NORTH Bendigo coach Matt Dillon uttered “proud” many times in the minutes after Saturday’s victory in the Bendigo Bank Heathcote District Football Netball League’s senior footy grand final.
“Proud to be a Bulldog” is a moniker the Atkins Street-based club has carried for a few years now.
As he became the latest premiership coach in the club’s history, Dillon said the grand final victory against Colbinabbin capped an incredible season in which the Bulldogs achieved a 17-2 record.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Dillon said from the presentation dais after the 70-34 win at Huntly’s Strauch Reserve.
“After the loss in the second semi-final to Colbo there may have been questions about our hunger to win.
“The way we backed each other to bounce back the past two weeks was fantastic.”
For many years the third quarter was dubbed the “premiership quarter”.
On Saturday it was the second in which North Bendigo upped the pressure and continually attacked to score 5.3 to a point.
The Bulldogs led 48-15 at half-time and never allowed the Grasshoppers to get their running game going.
“Over these past two weeks our biggest focus has been on game control and being better when the pressure was on,” Dillon said.
The heat was also after North Bendigo had been beaten in the previous two grand finals by Leitchville Gunbower.
“We had been in a few and lost a few,” said Dillon.
For most of this season it had been the Bulldogs’ formidable attack and skilful onballers which had been the big factors in their success.
On grand final day North Bendigo’s defence was outstanding as they worked to limit Colbinabbin to just four goals.
Among the many winning moves by coach Dillon was to put Shane Harris against Colbinabbin’s gun full-forward Daniel Connors.
In the second semi-final it was Jordan Ford who opposed Connors in the first half before being switched to attack.
From the opening ball-up on Saturday it was Harris who outplayed Connors in the air and on the ground.
“Shane’s job on Connors today was massive. There was a lot of one-on-one ball that went in their forward 50 and Shane stopped a lot of that,” Dillon said.
Victory was sweet for “Sugar” Harris and his team-mates.
Another key match-up was Brodie Thomson against Matt Riordan.
The North Bendigo back six which included Ryan Alford, Lachlan Ford, Tom Metherell and Callum Tardrew was a “tight-knit” unit which worked hard to limit space for opponents to lead into and used run and carry from defence.
Among the many highs was Ryan Gow marking his 100th senior for the club in a grand final win.
The club’s leading goalkicker Brady Herdman capped a remarkable comeback to the game and celebrated a ninth premiership which covers stints at Eaglehawk, Wedderburn and North Bendigo.
There were also the hard-luck stories of those who were not in the final 22 to tackle Colbinabbin, but had played a part in the Bulldogs’ run to another tilt at the premiership.
There many not been many spectacular goals or marks, but for North Bendigo’s players and supporters it was all about win the game.
“You don’t get flags handed to you, but I felt our group really deserved it today with the footy they’ve played this year,” Dillon said.
“We were confident that if we played four quarters of grinding footy and won the contested ball that we’d be right in it.
“There’s certainly plenty of satisfaction and relief with the result for the club.”
Colbinabbin coach Julian Bull, the players and fans were in a position post-match that North Bendigo had been in the previous two years.
“North Bendigo was far too good today,” Bull said from the presentation dais.
“Today was not our day.
“In a grand final you need to take the pressure to a whole new level, and North Bendigo did that so much better than us.”
Although hit by injury to many key players throughout the season, Colbinabbin kept finding a way to win.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved this year,” said Bull.
The Grasshoppers’ ability to overcome adversity and unearth many exciting prospects augurs well for 2020 and beyond.
“It’s an absolutely cracking group we have here.
“We will be bigger and stronger for it,” Bull said of the grand final experience.
Just as Colbinabbin and North Bendigo chase more success, so do eight rivals.
The race to be better has kicked off.