WHEN Tom Carland took over as Birchip-Watchem coach following the 2013 season, the Bulls sat at the bottom of the North Central league mountain.
They have steadily climbed in recent seasons and on Saturday are just one step away from reaching the summit when they play Wycheproof-Narraport in the grand final at Boort.
“It started by just changing up a few things at training and getting a lot of younger guys fit and ready to play good senior footy, as well as bringing in some recruits who could help make the club a fun place to be,” Carland said this week.
“Those first couple of years after I took on the coaching was mainly about making the culture of the club enjoyable and we achieved that.
“Making it an enjoyable place to be, as well as all the work we’ve put in on the training track in terms of working on our skills and our young players improving has helped get us to where we are this weekend.
“But I suppose it doesn’t mean much if we can’t take the next step on Saturday.”
Lining up in Saturday’s grand final team who had been part of the 2013 wooden-spoon season for the Bulls include Zac Holmes, Jacob Noonan, Jacob Christie, Lachlan Foott and Sean Hogan, while Carland was also at the club, but injured.
The Bulls enter Saturday’s grand final in their peak form of the season.
Since sitting outside the top four after 11 rounds the Bulls have reeled off six wins in a row, which included defeating Wycheproof-Narraport by 42 points in the second semi-final a fortnight ago.
One of the cornerstones of the Bulls’ late-season momentum has been their defensive work in which they have conceded scores of just 56, 37, 48, 15, 41 and 57 during their six wins on the trot.
However, Carland believes the Bulls are also reaping the benefits of what was a tough pre-season under the guidance of assistant coach Anthony Beacham.
“Pre-season was really hard, but our fitness throughout the year has been huge and that’s on the back of the work of Anthony Beacham,” Carland said.
“He came as an assistant coach and did a lot of the fitness work during the pre-season and he has done a massive job in getting everyone really fit and ready to go.”
The Bulls won their last premiership in 2001 when they defeated Wedderburn by 47 points, with every other club, apart from league new-comers Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers, having won a flag since.
“Success is hard to come by, but when you get a chance to get some you’ve got to grasp it,” Carland said.
“A lot of things have had to go right this year for us to get this opportunity, and a lot will have to go right again on Saturday to get that flag.
“The town has been really buzzing, so we can’t wait for Saturday.”
GRAND FINAL TEAM
Number in brackets is calculated off club best players each week – six votes for the player named best, five votes for the second best and so on.
B: 25. Michael Monteith (13), 5. Joseph Reid (3), 21. Connor Walsh (0)
HB: 20. Haydn Carland (0), 12. Danny Jones (13), 10. Sean Hogan (0)
C: 18. Anthony Greaney (1),27. Jacob Noonan (11), 11. Sam Morales (6)
HF: 8. Charlie Hallam (56), 4. Stephen Paulke (36), 1. Riley Hogan (30)
F: 13. Jacob Christie (19), 7. Lachlan Foott (15), 35. Ben Hogan (14)
FOLL: 2. Lochlan Sirett (58), 23. Nathan Gordon (59), 15. Tom Carland (19)
INTER: 26. Anthony Beacham (0), 51. Zac Holmes (0), 19. Jack Lee (0)
BY THE NUMBERS
Record – 12-5
Average for – 82
Average against – 54
Percentage – 150.5%
Quarters won – 38 of 68
Time in front – 64.7%
Stephen Paulke – 67
Nathan Gordon – 34
Lachlan Foott – 30
Charlie Hallam – 19