NEWBRIDGE has endured through the premiership dynasties of Calivil United and Bridgewater and is now eager to make 2018 its time.
The Maroons will battle Mitiamo in Saturday’s Loddon Valley league grand final at Bridgewater.
Following a strong recruiting campaign during the off-season the Maroons have carried high expectation this year – Sportsbet installed them $2 favourites for the flag – and they are now one step away from clinching the ultimate prize for the first time in nearly two decades.
Not that the Maroons haven’t had their opportunities to win flags since their last triumph in 2000, but both times – in 2007 by Calivil United and 2012 by Bridgewater – they were thwarted by two clubs in the throes of extended premiership runs.
“Sometimes your time comes as a club to have a shot at it and we think this is our time,” Newbridge coach Brad Comer said during the week.
“We haven’t spent any time dwelling or thinking about that favourites tag… it has been a really even competition this year and we’ve had to deal with our injuries throughout the course, but the boys have all remained really focused.”
While they had entered 2018 as red-hot favourites, in what was a precursor to a season of wild unpredictability the Maroons suffered a round one loss to Pyramid Hill at home in trying conditions by nine points, albeit despite having had 11 more scoring shots than the Bulldogs.
“It was probably a bit of a blessing in disguise for us that first game,” Comer said.
“We didn’t play well and I didn’t coach well at all that day, so we learned quickly and it was an early kick up the backside that we needed.”
But since that round one upset to the Bulldogs, the Maroons have reeled off 15 wins in their past 16 matches and finished two games clear on top of the ladder.
As the wins racked up throughout the season one of the constants from Comer was his praise of Newbridge’s defensive unit, which only once has given up more than 90 points in a game.
With an average score against of 64, the Maroons have been the No.1 ranked defence in the competition.
“The defenders have been fantastic and just love the contest. You give them a job on a forward who is getting on top of us and no matter who it is, they are willing to embrace it and do their role for the team,” Comer said.
Among the members of the stingy Maroons’ defence has been Cameron Grant, who returned to football this season and gets his third crack at winning a senior flag after he had been part of both Newbridge’s 2007 and 2012 grand final losses.
“The back six has worked really well for each other this year,” Grant said.
“The likes of Alex Farrow and Billy Price provide good run, Chris McLean is a really good competitor and Ash Trollop has been a really handy inclusion.”
The Maroons added dual Strathfieldsaye premiership defender Ash Trollop into their side late in the season to add further strength to an already imposing team.
Sometimes your time comes as a club to have a shot at it and we think this is our timeBrad Comer - Newbridge coach
“Ash has been great for us. He had always been in our plans, but through his work couldn’t play early,” Comer said.
“The leadership he brings is fantastic… he has been there and done that and really brought into the club and is enjoying himself.”
One of the key areas the Maroons identified after last year’s losing preliminary final to Calivil United was the need to increase their scoring capacity.
Their average score of 78 last year was more than five goals shy of what premier Calivil United (109) averaged, while their leading goalkicker was Sam Kennedy with just 30.
The Maroons bulked up their front half with the return of two former Newbridge players as key targets – Sam Mildren and Rhys Ford.
Mildren ended a two-year retirement to return to the field for the Maroons, with whom he had previously captained before winning a pair of flags with Strathfieldsaye.
And having previously played with the Maroons in 2014 and 2015, Ford headed back to Riverside Park, but only once this season have he and Mildren played in the same team together – the second semi-final a fortnight ago when Newbridge beat Maiden Gully YCW by 50 points.
Mildren, whose season was stalled by suspension, and Ford, who has had an injury-interrupted season, have both played seven games for 23 goals, but it has been Jordan Gilboy who has bobbed up with a starring role in attack.
Having made his mark in previous years with the Maroons as one of the premier on-ballers of the competition, Gilboy this year transformed into focal point and won the league goalkicking, with his tally for the season now at 72.
“He has been great all year for us and is another of those players who just loves the contest and hates losing,” Comer said.
“It was his idea to go forward, so we were just going to see how it went and it has obviously turned out really well.”
Through the midfield the pair of recruit Tommy Horne and Nathan Bacon have been key cogs in the engine room and their consistent season was shown in the Harding Medal voting last week.
Bacon (16 votes) finished third and Horne (15), who was on Box Hill’s VFL list last year, was fourth.
Saturday will be game number 317 for Newbridge since it last hoisted the premiership cup following a three-point grand final win over YCW in 2000 coached by Brent Dyer.
“18 years without a flag has been too long. We’ve obviously been fighting against a couple of dynasties in Calivil United and Bridgewater through a lot of that, but it’s someone else’s turn now,” said Comer, who played his junior football with Newbridge and whose father, Brian, was chairman of selectors in the 2000 premiership year.
“It’s always been a dream where you play your junior footy to win a senior flag there and it can be easy to get caught up in the emotion of a grand final, but we’ve got a job to do and that’s what we’ve been focused on.”
B: B. Price, A. Code, A. Farrow
HB: J. Fowler, A. Trollop, C. Mclean
C: B. Josey, W. Daly, C. Grant
HF: B. Comer, R. Ford, Z. Heaslip
F: S. Mildren, J. Gilboy, S. Kennedy
R: T. Romeril, T. Horne, N. Bacon
Int: J. Clark, A. Fithall, C. Dixon, C. Toohey
In: J. Clark
Out: A. Mayo
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