BY NATHAN DOLE
MOUNT Pleasant capped an incredible run to claim its 20th senior footy premiership in the Bendigo Bank Heathcote DFNL on Saturday.
The Blues took on Heathcote in superb conditions at Huntly’s Strauch Reserve.
Mounts was aiming to break a premiership drought of 17 years as the Saints strived for their first grand final win since 2010.
Both teams had contrasting runs to the grand final.
After finishing the home-and-away series on top of the ladder, Heathcote then beat White Hills in the second semi-final.
Mount Pleasant had faced must-win scenarios since it took on Leitchville Gunbower in the elimination final.
The Blues then put North Bendigo and White Hills out of the premiership race to earn a shot at ultimate glory against its long-time rival and neighbour.
It was the Andrew Saladino-coached Heathcote which made a brilliant start to the grand final.
The Saints scored the opening three goals, but Mounts fought back strongly to lead 20-19 by quarter-time.
In the second, Tyler McNamara’s left-foot goal on the run had the Blues’ fans roaring.
Heathcote struck back as Rhys Bolton was on target from in the forward pocket and Joseph Beedle nailed a great shot from the boundary line.
By half-time Mount Pleasant led 7.2 (44) to 6.3 (39).
Mounts was first to goal in the second half through Zach Charles.
Consecutive goals by ruckman Braden Padmore and a third major by classy full-forward Corey Grindlay put Heathcote in front by a point going into the last term.
Despite the warm conditions and a taxing campaign to reach the grand final, Mount Pleasant finished the match full of running as the Saints faltered.
After Blues’ co-coach and gun on-baller Adam Baird won the centre clearance it was Caelan Smith who kicked a great goal.
Mounts then hit the front when Smith was on the end of a handpass from Zebb Murrell.
For many of the Blues team there was the memory of last year’s final quarter fadeout and loss to LBU which spurred them on.
A superb chase and tackle by Reardon McIvor earned a free kick and goal.
Key forward Mitchell Bennett marked and was on target as Mounts had raced to a 23-point lead by the 11-minute mark.
Pressure of the occasion and the opposition meant Heathcote battled to string passes.
Saints’ hopes were raised when Padmore goaled, but it was to the final major of the game.
Just as it had done in the previous two finals wins, Mount Pleasant’s final quarter heroic clinched a dramatic victory.
This was the sweetest of all as the Blues led 12.7 (79) to 9.6 (60) when the siren sounded to end the season.
Despite gun forward and co-coach Ben Weightman spending all of the finals on the sidelines because of a back injury, Mount Pleasant found other scoring options.
In the grand final it was Caelan Smith who led the attack on three goals.
The pacy and skilful Mitch Rovers kicked two majors in the grand final as did Mitch Bennett.
Nick Butler, Zach Charles, Jack Mackenzie, Riley McIvor and Tyler McNamara were also on target for the Blues.
Heathcote’s multiple goalkickers were Corey Grindlay and Braden Padmore on three and two.
Joseph Beedle, Rhys Bolton, Henry McCarthy and Cheatley medallist as the season’s fairest and best in Liam Jacques were also on target.
Mount Pleasant ruckman and captain Chris Down earned the AFL Victoria Medal for best afield.
Other stars for the Blues were Adam Baird, Caelan Smith, Michael Whiting, Fletcher White and Riley McNamara.
Best for Heathcote were defenders Connor Hamilton and Bill Direen, Billy Price, Rhys Bolton, captain Codie Price, and Joseph Beedle.
There were many key contributors to Mount Pleasant’s fightback from being wooden spooner six years ago to again be at the top.
Among them was Darren Walsh who had coached the club to the 2022 grand final and this season took on a new role as director of coaching.
Mount Pleasant’s premiership team:
Adam Baird, Mitch Bennett, Nick Butler, Zach Charles, Chris Down, Sam Greene, Bryce Hinneberg, Jack Mackenzie, Reardon McIvor, Riley McNamara, Tyler McNamara, Connor Moore, Zeb Murrell, Pat O’Brien, Mitch Rovers, Caelan Smith, Mason Wakefield, William Wallace, Bailey White, Fletcher White, Daniel Whiting, Michael Whiting.
Co-coaches: Adam Baird, Ben Weightman.
All three clubs which had been runner-up in 2022 struck back to win this year’s premiership cups.
White Hills outran North Bendigo in the second half of the reserves clash to mark a five-goal victory.
The Demons led 24-19 at half-time.
Led by the play of Doolan Nihill, Matthew Cox and Tom Morgan medallist in league fairest and best in Jayden Sheehan, White Hills outran and outworked the Bulldogs in the third quarter.
White Hills slammed on 6.3 to a goal and held a 38-point lead going into the final term.
The Damien Webb-coached North Bendigo lifted to win the final quarter, 22-14, but it was the red and black which celebrated a 77-47 victory.
Matt Cox kicked a match-high four goals as Jayden Sheean chipped in with two.
Other goalkickers for the Demons were Fraser Banfield, Rohan Cadzow, Doolan Nihill, Tom Parkinson and Aaron Schofield.
The Bulldogs’ attack was led by Michael Thompson, three goals, and Pat Bogers, two.
Lucas Keating and Bailey Wingrave also goaled for the red, white and blue.
The Demons’ best included Ryan Clark, James Avery and Chris Wild.
Not only did Sheean claim the league’s top player award, but he teamed up with Lachlan Sawyer as coaches of the White Hills line-up.
North Bendigo’s best were ruckman Denzel Cooper, co-captain Jack Towers, Jayden McCarroll, Michael Thompson, Bailey Wingrave and Lucas Keating.
White Hills premiership team:
Ethan Arnold, James Avery, Fraser Banfield, Riley Beard, Patrick Blood, Rohan Cadzow, Ryan Clark, Matthew Cox, Joe Gardy, Hamish Goggin, Isaac Griffin, Mitchell Griffin, Josh Harris, Xavier Meersbergen, Liam Monaghan, Doolan Nihill, Tom Parkinson, Reilley Porter, Aaron Schofield, Jayden Sheean, Nicholas Wharton (captain), Chris Wild. Coaches: Lachlan Sawyer, Jayden Sheean.
Grand final day kicked off with North Bendigo winning the under-18s clash with the Harlowe Huntly Hawks by 40 points.
The Storm Giri-coached Bulldogs had been beaten just once in the home-and-away series.
A Huntly team coached by Aaron Wheelhouse and Mitch Billings had fought from an elimination final to feature in the season decider.
Huntly’s pressure, especially in the second quarter, was outstanding.
The Hawks turned a five-point deficit at quarter-time into a nine-point lead by half-time after they scored 3.2 to a goal in term two.
In the third the Bulldogs started to take control at centre ball-ups and around stoppages.
Brandyn Barilari and Jett Grundy were key playmakers for the Bulldogs along with Will Gilmore.
North Bendigo scored 6.4 to 2.1 in the third quarter.
A 28-point lead at the last change was 40 by the finish after the red, white and blue added 4.5 to 1.1.
Goalkickers for both teams were not supplied.
The Bulldogs’ best included Corey May, Max Paetow and Reece Mitchell.
A foot injury sustained in the final round of the home and away series meant talented on-baller Nathan Anderson did not play in either of the finals.
This year’s recipient of the David Roulston Medal as league fairest and best, Anderson did received a premiership medal.
Best for the Hawks in the grand final were Ethan Oaten, Josh Trotter, Judd Gilchrist, Archer Billings, Patrick Henderson and Marcus Dunstone.
North Bendigo’s premiership team:
Nathan Anderson, Brandyn Bariliari, Samuel Burns, Noah Filo, Will Gilmore, Jett Grundy, Bailey Hird, Jonty Hobbs, Harper Hodgens, Lucas Jackson. Oliver Kean, Mason Lane, Senna Marsili, Corey May, Reece Mitchell, Finn Paetow, Max Paetow, Harry Pysing, Jack Pysing, Brodie Reaper, Lincoln Smith, Jimmy Webb, Charlie Williamson. Coach: Storm Giri.