BY NATHAN DOLE
FOR the 10th time, Golden Square and Sandhurst will fight for the Bendigo Advertiser premiership cup in Saturday’s grand finale to the Bendigo Bank Bendigo FNL senior footy season.
Another clash between two of the league’s greatest rivals will be played out at Queen Elizabeth Oval in View Street from 2.20pm.
The record of season deciders between the Bulldogs and Dragons stands at 7-3 in favour of Sandhurst.
Seven years ago it was Sandhurst which beat the Bulldogs to claim its 27th senior flag.
Neither club has featured in a senior grand final since then.
The Bulldogs and Dragons were the dominant teams across the home-and-away series.
The Christian Carter-coached Golden Square was on a 14-game winning streak going into the finals series and has since beaten Strathfieldsaye in the qualifying final, and Sandhurst in the second semi.
Sandhurst’s record across 18 rounds was 16 wins, a draw, a loss.
Sole defeat for a team coached by Ash Connick, playing, and Bryce Curnow, non-playing, was on Golden Square’s turf at Fur Life Oval in Wade Street in the 12th round.
The Bulldogs won that clash by four goals.
When these clubs met in round three on the QEO it Sandhurst which retained the Ron Best Memorial Shield after a 94-59 victory.
In the second semi it was Golden Square which overturned a three-goal deficit in the second term into a 14-point win to be first to the grand final and earn a week’s rest.
Sandhurst’s fighting spirit was to the fore as it hit back from three goals down going into the last quarter to win the preliminary final against Strathfieldsaye by eight points.
There will be many key match-ups in Saturday’s grand final.
One of the most pivotal will be in the ruck where Golden Square veteran Matt Compston takes on Hamish Hosking.
At ground level the Bulldogs have Thomas Toma, Ryan Hartley, captain Jack Geary and Ricky Monti who are superb at centre ball-ups and stoppages.
A five-time premiership winner in the Bulldogs’ golden era of 2019 to ’13, Jack Geary is a dual Nalder medallist from best on ground performances in the grand finals of 2010 and ’13.
Key target in attack is Joel Brett who followed up winning the Ron Best Medal as leading goalkicker in ’22 by going into Saturday’s match with a season tally of 90.
The Bulldogs also have the marking power of Braydon Vaz and Tom Strauch, the high-leaping Hamish Morcom and skilful Jack Stewart to trouble the Dragons’ defence.
A tight-knit back six for Golden Square includes Jon Coe, Jayden Burke, Harrison Burke and Jake Thrum who could be switched to a midfield role if needed.
It’s the young guns of Sandhurst such as Sam Conforti and Noah Walsh who have played big roles in the team’s success.
They work brilliantly with experienced campaigners such as captain Lee Coghlan, Zach Pallpratt, James Coghlan and Nick Stagg.
Marking strength of Matt Thornton, Lachlan Wright and Cobi Maxted will trouble the Dogs especially if Sandhurst can move the ball quickly into the forward 50m arc.
In terms of “big game players” the Dragons have Bryce Curnow and Andy Collins.
A Nalder medallist as best afield in Strathfieldsaye’s grand final win of 2019, Curnow’s intercept marking across half-back and on-field leadership as co-coach is a huge plus.
In 2014, Curnow claimed the Rod Ashman Medal as best on ground as Golden Square won the under-18s premiership.
The experience Collins brings from an AFL stint with Richmond and Carlton is invaluable, especially in a grand final.
Young guns such as Cooper Smith and Archer Day-Wicks will be fired up for the match which matters most.
B: Jake Thrum, Zack Shelton, Harrison Burke.
Hb: Jon Coe, Jayden Burke, Jack Hickman.
C: Jack Threlfall, Ricky Monti, Thomas Toma.
Hf: Hamish Morcom, Tom Strauch, Liam Barrett.
F: Jack Stewart, Braydon Vaz, Joel Brett.
Foll: Matt Compston, Jack Geary, Ryan Hartley.
Inter: Liam Duguid, Hugh Freckleton, Brodie James, Zavier Murley.
Emerg: Macey Eaton.
Coach: Christian Carter.
B: Tanner Nally, Liam Ireland, Darcy Mills.
Hb: Alex Wharton, Bryce Curnow, Noah Walsh.
C: Jake McLean, Zach Pallpratt, Cooper Smith.
Hf: Lee Coghlan, Lachlan Wright, Archer Day-Wicks.
F: Matt Thornton, Cobi Maxted, Sam Conforti.
Foll: Hamish Hosking, Nick Stagg, James Coghlan.
Inter: Andy Collins, Caleb Connick, Isaac Ruff, Matthew Wilkinson.
Coaches: Ash Connick, Bryce Curnow.
In the flashbacks of the Bendigo FNL grand finals the 1983 grand final between Sandhurst and Golden Square rates as one of the best.
The Dragons beat the Bulldogs by seven points 40 years ago.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of when the Ron Best-coached Sandhurst beat Golden Square for the cup.
In a move akin to Ron Barassi crossing from Melbourne to Carlton, goalkicking legend Best was lured from Golden Square to the Dragons.
He was captain-coach as Sandhurst beat the blue and gold by 46 points to be the premiers of ’73.
Half-a-century later and another team of Dragons and Bulldogs are striving for glory once more.
PHOTO: Darren Howe