the line in Sandhurst’s song “we will always fight for victory” rang true as the Dragons beat Strathfieldsaye Storm in the Bendigo Football League’s reserves grand final on Saturday.
Down by five goals at the 22-minute mark of the third quarter, Sandhurst was feeling the heat from a Storm line-up which had won its way from the elimination final.
Chasing the club’s first premiership in just its fourth year, Storm’s pressure, run and marking power reigned supreme for a lot of the first hour.
But in the space of four minutes, the match swung dramatically as the Paul Francis-coached Sandhurst started to win the centre breaks and more contests in attack.
A goal by Kieran Nihill in the 24th minute was followed by a Brenton Dillon major a minute later after being freed in a marking contest.
Two minutes later and the margin was 12 points after Dillon swooped on the loose ball and snapped at the city end goal.
Another centre clearance for Sandhurst was followed by Matt Dee roving the contest and snapping truly to trail 59-53 at the 28-minute mark.
The Dragons’ goal spree was ended by Josh Wolsley kicking his third goal early in the final quarter.
Jamie Stagg’s second goal was followed shortly after by a Paul Prime mark and goal, he had hit the post twice earlier in the match, to put the Dragons in front.
Storm regained the lead in the eighth minute after a chip pass was marked by Mitchell Curtis near the goalsquare.
A Storm poster followed four minutes of frenetic play between the half-forward lines.
After being held in a marking coptest, Nihill goaled to level scores in the 16th minute.
Dillon won possession and snapped truly for the Hurst to lead 80-73 in the 20th minute.
The Brett Fitzpatrick-coached Strathfieldsaye kept attacking and was rewarded when Jake Roberton won swooped on the loose ball from a marking contest and snapped truly to be within a point after 21 minutes.
A key figure in the second-half fightback, Braden Hocking’s pass from the swimming pool flank was marked by Dillon to boot his fourth and final goal of a great contest.
Sandhurst’s 21st match of the season was the most important as the team ended with a win-loss record of 18-3 and the premiership cup.
“We showed a lot of character today,” said victorious coach Paul Francis.
“Halfway through the third quarter things were not looking so great as Storm was winning a lot of the footy.
“I was confident that if we stuck to our game plan and kept persisting that we would eventually wear them down,” he said of facing a line-up which had played every weekend of the finals series.
Francis said a key factor in the turnaround was winning the centre ball-ups.
“The hit-outs were fairly even, but Storm was winning the centre breaks a lot more times than us.”
A few positional changes to the midfield and in attack started to paid off.
“Moving Kieran Nihill to the forward line was a punt, but it worked for us. He kicked a goal, set up another, and his big-game experience really showed.”
Francis said the grand final victory was not just about the 22 who wore the maroon and blue on Saturday.
“We had nine miss out today because of injury or at selection, but they all played a key role in us getting to a grand final,” Francis said.
It was a memorable day for the Francis family, as Paul’s son Daniel was assistant coach of the Dragons’ under-18 premiership team.