BENDIGO Thunder's bid to end the season undefeated has gone begging in their VWFL Premier Division grand final against Deer Park.
Chasing a 17th straight win in Sunday's premiership decider at Coburg City Oval, the Thunder stumbled to a 13-point loss.
It was a three-goal-to-one opening quarter that proved fatal for the Thunder, who trailed for all but about two minutes of the contest.
They lifted themselves within six points on a couple of occasions, including for about eight minutes of the final term, but a goal with 40 seconds to play from the Lions' Amy Catterall sunk the Thunder's hopes of a dream premiership.
Coach Cherie O'Neill said the feeling after the final siren and later in the change rooms was one of devastation.
"Deer Park really hit us hard in those first few minutes, they got three quick goals on the board and left us a bit shell-shocked," she said.
"It just came down to a team that was better on the day.
"That quick scoring caught us off guard a bit and we found it really hard to get back.
"We got within a goal, but it was too little too late .... we couldn't peg it back quick enough."
Each time the Thunder threatened to seize some momentum, Deer Park would respond almost immediately with a goal.
Congratulations to Deer Park on their premiership. They were the better team on the day and played very well.... https://t.co/tn1x2wr192— Bendigo Thunder (@Bendigothunder) September 18, 2016
After star young forward Isabella Ayre slotted her second goal for the game to reduce the margin to two points, with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lions quickly responded with one of their own to Chloe Portelli to again stretch the margin.
A goal-less final term from the Thunder confirmed the premiership was headed west to Deer Park, which qualified for the grand final from fourth position.
It was a disappointing end to a season that delivered plenty of on-field success and and some early off-field dramas.
“It’s been a long season – an emotional season,” O’Neill said.
“The girls are pretty down but they are getting around each other and being encouraging and supportive.”
Despite the heartache of a grand final loss, several Thunder players emerged with their reputations as big-occasion players enhanced.
None were better than tall defender Sarah Last, who acted as a stumbling block to many a Deer Park foray forward and provided equal parts of run and rebound from defence.
"She was brilliant and really rebounded the ball well," was coach Cherie O'Neill's assessment.
Last could easily have been the recipient of the best on ground medal had it not gone to the Lions' Brooke McKinley.
Reni Hicks thrived in a tagging role, while midfielder Leah French and Alyx Glanville never stopped trying to lift their teammates.
Jess Kennedy gave the Thunder plenty of run, especially during the middle two quarters.
O’Neill said Emma Grant had delivered a “typical captain’s game”.
“She did an amazing job to hold things together and was really strong across the backline,” she said.
“She’s been supportive all year and I can’t speak more highly of her.”
O'Neill said players would regroup quickly and could look back on their season that included 16 streak wins with pride.
She said the club had been overwhelmed by support on grand final day.
"It was fantastic to see a supporters bus down here (at Coburg) and whole groups of supporters and sponsors," she sad.
"People this year have been just fantastic in supporting this team."