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NORTH Bendigo is fiercely determined to not let another premiership opportunity slip when it meets Colbinabbin in Saturday's Heathcote District league grand final.
The Bulldogs have played in the past five grand finals - and six of the past seven - but have only won two premierships: the back-to-back triumphs of 2015 and 2016 against arch-rivals Leitchville-Gunbower.
And that means they have endured plenty of grand final disappointment - losses to Lockington-Bamawm United in 2012 and 2014, plus consecutive defeats to Leitchville-Gunbower the past two years after they had finished on top of the ladder.
Saturday at Huntly presents another opportunity though with the Bulldogs achieving a feat last done in the Heathcote District league by Mount Pleasant between 1992 and 1997 of playing in six grand finals in a row.
"We're very proud as a club of getting into another grand final... they are obviously hard to get into and even harder to win," Bulldogs coach Matt Dillon said this week.
"We spoke as a group that we really need to win this one. We think we've ticked off a lot of goals this year, but the major one is winning that flag and we get that opportunity on Saturday."
The hunger among the North Bendigo group will be fuelled by 15 players who were part of last year's grand final defeat getting their shot at redemption - captain Jarrod Findlay, Jordan Ford, Darcy Richards, Storm Giri, Ryan Alford (now at 170 consecutive games), Aarryn Craig, Tyson Findlay, Callum Tardrew, Ben Knight, Tom Metherell, Zach Alford, Will Brohm, Brodie Thomson, Tim Devereaux and Ryan Gow.
But there's also a strong spread of players who have savoured the sweet taste of premiership success - Craig, Brady Herdman, Richards, Ford, Alford, Metherell, the two Findlays, Tardrew, Gow and Giri were all part of either the 2015, 2016 or both Bulldogs' premiership teams.
"The hunger is definitely there and it's probably franked a bit by what happened earlier in the finals," Dillon said.
"We played an un-North Bendigo way against Colbo in the second semi-final (lost by 26 points) a couple of weeks ago and maybe there were a few questions there about has our hunger gone?
"I didn't think it had and then the performance last Saturday showed it hadn't and that the boys still really want to win another flag."
As far as motivation for success goes, North Bendigo's Joel Helman - who won this year's Cheatley Medal - will have no shortage of it.
HDFNL grand final day doesn't provide Helman with fond memories given in 2015 he was part of the Leitchville-Gunbower grand final side that lost to North Bendigo.
Then in 2017 after making the move from the Bombers to Atkins Street he was part of the North Bendigo team that lost to Leitchville-Gunbower in the grand final that year.
But after returning to North Bendigo this year following a 2018 stint with the Cohuna Kangas in the Central Murray league, Helman gets another crack at adding a premiership medal to his Cheatley Medal - a double last achieved by Colbinabbin's Ben Johnston in 2008.
"It's an honour to win the league medal, but a premiership at North Bendigo is what I'm really after. I've played in 10 grand finals going back to under-13s and only won one, so I really want to win one with North," Helman said following his Cheatley Medal triumph last month.
With the return of Ben Knight from a hand injury, the Bulldogs are blessed to have four league medalists in their side on Saturday.
Helman, Tyson Findlay and Jarrod Findlay have all won Cheatley medals and Knight is a Loddon Valley league Harding medalist.
Dillon says the Bulldogs only need to think back 12 months ago to the grand final and the dangers of lapsing.
The Bulldogs lost last year's grand final to Leitchville-Gunbower by nine points, but the damage was done in a mere 20 minutes in the second quarter when the Bombers kicked seven unanswered goals in an onslaught.
"The boys have certainly learned that in any final if you take your foot off the pedal a bit you can get cleaned up pretty easily," Dillon said.
"That happened in the first final against Colbo a couple of weeks ago and there's obviously evidence of it in the grand final last year where we were asleep for 20 minutes and the game was done.
"So that's what our biggest focus has been... playing for four quarters. We think if we can play to our best for close to the four quarters then we're going to go a long way."
Following their lacklustre showing against Colbinabbin in the second semi-final - the 26-point margin clearly flattered North Bendigo - the Bulldogs certainly had their mojo back last week with their 90-point preliminary final thrashing of Mount Pleasant.
"I've never seen so many of our high-end players all down on the same day like they were against Colbo, but like good players, they responded last week and that's what a good side does," Dillon said.
"We know Colbinabbin is playing their best footy at this time of the year, but we certainly think our best footy is good enough to beat them."
Among the recruits for North Bendigo this year has been the return of a familiar face in key forward Brady Herdman, who is no stranger to grand final success having played in eight premierships - two with Eaglehawk, four with Wedderburn and two with North Bendigo.
Herdman has booted 65 goals for the season and the Bulldogs' forward line on Saturday has been given an extra boost with the inclusion of Darcy Richards, who has overcome a lower left leg fracture.
And there's also the "break glass if needed" option of swingman Jordan Ford, who earned one of the best-on-ground medals in last year's grand final for his six-goal bag, but looks the Bulldogs' best match-up down the other for Colbinabbin forward Daniel Connors.
NORTH BENDIGO GRAND FINAL TEAM:
3 - TOM METHERELL
Games: 17 Goals: 2
19 - SHANE HARRIS
Games: 18 Goals: 11
7 - JORDAN FORD
Games: 16 Goals: 6
9 - AARRYN CRAIG
Games: 17 Goals: 15
33 - BRODIE THOMSON
Games: 13 Goals: 0
32 - LACHLAN FORD
Games: 4 Goals: 0
37 - TIM DEVEREAUX
Games: 16 Goals: 8
5 - TYSON FINDLAY
Games: 13 Goals: 10
14 - RYAN ALFORD
Games: 18 Goals: 0
41 - STORM GIRI
Games: 12 Goals: 15
12 - DARCY RICHARDS
Games: 13 Goals:35
17 - BEN KNIGHT
Games: 17 Goals: 27
20 - ZACH ALFORD
Games: 17 Goals: 36
16 - BRADY HERDMAN
Games: 14 Goals: 65
18 - JACK DONAT
Games: 16 Goals: 3
29 - JEREMY LAMBDEN
Games: 18 Goals: 0
8 - JOEL HELMAN
Games: 18 Goals: 20
6 - JARROD FINDLAY (C)
Games: 17 Goals: 23
23 - WILL BROHM
Games: 17 Goals: 5
21 - RYAN GOW
Games: 2 Goals: 0
10 - JAKE HYLAND
Games: 17 Goals: 9
26 - CALLUM TARDREW
Games: 18 Goals: 1
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