Cats let Dogs soak up HDFL grand final hype

LOCKINGTON-Bamawm United coach Kahl Oliver is more than happy for his side to take a backseat in the build-up to this Saturday’s Heathcote District Football League grand final against North Bendigo at Huntly.

While the Cats are gunning for back-to-back premierships, most of the attention this week has been on their opponents, the Bulldogs.

Not only have the Bulldogs won their way through to the grand final after ending the home and away season fifth and surviving three cut-throat finals, but they will be striving to end one of central Victoria’s longest premiership droughts that dates back to 1977.

“There has been a bit of talk this week that North Bendigo has come into favourites, and I’m more than happy for that to be the case,” Oliver said yesterday.

“North Bendigo is in great from and playing really well, and they beat us last time we played, so they are going to be very strong opposition.

“In saying that, our last game against them was our worst for the year when we had a few out, but now we’re close to full strength and just happy to quietly go about our business up here.”

In their last meeting in round 12, the Bulldogs upstaged the Cats to win by 27 points at Lockington.

The Cats haven’t lost a game since, with their run of seven-straight victories including a 33-point triumph over Heathcote in the second semi-final on August 25 to book what is their third-straight grand final berth.

While the Cats won last year’s flag, they are aware of the extra burden placed on North Bendigo this week in trying to end a lengthy premiership drought.

Before last year’s grand final win over Heathcote by a goal, the Cats hadn’t won a senior premiership since 1987.

“Personally, I felt that extra pressure last year... not just the playing group was wanting to win a flag, but it was the people in the community who have been around the football club for a long time and hadn’t seen a flag,” Oliver said.

“Then there was the pressure of losing the grand final a year before, so to finally get that flag was fantastic.”

The Cats have one forced change to make to their team after Nathan Bacon sustained a ruptured kidney during the second semi-final against Heathcote.

“He spent most of last week in hospital and is just trying to get his health back at the moment... footy isn’t on the cards,” Oliver said.

“It’s disappointing for him, because he’s a great kid and a great player and will be missed, but we hope we’ve got the depth to cover him.”

As of yesterday afternoon, Oliver still hadn’t decided on a replacement for Bacon.

“We’ll bring a player up from the seconds, which will obviously be exciting for whoever that will be,” Oliver said.

“There’s probably three or four in the running for that spot, but we haven’t made a call on it yet.”

At North Bendigo, the Bulldogs could also make one change to the team that belted Heathcote by 61 points in last Saturday’s preliminary final.

Mid-season recruit Pete Manser was a late withdrawal last week with the flu, but will be available to return.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens... the blokes who played last week obviously did a good job,” said Bulldogs coach Damien Lock, whose nagging calf complaint won’t keep him out of the grand final.

“It’s going to be a hard call if someone goes out, but we’ll wait and see how training unfolds.”

Meanwhile, Sportsbet has released its HDFL grand final odds.

The Cats will start $1.55 favourites to go back-to-back, while the Bulldogs are rated a $2.30 chance to end their 35-year premiership drought.

Earlier in the season when they were 0-3, the Bulldogs’ flag odds had been $26.

● The HDFL is running a bus service to Saturday’s grand final at Huntly.

Cost is $2 per person one way, leaving from the National Hotel in High Street at 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, with pick-ups at the car park opposite Bendigo TAFE and the  Botanical Hotel in White Hills. The bus will depart the ground at 3.30pm, 4.30pm, 5.30pm and 6.30pm, with dropoffs at the Botanical Hotel, car park opposite Bendigo TAFE and the National Hotel.

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