BRIDGEWATER’S big game experience rose to the fore late in Saturday’s Loddon Valley league qualifying final as the Mean Machine clawed back a deficit to defeat Newbridge by two points.
The Mean Machine’s run of 15 finals wins in a row dating back to 2010 looked on the verge of being ended as the Maroons led by 15 points during the final term at a windy Mitiamo.
However, the Mean Machine rallied late, kicking the final three goals of the game through Liam Jacques, Jack Symons and the match-winner off the boot of Ben Galea from a snap in the pocket inside the last minute to win 11.7 (73) to 10.11 (71).
The victory avenged Bridgewater’s two home and away losses to Newbridge and set up a second semi-final against Calivil United.
“It was a nail-biter, but obviously a great feeling to be on the right side of the result,” relieved Bridgewater coach Marc Lindsay said.
“The boys persisted and we just willed our way for the entire game.”
The Mean Machine falling 15 points behind during the final term came after they had earlier led by 21 points at half-time – 6.2 to 2.5.
The Mean Machine won the game despite losing Alex Pollock to a potential medial injury early in the second term.
Among the Mean Machine’s best players were three of their seven-time premiership stars in Darren Clutton, whose intercept marking was a highlight, the reliable Daniel Nalder and Deon Jones.
Clutton, Nalder, Xavier Henderson and Luke Harrison, who were all named among Bridgewater’s best players, were part of a back six that earned high praise from Lindsay.
Galea, Tom Kuhne, who returned to the field after suffering another rolled ankle, and Alex Collins kicked two goals each for Bridgewater.
Newbridge coach Matt Dillon was left to lament a wasted opportunity, saying the Maroons played “careless” football late that ultimately cost them the win.
“We had so much momentum in the last quarter, but we were just careless late in the game,” Dillon said.
“We gave away a 50m penalty, there were a couple of kicks out on the full that should have just gone down the line and we were too loose around stoppages.
“It’s a good learning curve… we haven’t played as much finals footy as what Bridgewater has and that showed late in the game.
“Our endeavour was good all day, but in the end, we’ve got to be smarter… careless footy will cost you finals and that’s what happened today.”
On-baller Jordan Gilboy continued his fine season to be best for the Maroons, while Billy Price off half-back and ruckman Tyler Romeril were also prominent.
Forward Chris Dixon kicked a game-high four goals for the Maroons, who had three more scoring shots than Bridgewater and won three of the quarters.
Saturday was the fourth time in the past five years the qualifying final has been decided by a kick or less.