IN WHAT was an almost carbon copy of their second semi-final meeting a fortnight earlier, Sea Lake Nandaly kicked away from Birchip-Watchem in the final quarter on Saturday to win its first North Central league premiership.
In front of a crowd at St Arnaud that paid a gate of $36,676, the flag was up for grabs at three quarter-time with the Tigers holding a four-point advantage after the Bulls had fought their way back from a 22-point deficit during the second term.
However, the last quarter belonged to the Tigers, who added 2.3 while keeping the Bulls scoreless to prevail 10.13 (73) to 8.6 (54).
The Tigers' first NCFL flag comes in their fourth season in the competition after joining from the Mallee league in 2016, while for the Bulls, it was another premiership opportunity let slip through their fingers.
Saturday was the third-consecutive grand final the Bulls had lost.
The Tigers having the better of the final term was reminiscent of the second semi-final two weeks earlier when they had also led by less than a kick at the final change before holding the Bulls goal-less in the last quarter.
"It was a really hard-fought game that was very similar to when we played them a couple of weeks ago," Sea Lake Nandaly coach Joel Donnan said.
"We turned up here today knowing it was going to take four quarters to get the win and that's how it played out."
The Tigers' two last-quarter goals were kicked by Matt Elliott (11:59 mark) and Brad Collins (19:16).
"Coming into the last quarter where the situation was similar to last time we played them, we had the belief that we would be able to handle it," Donnan said.
"We communicated well in that last quarter and were able to lock the ball in our forward line and get the result."
Former Tigers' coach Elliott finished with three goals - he also kicked one in the first quarter and one in the third - and was awarded the Des Darcy Medal.
"Matt was unbelievable for us," Donnan said.
"He coached the previous three years and knows what it's all about and it's a credit to him that he was able to perform the way he did on a big day today."
Collins with two majors was the Tigers' only other multiple goalkicker.
The AFL Victoria Country Medal went to Sea Lake Nandaly midfielder Bryce Delmenico.
"Bryce got a heavy knock around half-time and played forward for the rest of the day and took some really good marks," Donnan said.
"He fought the game out really well for us."
Also playing a big game for the Tigers was defender Brodie Adcock.
"He played across half-back and that ability of his to read the ball, chop off and use his foot skills was really important for us," said Donnan, whose premiership team-mates included his three brothers Trent, Kane and Wade.
Trent Donnan through the midfield, Luke Martin, Brody Weir and Jason Collins were also in the Tigers' best.
Among the Tigers' goalkickers was Alex Pollock, who won his fifth flag in the past 10 seasons following previous premierships at Bridgewater (2010, 2012, 2014) and Natte Bealiba (2011).
Saturday's victory completes a season of dominance for the Tigers, who end 2019 with a 17-1 record and percentage of 300.1.
As for the Bulls, they are still left without a flag since 2001 and continuing to endure the league's longest premiership drought.
Every other club in the competition has won at least one flag since 2006, while the Bulls have become the first club since Donald (1996, 1997 and 1998) to have lost three-consecutive grand finals.
"It's obviously extremely disappointing not to get the result, but I'm incredibly proud of the boys," Birchip-Watchem coach Lochlan Sirett said.
"But to take a positive out of the game, to have two young players out of our under-16s last year (Will Sheahan and Bodie Colbert) play in a senior grand final today is only going to hold them in good stead for the rest of their careers."
The Bulls suffered a blow early when Ruben Vesikuru's game ended with a hamstring injury.
"In our competition where you've only got three on the bench, to lose a midfield rotation in the first quarter on a warm day and on a big ground hurt us," Sirret said.
The Bulls' best player was veteran Jacob Noonan, who kept the competition's leading goalkicker, Tigers' forward Billy McInnes, to one goal.
"Jacob's game today was fantastic and it was really disappointing we couldn't get a win for him," Sirett said.
Noonan has played about 270 senior games for the Bulls - his first in 2002, the year after they won their last premiership.
Sam Simmons through the midfield, wingman/midfielder Nathan Gordon (two goals) and half-back Dale Hinkley were others who featured among the best for the Bulls, whose only three losses for the year were all at the hands of the Tigers.
Ruckman Sirett, who kicked one of the Bulls' goals, will continue as coach for a third season next year.
Meanwhile, in the reserves Sea Lake Nandaly defeated Wedderburn by 34 points.
The Tigers skipped out to a 21-point lead at quarter-time and held the Redbacks at bay for the remainder of the game to win 10.12 (72) to 5.8 (38) and deny Wedderburn a flag three-peat.
Sea Lake Nandaly also won the under-16 premiership and like the senior game, it came at the expense of Birchip-Watchem.
The Tigers kept the Bulls to one goal after half-time in their 9.11 (65) to 3.3 (21) victory that completed an undefeated season.
The only football premiership not won by Sea Lake Nandaly was in the under-13s.
Boort proved too good for the Tigers, kicking off grand final day with a 6.1 (37) to 2.0 (12) victory.
SEA LAKE NANDALY TIGERS v. BIRCHIP WATCHEM
Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers 2.4, 6.7, 8.10, 10.13 (73)
Birchip Watchem 2.1, 5.2, 8.6, 8.6 (54)
GOALS - Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers: Matt Elliott 3, Bradley Collins 2, Luke Martin 1, Billy McInnes 1, Alexander Pollock 1, Trent Donnan 1, William Simpson 1. Birchip Watchem: Nathan Gordon 2, Lachlan Foott 1, Fraser House 1, Jacob Christie 1, Lochlan Sirett 1, Samuel Simmons 1, Stephen Paulke 1.
BEST - Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers: Matt Elliott, Brodie Adcock, Trent Donnan, Luke Martin, Brody Weir, Jason Collins. Birchip Watchem: Jacob Noonan, Samuel Simmons, Nathan Gordon, Dale Hinkley, Jacob Christie, Jack Lee.
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