BENDIGO Thunder have claimed the inaugural Northern Football League Women’s premiership with a gutsy 10-point win against Diamond Creek at Preston City Oval.
The Thunder, under second-year coach Cherie O’Neill, put the heartbreak of a grand final defeat last season behind them, to post a nail-biting 5.5 (35) to 4.1 (25) triumph.
They led by just four points for much of the final quarter.
But a goal to star forward Andrea Walsh with three-and-a-half minutes to play was ice-breaker needed to give the Thunder some breathing space.
Walsh was beautifully set up by youngster Kodi Jacques, who showed composure to skilfully feed the ball to the Thunder sharpshooter, who marked about 25 metres out from goal.
The goal was the only one scored during the game at the city end of the field.
Bendigo was forced to endure some anxious moments from a determined Diamond Creek throughout the match, despite being quick out of the blocks.
The Thunder booted the first three goals of the contest through their skipper Leah French, Laura Flanagan and Ayrlea Bailey-Mcclanahan and led 21-0 at quarter time.
That margin had been reduced to just three points at half time following a run of three unanswered goals.
Flanagan’s second goal for the match was the only one scored in the third quarter and gave the Thunder some strong momentum heading into an expected tight final quarter.
Trailing by 11 points at three quarter time, Airlie Runnalls sparked life into the contest with a goal for Diamond Creek at the 10.49 mark, to reduce the deficit to four points.
It was there the margin remained until Walsh’s mark and goal to set the Thunder on their way to a historic premiership.
The flag win gave the club a clean sweep of the premierships in 2017, after the Thunder reserves team won the inaugural Northern Country Women’s grand final a fortnight ago.
Ruck and vice-captain Jac Louttit was the winner of the best-on-ground medal and was a definite key in a winning Thunder midfield, which featured young gun Tiahna Cochrane and Carlton AFLW rookie Kerryn Harrington, who was at her best early in the contest.
Coach O’Neill would be well pleased with the efforts of her young brigade, including 16-year-old Jacques, Aish Tupper, Bailey-Mcclanahan and midfielder Billie-Lee Humphrey.
Skipper French replicated her strong form from the previous weekend’s preliminary final, to again be a dominant contributor across half back and in stints on-ball.
Despite finishing as minor premiers, the Thunder were forced to win the flag the hard way, after they were defeated by Diamond Creek in their semi-final encounter.