BENDIGO v Ballarat is billed as one of country sport’s great rivalries and it was at its best at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on Saturday.
The two goldfields foes fought out an inter-league classic as part of the AFL Victoria Community Championships, with Ballarat prevailing by 11 points.
It was everything an inter-league showcase game should be as the two teams traded momentum, but it was the visitors who held sway, kicking the last two goals of the game through Nathan Pring to win 16.9 (105) to 14.10 (94).
It was Ballarat’s third win over Bendigo in the past five years, and fourth time it has beaten the Blue and Golds in their past five meetings dating back to 2007.
The game looked there for the taking for Bendigo when it carried the momentum from the third quarter into the final term and appeared to have more run left in its legs than Ballarat.
Having trailed by as many as 26 points during the third term, by three quarter-time Bendigo had charged back into the contest with a run of five goals to two to close to within five points.
With its confidence lifting, Bendigo then surged with a three-goal burst in the opening eight minutes of the final quarter.
First was a goal to Matt Thornton, who marked and converted from 45m, followed by a superb snap around his body from livewire Kaiden Antonowicz.
Antonowicz added another three minutes later as he finished off a brilliant piece of play on the wing from Kalan Huntly to kick his fourth goal and put Bendigo ahead by 14 points.
At that stage Bendigo had kicked eight of the game’s previous 10 goals.
And Bendigo was stiff not to kick a fourth goal early in the last term after the dashing Codie Price hit the post from 45m on the run.
However, the resilient Ballarat refused to wilt and lifted a cog as the game threatened to slip away.
In the space of six minutes Ballarat regained the lead with three goals through its best player Brian Graham, Jarrah Maksymow and Braedan Kight, who captialised on a costly Bendigo turnover to give his side a five point lead at the 17-minute mark.
Now the pressure was back on Bendigo to respond, which it did with another key play from Huntly.
Huntly took a strong contested mark on the swimming pool flank and converted his tough set-shot from 45m to give Bendigo back a one point advantage entering time-on.
As the game hung in the balance, every possession proved vital as both teams willed themselves from contest to contest.
With the clock winding down, Ballarat wouldn’t be denied as Pring roved a marking contest and from 30m put his side back in front by five points at the 24-minute mark.
With less than a minute on the clock in what would become its last roll of the dice, Bendigo had two desperate forays inside its Barnard Street forward 50, but both were repelled by the Ballarat defence.
Pring – who finished with four majors – then put the final nail in the coffin of Bendigo after Ballarat sent the ball forward and he soccered it off the ground for a goal in the last play of the game to push the final margin to 11 points as the triumphant visitors kicked five of the last six goals.
Earlier, Bendigo made a positive start by kicking two of the game’s first three goals – both through Antonowicz – in the opening nine minutes.
But the contest quickly became one of frustration for Bendigo with its poor use of the ball going inside 50.
While Bendigo won enough of the ball around the ground, too often it let itself down by bombing the ball inside 50, while Ballarat delivered the ball forward with far more success.
That was evident in the quarter-time stat in which Ballarat had scored eight times (5.3) from eight inside-50s, while Bendigo scored only four times (3.1) from 14 inside 50s.
From 14 points up at quarter-time, Ballarat edged ahead by 18 at half-time after adding 3.2 – one of those goals to the classy Nathan Horbury, who was again a headache for the Blue and Golds – to Bendigo’s 2.4 in the second term.
After Ballarat’s lead got out to a game-high 26 points four minutes into the third quarter, Bendigo made its move, with Thornton looming large in the forward line and the Blue and Golds injecting some run and fluent passages of play into their game that had been missing in the first half.
Having kicked just five goals up until the seven-minute mark of the third term, Bendigo added five in a 20-minute burst in which Thornton slotted two, while the fifth was a classic team-lifting captain’s goal from Lee Coghlan.
Coghlan’s goal after the siren in the pocket was from an almost identical position to the previous week when he booted the match-drawing goal for Sandhurst against Kyneton and brought the surging Bendigo within five points, setting up a gripping last quarter.
Bendigo’s best player was the polished Andrew Collins, who kicked two goals and stood out as a class above.
Thornton, who finished with four goals after initially starting in defence, creative defenders Codie Price and Harry Conway, ruckman Tim Martin and onballer Ben McPhee were also among the better players.
• Match details:
Ballarat 5.3, 8.5, 11.8, 16.9 (105)
Bendigo 3.1, 5.5, 10.9, 14.10 (94)
GOALS – Ballarat: Nathan Pring 4, Jarrah Maksymow 3, Brian Graham 2, Braedan Kight 2, Callum Currie 1, William Young 1, Scott Sherlock 1, Nathan Horbury 1, Christopher Graham 1. Bendigo: Matt Thornton 4, Kaiden Antonowicz 4, Andrew Collins 2, Lee Coghlan 1, Jonathan Lanyon 1, Kallen Geary 1, Kalan Huntly 1.
BEST – Ballarat: Brian Graham, Scott Sherlock, Christopher Giampaolo, Nathan Pring, Ryan Luke, Nathan Horbury. Bendigo: Andrew Collins, Codie Price, Tim Martin, Matt Thornton, Harry Conway, Ben McPhee.