LEITCHVILLE-Gunbower combined superior leg speed and disposal with four quarters of relentless pressure against North Bendigo to win the Heathcote District league premiership at Huntly on Saturday.
Driven by the pain of grand final losses to the Bulldogs the previous two years, the Bombers weren’t going to let a third-consecutive opportunity slip.
In the latest installment of the league’s new No.1 rivalry, the Bulldogs were unable to contain the run of the slick Bombers, who celebrated their first premiership since 1995 with a 26-point victory, 15.18 (108) to 12.10 (82).
So long had it been since Leitchville-Gunbower last won a flag, six of Saturday’s team – Adam Decicco, Shaun Turvey, Logan Prout, Jackson McEwen, Brady Hore and Luke Sevior – weren’t born the last time the Bombers held aloft the premiership cup in 1995 in the now-defunct Northern Echuca league.
The Bombers won all four quarters and became the first team this season to kick more than 100 points against the Bulldogs with their winning score of 108.
The win was the Bombers’ 13th in a row and capped a season in which they finished 18-1.
Their only loss came with a 68-point defeat to North Bendigo in round seven, at which stage the rampaging Bulldogs were the hottest of flag favourites.
Saturday’s AFL Victoria Country Medal for best on ground was won by the Bombers’ Tim Lincoln.
Lincoln, who was matched-up by Alex Shipard, is class-personified and it was no surprise when he was announced post-match as the best on ground to hear his team-mates calling him the “rolls royce”.
Providing plenty of run and polished disposal, Lincoln was electric all game, particularly in the third quarter, while he was pivotal late in the second quarter in helping to steer the Bombers to a 16-point half-time lead, 7.10 to 5.6.
On the back of the Bombers having scored eight-straight behinds that had they lost the game would have been the period they lamented, Lincoln stepped up with consecutive goals at the 28 and 30-minute marks.
The first of Lincoln’s goals put the Bombers back in front in what was the sixth lead change of the game to that stage, and they wouldn’t surrender the advantage for the rest of the match.
Earlier, both teams suffered first-quarter injury blows, with Leitchville-Gunbower’s Ayden Walton (knee) forced from the ground, although he later returned, while the Bulldogs lost Daniel Morris at the four-minute mark.
Morris, who had been set for the role on the dangerous Daniel Coates, suffered a burst ear drum in a tackle.
Walton had lined up on Bulldogs key forward Sam Barnes, but when he headed to the bench Ryan Prendergast moved onto Barnes.
Having scorched the Bombers with seven goals in a best-on-ground performance last year, this time Barnes was held to just one goal in the second quarter.
Down the other end Bombers’ star forward Matt Perri feasted on some superb delivery to bag six goals in his match-up on ex-teammate Joel Helman.
Perri kicked the Bombers’ entire first quarter score of 3.1, and by the 10-minute mark of the second quarter he had four goals.
Perri added two more goals in the third quarter, and with his tally of six ended a season in which he became Leitchville-Gunbower’s first centurion goalkicker with 124.
For Helman, it was his third-consecutive grand final loss, having been part of Leitchville-Gunbower’s defeats to the Bulldogs the previous two years before crossing to Atkins Street during the off-season.
One of the key differences was the Bombers’ far more efficient disposal, while too often the Bulldogs, who were given little time and space, failed to hit their targets going forward and the ball was swept away by the Leitchville-Gunbower defence.
As well as Perri’s six goals, Coates backed up his four second semi-final goals against the Bulldogs with another four as he was again one of the Bombers most influential players.
The lively Coates kicked the crucial first two goals of the final quarter that extended the Bombers’ advantage beyond five goals at the seven-minute mark.
When Coates later added his third goal of the final term the Bombers’ lead had grown to a game-high 40 points, before the Bulldogs finished with the last two through Jaran McKay and Ash Craig.
Among the goalkickers in the last term for the Bombers was 18-year-old Sevior, who was an inclusion into the selected side in place of the injured Ashton Dye.
With Dye and Michael Pilcher out, it left Lee Pollock to do a power of work in the ruck for the Bombers against the Bulldogs’ Ryan Gow, who was named one of his side’s best.
Lincoln, McEwen off half-back and through the midfield, Coates, and Perri led the best players for the Bombers.
North Bendigo’s 12 goals featured seven between Rhys Ford (four) and Brady Herdman (three), who worked hard to provide a strong presence inside 50 and was among the Bulldogs’ top players.
The Bulldogs named on-baller Jarrod Findlay their best player. With Saturday’s defeat Findlay will have to be content with just the Cheatley Medal from his fine 2017 season.
Leitchville-Gunbower 3.1, 7.10, 11.13, 15.18 (108)
North Bendigo 2.3, 5.6, 9.7, 12.10 (82)
Goals – Leitchville-Gunbower: M. Perri 6, D. Coates 4, T. Lincoln 2, L. Sevior, M. Bruns, D. Couwenberg. North Bendigo: R. Ford 4, B. Herdman 3, A. Craig, A. Craig, Z. Alford, S. Barnes, J. McKay.
Best – Leitchville-Gunbower: T. Lincoln, J. McEwen, D. Coates, M. Perri, M. Ladson, J. Donehue. North Bendigo: J. Findlay, B. Herdman, R. Gow, J. Ford, J. McKay, J. Helman.