LOCKINGTON-Bamawm United saved its best for when it mattered most as it crushed North Bendigo by 94 points in Saturday’s Heathcote District Football League grand final to claim back-to-back premierships.
In front of a massive crowd that paid a record gate of $43,000 at Huntly, the Cats produced a flawless performance to turn the grand final into a fizzer as they won 21.14 (140) to 7.4 (46).
While the victory was the second flag in as many seasons for the Cats, North Bendigo’s premiership drought lingers, with the Bulldogs still yet to win a flag since 1977.
The Cats never gave the Bulldogs a chance to get into the game as they kicked the first four goals of the match inside the opening 15 minutes.
The rout started when star Cats’ midfielder Adrian Dohnt threaded a brilliant goal from the pocket to kick the first of the game.
Goals to Lachlan Collins, Jarrod Bacon and Wade Pitson followed soon after, before full-forward Michael Spooner kicked North Bendigo’s first at the 18-minute mark.
By quarter-time the more polished Cats had broken out to a 31-point lead, 6.2 to 1.1.
The Bulldogs had enough of the ball in the first quarter – they had 13 inside 50s – but were unable to penetrate the rock-solid Cats’ defence, and that would be the story for the rest of the game.
With the match already on a knife-edge at quarter-time for the Bulldogs, the Cats tightened the screws as they lifted a gear in the second term, while North Bendigo suffered a massive blow when gun midfielder Daniel Sipthorp’s game ended with a knee injury.
Sipthorp was sorely missed by the Bulldogs, particularly around the stoppages, and while coach Damien Lock said after the game his injury wouldn’t have made a difference to the end result, it certainly didn’t help.
The Bulldogs kicked the first goal of the second term through Spooner from a free kick at the six-minute mark.
However, the Bulldogs wouldn’t score again for the rest of the quarter as they were powerless to stop the Cats’ slick brand of running, skilful football.
As well as their strong run and spread, the Cats controlled the contested possession and forced the Bulldogs into constant turnovers.
Inside forward 50, the athletic duo of Lachlan Collins and Bacon were both proving handfuls for the Bulldogs defence as they combined for five of the Cats’ first eight goals.
Also leading the charge in the second term for the Cats was co-captain Matt Bongiovanni across half-forward, while the half-back line remained impassable.
Such was the dominance of the Cats in the second quarter, they had 17 inside 50s to four, kicking 3.3 – and two out on the full – to 1.0 to lead by 46 points at half-time.
And there was no let up in the third quarter as the Cats continued to assert their authority, while the Bulldogs were out on their feet and the confidence that had been such a key factor in their giant-killing run over the first three weeks of the finals had evaporated.
The Cats booted the first four goals of the third quarter inside 11 minutes to kill off any hopes of an unlikely Bulldogs’ comeback.
Two of them were beauties that summed up the Cats’ day.
The first came through coach Kahl Oliver when he snapped the ball on his left foot from the pocket and it got the perfect bounce to roll through for his second goal.
The other was a superb kick on the run from Bongiovanni, also in the pocket.
North Bendigo finally broke its scoring drought at the 14-minute mark when Ryan Alford played on from an advantage free kick and goaled.
Alford’s goal ended a string of seven-straight for the Cats and 36 minutes without a score for the Bulldogs.
By three quarter-time the Cats’ lead had ballooned out to 85 points on the back of their eight goal to two third term, with the only interest left in the game whether their winning margin could reach 100 figures.
It didn’t, with North Bendigo’s return of 3.2 to 4.5 in the last quarter keeping the margin to 94 points at the final siren.
It was a disappointing end to a gallant finals series for the Bulldogs, but so good were the Cats, they would have trounced any opponent.
The Cats’ backline has been outstanding all season and was the cornerstone of the win as they teamed together superbly to constantly repel the Bulldogs’ attacking forays.
The fact the Bulldogs only scored seven goals from 35 inside 50s is testament to the work of the Cats’ back six, led by best-on-ground Nathan O’Brien, Simon Keleher, Daniel Lucas and Carl Treacy, who had the job on Spooner.
Cats’ ruckman Liam Main was also sensational as he completed a fine season. He competed well against dual Cheatley medallist Josh Gitsham in the centre, and worked hard to have an influence around the ground.
Main can’t have been far behind O’Brien in the VCFL Medal voting.
Through the midfield, Dohnt showed his class with a polished game, with his second half, in particular, a standout.
His ball use was stellar and he also finished with two goals, while John Halloran was also a tireless worker and a key component of a Cats’ midfield that drove the ball inside 50 on 64 occasions and kept the Bulldogs’ defence under siege.
Bacon, Lachlan Collins and Oliver finished with three goals each for the Cats, who converted 13 of their first 18 scoring shots.
The Cats had 11 different goalkickers and took 17 marks inside 50, whereas North Bendigo was heavily reliant on Spooner, who didn’t get enough supply.
It was a tough day for North Bendigo, with the Bulldogs outplayed in every facet and unable to replicate their brilliant effort of a week earlier in the preliminary final against Heathcote.
Midfielder-defender Alford was the Bulldogs’ best player.
Ash Craig also battled hard to lift the Bulldogs, but he was unable to exert the same influence he had throughout the lead-up finals.
Jordan Ford, who was moved onto Bacon after his strong showing early, was also among the better players for the Bulldogs.
Midfielder Rob Morris, who started in a run-with role on Dohnt, Gitsham and full-back Cameron Lomas, who played on Oliver, were others named in the best for the Bulldogs. Spooner kicked three of their seven goals to end the season with 106.