A SCINTILLATING 20 minutes in the second quarter proved the catalyst for Leitchville-Gunbower winning its second Heathcote District league premiership in a row on Saturday, again at the expense of North Bendigo.
The final margin was nine points in favour of the Bombers, who kicked half of their goals in their 14.10 (94) to 12.13 (85) victory at Huntly during a devastating second-term burst.
In what was a game that lasted 121 minutes, it ultimately came down to 20 minutes of brilliance from the Bombers that defined the result of the 2018 premiership.
It came after scores had been level 4.2 (26) apiece at quarter-time following an opening term that featured both teams kicking three goals in succession.
Having been a shock inclusion in the team on Thursday night following his shoulder injury suffered on the eve of the finals, North Bendigo captain Jarrod Findlay kicked the opening goal of the game.
That was followed by three in a row to the Bombers – including two to Jake Vandongen – as they skipped out to an early 13-point advantage.
However, the Bulldogs hit back with three goals of their own – Jordan Ford kicking two of them – before Bombers’ star forward Matt Perri kicked his first in the pocket on the quarter-time siren as both sides went in level at the first break.
But then came the onslaught as the Bombers unleashed their trademark slingshot running game from half-back and with crisp delivery into their forwards they put the Bulldogs to the sword.
The trio of Mitch Bruns, Brady Hore and Brad Ladson were superb in launching the Bombers from the back-half and their blistering transition ball movement had the North Bendigo defence under siege.
The Bombers went on a tear of seven unanswered goals – five of which came from their first five inside-50s of the term.
The seven-consecutive goals were booted by Matt Pollock, Daniel Coates (two), Vandongen, inclusion Logan Prout – who came into the side after a long lay-off for injured coach Michael Pilcher – and Perri (two).
By the 16-minute mark of the second term the Bombers already had a score of 62 on the board against a Bulldogs side that had gone into the match conceding an average of just 60 points per game.
The Bombers put on a masterclass of making the most of opportunities as they kicked 11.3 from their 14 scoring shots in the first half.
Conversely, missed opportunities haunted the Bulldogs, who despite only having had two less scoring shots, trailed by 37 points at half-time, with their score of 4.8 at the main break including 0.6 during the second term.
In what was a game that lasted 121 minutes, it ultimately came down to 20 minutes of brilliance from the Bombers that defined the result of the 2018 premiership
The Bombers’ tally of 11 goals at half-time featured eight between their dangerous forward trio of Perri (three), Vandongen (three) and Coates (two).
The warning bells were sounding at half-time that the grand final could fizzle out into a blowout, but the Bulldogs crucially kicked the first goal of the third term through Ford to reignite some hope.
However, when the Bombers responded with the next two through midfielder Jack Gleeson and a fourth to Vandongen, Leitchville-Gunbower’s lead had ballooned to 43 points – 13.4 to 5.9 – at the nine-minute mark.
But with the game slipping away quickly, the Bulldogs dug deep, just as they had done two weeks earlier in the second semi-final against the Bombers to fight their way back in the third quarter.
Led by some bullocking clearance work from Jeremy Mills and key touches to Aarryn Craig in the midfield the Bulldogs worked their way back into the contest with a run of four goals in a row to Darcy Richards, Jarrod Findlay and Ford (two).
Findlay’s goal at the 13-minute mark was a ripper from the boundary that bounced through, while what was Ford’s third of the term and fourth of the match brought the Bulldogs within 20 points at three quarter-time and they had a genuine sniff.
The first goal of the final term was always going to be pivotal in the Bulldogs continuing their surge or the Bombers steadying and while it took 10 minutes, it came through Jarrod Findlay.
North Bendigo’s Richards then had a chance shortly after to bring the Bulldogs within 10 points, but his set-shot hit the post.
With the Bulldogs – who dominated the centre clearances 19-10, including 10-3 after half-time – pressing hard, it was Perri who provided the Bombers with a steadying goal when he outbodied opponent Ryan Alford to create the opportunity to kick his fourth and push their lead back out to 21 points.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t wilt though, but just as it had with Richards earlier, luck also eluded Ford when he also hit the post from a set-shot in the pocket.
Still, the Bulldogs kept coming and kicked the last two goals of the game through Findlay and Ford to bridge the gap back to nine points, but the siren sounded on their gallant comeback at the 31-minute mark as the Bombers clung on to victory.
The Bombers named ruckman Russel De Groot, who had an entertaining tussle with Bulldogs’ star Troy Kelm, and their backline quartet of 35-year-old Lee Pollock, teenagers Mitch McEwen and Hore and Brad Ladson as their standouts, along with Gleeson.
Matt Ladson was also a workhorse for the Bombers, particularly in the first half, while Vandongen and Perri finished with four goals each.
North Bendigo’s Ford (six goals) – who won the AFL Victoria Medal for best-on-ground – and Jarrod Findlay (four) combined for 10 of the Bulldogs’ 12 goals, with the selection move to bring in Findlay from his injury paying dividends.
Ford, Kelm in the ruck, Mills and Craig headed the best players for the Bulldogs, who after their inaccurate 4.8 in the first half kicked 8.5 in the second, while the Bombers went from 11.3 before the break to 3.7 after it.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.