THE Bendigo Thunder has overcome every challenge thrown at them this season, and has just one hurdle left – Deer Park in the grand final.
The Thunder will meet Deer Park at the Coburg City Oval from noon on Sunday where the prize up for grabs is the Victorian Women’s Football League premier division premiership.
Bendigo goes into the grand final undefeated and as the warm favourites to win what would be a third premiership in just its sixth season in the VWFL.
Coach Cherie O’Neill will be aiming to strike the balance between keeping in place the structures that have served the Thunder so well this year, but also ensuring Bendigo won’t predictable given this will be the fourth meeting against Deer Park.
“We’ll be keeping it very similar to what we’ve done all year, but we’ve got a couple of different things up our sleeve given they’ve played against us three times and have had a good look at our gameplan,” O’Neill said on Friday.
Deer Park has closed the gap on the Thunder each time they have played this season from 29 points in their first meeting to 12 and nine points.
“We acknowledge they’ve got closer to us each time and there certainly won’t be any complacency on Sunday,” O’Neill said.
The Thunder have selected a full-strength team of 25 for the grand final, which will be captained by Emma Grant.
One of the most intriguing facets leading into the grand final will be the impact of what has been an extended lay-off for the Thunder.
The Thunder won their way into the grand final with an 11-point second semi-final victory over Melbourne Uni at the QEO in front of a big crowd on August 28.
However, a general bye the following week for the women’s exhibition game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, followed by the preliminary final last week in which Deer Park defeated Melbourne Uni by 18 points means the Thunder will have had 21 days between the second semi-final and grand final.
“It certainly hasn’t been ideal and it has been a challenge to keep the girls all engaged because it has been a really long season going back to a big pre-season,” O’Neill said.
“So we’ve had to work to keep them engaged and focused on the fact the season isn’t over yet and this game is what we’ve been working towards for so long.
“We’ve now got one more game to finish off.”
As part of the extended break the Thunder played a practice match last week that also featured a number of Youth Girls players.
“As long as the girls stay focused and produce their best on Sunday, I’m confident we’ll be fine,” O’Neill said.