to get that fourth in a row that the Cats are striving for.
However, the Cats go into the grand final carrying the rare tag as underdogs against a North Bendigo side that has won 16 of 17 games and will be fresh, having only taken one final to get to this Saturday.
That’s in stark contrast to two years ago when the Bulldogs rode a wave of momentum from the elimination final, but come grand final day, they had spent all their petrol tickets and were humbled by 94 points by the Cats.
As for the burden of trying to end a 37-year premiership drought, that’s probably felt more so by the stalwarts at the club rather than the players, who will simply see this Saturday as the chance to put the finishing touch to a season of hard work that began back in November under co-coaches Rob Bennett and Neville Massina (pictured).
Sure, the players will be aware it’s been a bloody long time since the Bulldogs last tasted success in 1977 in the Golden City Football League, but among the messages from Bennett and Massina is likely to be one along the lines of forget about the history, go out on Saturday and create your own piece of history.
Clubs like North Bendigo that have gone so long without a flag reaffirm just how precious premierships are and that they should never be taken for granted, for who knows when the next opportunity to win one may arise.
The Bulldogs won three between 1974 and 1977, but here they are, 37 years and more than 600 games on, still chasing that next one.
There are no guarantees that either of these two sides will be back for another shot at the flag next year.
Just look at Huntly – grand finalists last season, missed the finals this year.
It’s all about making it count this Saturday.
Will it be the next chapter in what has been a mighty Cats' dynasty, or will it be a win that has been 37 years in the making for the Bulldogs?