HAVING spent a long 35 years without the sweet taste of a grand final victory, the holy grail of the Heathcote District Football League is finally in sight of North Bendigo.
The Bulldogs will tomorrow take on Lockington-Bamawm United in the HDFL grand final at Huntly’s Hy-Line Australia Oval.
It will be the Bulldogs’ first grand final appearance since 1998 – when they lost to Colbinabbin by 58 points – but their premiership drought extends more than 20 years further back.
Not since 1977 when John Plim coached North Bendigo to the second of back-to-back flags in the now defunct Golden City Football League have the Bulldogs lifted a senior premiership cup.
They get the opportunity to do so tomorrow if they’re good enough, with the jubilation such a long-awaited grand final victory would provide the players and supporters of North Bendigo difficult to put into words for club president Jamie Campbell.
“The euphoria around it would be something special… they’d probably shut North Bendigo down for a week,” Campbell said this week.
“You look at people like Francis Boyd, who has been at the club since basically he was a kid. For us to get a flag for a bloke like that, and all the other people who are there every Saturday watching us win, lose or draw... it’s about doing it for the people who put their heart and soul into the club.
“Hopefully, we can repay that faith with a win on Saturday.”
North Bendigo has hit peak form at the right time of the year. The Bulldogs ended the home and away season fifth on the ladder, but have since won three cut-throat finals against Huntly, Colbinabbin and Heathcote to reach the grand final.
Such is the roll the Bulldogs are on, they are the first club since the HDFL introduced a top five in 2001 to make the grand final from outside the top three.
“It feels like a pot of boiling water with a lid on it… eventually that lid is going to blow off because the pressure is getting bigger,” Campbell said.
The Bulldogs have been in the HDFL since 1996 after making the switch from the Bendigo Football League, where they had competed since 1983 for 60 wins in their 239 games.
Somewhat of an ugly duckling since joining the HDFL, not only is tomorrow a chance to end the premiership drought, but for Campbell, it’s a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to earn the respect of the competition.
“My first year as president was all about getting respect, and it just felt like at the end of that year that no matter how hard we worked, the only way we were going to get respect was by winning a senior premiership, and hopefully, we can do that on Saturday,” Campbell said.
“We know how hard we’ve worked. All the people involved at the club have put in a power of work.”
Campbell – with the support of his partner of 28 years Belinda – has led the off-field band of workers in what is his third season as president.
A win tomorrow would be a fairytale end to what has been an emotional season for Campbell after his mother, Joan, passed away in July.
“It has been a hard year. I’ve been thinking a lot about mum over the past three weeks and what it would mean to her that we’ve got to this weekend,” Campbell said.
At the helm of the club as coach for the second season is Damien Lock, who tomorrow will be hoping to take over the mantle as the Bulldogs’ most recent premiership coach from John Plim.
Plim coached the Bulldogs to their back-to-back premierships of 1976-77 in the GCFL.
The 1977 team that defeated Northern United by 31 points in the grand final – 15.11 (101) to 9.16 (70) – was a powerful combination that went through the year undefeated.
The ’77 grand final win was the Bulldogs’ 30th victory in a row.
“I took them over in 1976 after they had missed the finals in 1975,” Plim said yesterday.
“When I looked at clubs to coach, I always looked for a team that had improvement in them and just needed a bit of polish to go the next level, and that’s where North Bendigo was at when I came in.
“We pulled together some very good players... I remember we got Brendan Keane from the Bendigo league, Ron Lake came with me, Dale Alford was coming through the ranks, and there were the two stars in the Roulston brothers, Doug and Russell.
“What I put the success of those couple of years in ’76 and ’77 down to is the local content that was already there and a couple of experienced players we added to it. But as well as a good group of players, we also had a lot of discipline instilled in the club.”
Plim – who addressed the North Bendigo players last night – has no doubt the 1977 team would have held its own in the Bendigo Football League that season.
“A lot of the players in that side went on to be very good Bendigo league players,” said Plim, who also coached premierships at Wedderburn (two) and Yarrawalla.
“I remember the next year that Brian Brown went to Eaglehawk, Gary Smith went to Sandhurst, Brendan Keane went back to Eaglehawk, Russell Roulston went to Golden Square... I’ve not no doubt we could have competed in the Bendigo league in 1977.”
Plim was voted best on ground in the ’77 grand final playing as a ruck-rover, while in attack, star forward Doug Roulston was unstoppable, kicking nine goals.
A year earlier, Roulston had booted 11 goals in the Bulldogs’ 63-point grand final win, also against Northern United.
Terry Mangles was the coach of the losing 1977 Northern United grand final team, and recalls the Bulldogs were a respected opposition that had experienced players on every line.
“They were a class above the rest of the competition that year,” Mangles said.
“I remember in that grand final we had to try to do things out of the ordinary to catch them off guard, but it didn’t work for us.
“Sides like the North Bendigo one that year don’t come around too often.”
Since the 1977 premiership, the Bulldogs have played in three losing grand finals.
In 1980 they had been undefeated going into the grand final, but lost to White Hills by 24 points.
Two years later in 1982 when they were again red-hot favourites, they lost to YCW by five points when YCW’s Colin Grenfell was awarded a controversial free kick and goal with 45 seconds left on the clock.
And in 1998 in their third season in the HDFL, they kicked just four goals in their 58-point grand final loss to Colbinabbin.
● North Bendigo’s last premiership team:
B: N. Trigger, B. Holland, I. Vorbach
Hb: G. Milroy, G. Smith, J. Evans
C: B. Keane, T. Day, G. Alley
Hf: D. Alford, R. Roulston, K. Robertson
F: C. O’Hara, D. Roulston, G. Ford
Foll: R. Lowther, J. Plim, B. Brown
19th: R. Wood 20th: G. Miller