BY NATHAN DOLE
BEING in the thick of grand final action is what Mount Pleasant co-coach and gun on-baller Adam Baird has done plenty of times.
This Saturday’s senior footy clash for the Bendigo Bank Heathcote DFNL senior premiership will be Baird’s 10th appearance in a grand final.
It’s back-to-back with Mounts after they were runner-up to Lockington Bamawm United last September.
In a brilliant career with Golden Square, Baird or ‘Skinny’ as known to most team-mates, opponents and fans racked up four premiership wins and two runner-up with the Bulldogs.
He also played in grand finals for Labrador in Queensland where the record was one-all.
Now the goal is to lead Mount Pleasant to what would be its 20th senior premiership in the Heathcote DFNL when they take on Heathcote at Huntly’s Strauch Reserve from 2.20pm.
Baird and a Blues’ team which is jointly coached by Ben Weightman and has Darren Walsh as director of coaching is on a remarkable roll.
The Blues beat Leitchville Gunbower in the elimination final and then knocked out North Bendigo and White Hills in consecutive weeks.
“We are match-hardened and match-fit,” Baird said.
“Being a young, fit group we have run out games really well,” he said of the hard-fought victories against the Bulldogs and Demons.
“We believe that being within arm’s length of a team at three quarter-time that we can outrun and outwork them.”
It’s a mindset the Blues take into the grand final against Heathcote.
This season’s meetings between Mount Pleasant and Heathcote went the Saints’ way by margins of nine and four points.
The prize this time is much greater.
Baird said the grand finalists play a similar style of game.
“This season we have worked on a lot more run and overlap, especially from defence.
“Heathcote likes to play the same way, so it’s likely to be an attacking game from the start.”
For the Blues it’s their fourth final in a row.
After finishing on top of the ladder, Heathcote had a week’s rest and then beat White Hills in the second semi-final.
“It’s been a completely different lead-in for both teams,” said Baird.
“They may be fresher at the end of the match, but could be a little slower out of the blocks.
Our pressure and workrate has to be high right from the start.
There are plenty of crucial match-ups for the Blues’ coaching staff to ponder.
Among them are who takes on Saints’ full-forward Corey Grindlay, versatile on-baller Braden Padmore, and Cheatley medallist and gun on-baller Liam Jacques.
“They are all super players. We cannot allow them to roam free and do what they want to do.”
Just as importantly, Mount Pleasant also has plenty of stars, among them are Baird, ruckman and captain Chris Down, and forward/onballer Mitch Rovers.
Although bitterly disappointed not to have Ben Weightman on field because of a back injury, Mounts has found other ways to score.
“Ben is a superstar,” Baird said of a team-mate who kicked 67 goals in 16 matches to win the league’s goalkicking race.
Weightman has not played in any of the finals.
“It was a massive blow when he was ruled out, but we have adapted.
“In some games we were overly conscious of getting the ball to Ben, even when he had three opponents against him.”
Among those to step up have been Rovers who kicked three goals and was best afield against North Bendigo in the first semi.
“Mitch is a classy player. He is quick and a great kick at goal.”
In the preliminary final it was Mitch Bennett who kicked four goals in a four-point win.
As he has done many times, including 2019 when he earned the Michelsen Medal as league fairest and best, Baird was best on ground in Mounts’ latest victory.
The Blues have William Wallace, Bryce Hinneberg and Sam Greene to lead the way in defence.
Not so long ago the Blues were wooden spooners.
A journey across the past three seasons is third, runner-up, and back in the fight to be number one again.