IT was 6am on a Monday morning in early June when the seeds were sown for Golden Square’s surge in the second half of the season that has propelled the Bulldogs into another Bendigo Football League grand final today.
Coach Mark Lloyd summoned his players to a 6am meeting on June 4 – two days after the Bulldogs had been pummelled by Gisborne by 67 points – to address the un-Golden Square-like performance.
“I called a 6am meeting on the Monday morning after that loss. It was a really good opportunity for all the boys to have a good hard look at themselves,” Lloyd said yesterday.
“We put expectations on ourselves in the way we want to play when we pull on the Golden Square jumper, and those expectations weren’t met that weekend.
“But from that meeting onwards, I can’t fault the guys, who have all performed to the expectations that we like and we’re fortunate that we’re peaking at the right time of the year.”
Since the 67-point hiding in round eight from Gisborne – their grand final opponents today – Golden Square has played 12 games for 11 wins and a draw.
A fortnight ago they defeated Gisborne by 36 points in the second semi-final to earn a week off ahead of their tilt at a fourth-straight premiership.
“Having the week off is ideal for us, and we’ve been lucky enough that in the previous three grand finals, we’ve won the second semi-final and had a week off,” Lloyd said.
“Our preparation has mirrored what it has the past three years, so with the guys who have been there before, it eases their minds because they know what’s ahead.
“We’ll have 15 guys running out tomorrow who have played in one of those premierships, so they know what it’s about.
“Those guys have all been great in getting around the younger boys who are playing in their first grand final.”
Among the Golden Square side today will be Lloyd, Dale Young, Adam Baird, Matt O’Toole and Jack Geary, who have played in each of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 premierships.
BFL Rising Star winner Hamish Morcom, Che Walls, Rhys Bradley, Jake McLean, Sam Wilkie, Matt Compston and Zac May are the seven players gunning for their first senior flag with the Bulldogs.
“Those new boys we’ve introduced into the team this year have kept us fresh and on our toes,” said Lloyd, who is in his first season as coach.
“We’ve been able to blood a lot of kids throughout the year, and hopefully, our young fellas can come out and play good games tomorrow.”
Golden Square has made three changes to the winning second semi-final team.
In come A-grade players in captain Simon Rosa (returns from a groin injury), Luke Hammond (foot) and Geary (finger), with the unlucky trio making way being Oliver Collins and Bendigo Pioneers’ duo Ben Archard and Ben Pollock.
“Those three boys who have missed out are all very unfortunate,” Lloyd said.
“But we’ve got three of our top players to come back, and that shows the depth we’ve got at the club.”
Also missing today will be Chris Malone (hamstring), who has been a member of the past three premiership teams.
“It’s really disappointing for C.J. that he won’t be out there tomorrow, but he has taken it really well,” Lloyd said.
“He has a very good football brain and will help out on the bench.
“He’s a guy who would say he’s fortunate to have been part of three premiership teams, but it’s unfortunate he can’t have another crack at it tomorrow.
“I know the boys are all feeling for him, and the three other boys who have missed out, but hopefully, we can get the job done for them.”
A win today would ensure Golden Square becomes just the fifth team in the 132-year history of the BFL to win at least four flags in a row, the last being Northern United (1984-87).
“I’m sure the club would be really satisfied if we could win four in a row, but for the blokes running out tomorrow, I don’t think that means much to them,” Lloyd said.
“It’s more about winning it for this year and to get the reward for all the hard work we’ve put in going back to the pre-season.
“We’ve had to work hard to get to where we are, but we’re certainly not going to rest on just making a grand final.”
One of the sidebars to today’s grand final will be Golden Square full-forward Grant Weeks’ pursuit of the record for the most goals in a BFL season.
With 160 already, Weeks needs just four more today to surpass the BFL record of 163, set by Eaglehawk’s Frank Crapper in 1933.
“I’d be absolutely rapt for Weeksy if he could break that record... he’s had a fantastic year,” Lloyd said.
“He doesn’t get caught up in all the personal accolades, and all he will be worried about is striving to win the game. But the record would be a nice bit of icing on the cake.”