Related – Golden Square v Eaglehawk | Photos
At three quarter-time of Saturday’s BFNL preliminary final, Golden Square was staring down the barrell of falling short of the grand final by one week for a second-straight season.
Eaglehawk led by 16 points at the last change and, while the Bulldogs had the wind in the final term, it appeared the young Hawks had the momentum and the run in their legs.
With the season on the line, Golden Square coach Nick Carter gave his side one simple message “smile”.
“The message was enjoy working hard for each other and do it with a smile,’’ Carter said.
The message helped free the Bulldogs up mentally and physically and in the last quarter they broke the shackles, adding 5.6 to 0.1 to win 11.13 (79) to 9.6 (60).
“The last quarter was pleasing because that’s how we want to play four quarters of footy,’’ Carter said.
“We can take that last quarter into next week and use it as the benchmark for what we need to set against Sandhurst.
“It was an example of 22 players rolling their sleeves up and getting the job done.”
No players rolled their sleeves up more for the Dogs than co-captain Jack Geary and former skipper Simon Rosa.
Geary and Rosa kept the Bulldogs in the game in the third quarter and then sparked their side in the final quarter with some brilliant individual efforts.
None more brilliant than Geary’s match-clinching goal in the dying minutes.
After winning the ball on the grandstand wing, Geary kicked the Bulldogs into attack. While others around him dragged heavy legs, Geary willed himself to the next contest in the scoreboard forward pocket, picked up a loose ball and from 30m out on the run calmly slotted through his first goal of the day.
Square co-captain Brayden Dorrington was rock solid down back and also earned high praise from the coach.
“I thought our co-captains and the ex-captain (Rosa) were inspiring today,’’ Carter said.
“They dragged us across the line. Our players saw today what commitment and relentless work-rate is about. Hopefully, they can take something from that for next week.”
After last week’s loss to Sandhurst, Carter lamented Square’s lack of contributors.
One of the players grilled by Carter was key forward Ryan Herring, who was goalless against the Dragons and had no influence on the game.
The big man responded superbly in the preliminary final, kicking three goals to go with eight marks.
“There were some guys that had been out of form in recent weeks that improved out of sight today,’’ Carter said.
“One thing that I take away from today is that a week is a long time in footy.
“There’s still a few guys that need to lift on grand final day, but the opportunity is there for them if they want to work hard.”
The result marked the end of Luke Monaghan’s reign as Eaglehawk coach. The 36-year-old steps aside after six years in charge.
“In the third quarter we were full of run, but in the last five minutes of that quarter you could see our on-ballers starting to tire,’’ Monaghan said.
“We were down a rotation in the last quarter with Cam McGlashan injured… and Simon Rosa and Jack Geary (were the difference). Two very good footballers and they just kept going.
“I’m really proud of the boys, but unfortunately we weren’t quite good enough.”
Monaghan said he couldn’t be prouder of what his team achieved this year.
“I look back on this year and see it as real success,’’ Monaghan said.
“We had a big turnover of players from last year and our plan was always going to be to play kids.
“We didn’t click in the first half of the year, but to go on the run we did in the second half of the season was great for the club.
“Obviously, winning the premiership is the ultimate success, but Eaglehawk can look back on this year and say it has been a success.”
Monaghan’s replacement will inherit a strong group of young players, headed by Lachlan Atherton.
The 19-year-old was outstanding in defence for the Hawks on Saturday.
“His last two games in the finals have been fantastic,’’ Monaghan said of Atherton.
“He’d mainly played on the wing, but we had three back pockets go down in the second half of the year and we had to move him there.
“Dylan Hanley is an 18-year-old kid playing centre half-back in a senior final, Gedd and Koby Hommelhoff, Blake Natoli, Damian Wust is still a young guy… it’s an exciting list going forward.”
Nearly eight years to the day since he broke Golden Square’s hearts with a match-winning performance in the 2008 grand final, Eaglehawk star Matt Gretgrix threatened to the do the same when he kicked four goals in the opening quarter on Saturday. However, the G-train could only manage two more behinds for the day.
The Borough’s best players were all defenders – Atherton, Tyler Miles and Tim Hill, who kept Ron Best Medal winner Dylan Johnstone goalless.
Aside from Geary, Rosa and Dorrington, Golden Square’s better players were Jake Thrum, Adam Baird, Tom Toma and Herring.
Square went into the game without key duo Travis Baird (ill) and Ryan Colbert (groin). Their replacements were Bendigo Pioneers-listed duo Riley Saunders and Jordan Rosengren.
Saunders provided one of the highlights of the day in the final term when, despite being the smallest man on the ground, he climbed high to take a hanger. The teenager went back and kicked truly from 45m out.