BY NATHAN DOLE
THE Heathcote Saints are just a step away from reaching the summit as the Bendigo Bank Heathcote DFNL’s senior footy premiers of ’23.
After hundreds of hours of preparation the Saints’ team now has just over two hours to claim the title as the league’s best by winning Saturday’s showdown with Mount Pleasant.
A fierce rivalry between clubs who are 22 kilometres apart stretches back decades.
“There is plenty of excitement about the place,” said Heathcote coach Andrew Saladino, captured at Tuesday night’s training at Pigeon Park by STEVE WOMERSLEY.
“A Heathcote and Mount Pleasant grand final was not what many would have predicted at the start of the season.”
The Saints defeated the Blues by margins of nine and four points in rounds six and 15 at Toolleen and then at Pigeon Park in Heathcote’s Barrack Reserve.
After a hard-fought second semi-final win against White Hills, Saladino has watched Mount Pleasant knock out North Bendigo and the Demons from the premiership race.
“I have been really impressed by the way they have played,” he said of the Blues, that’s Mount Pleasant, not Carlton who he is a passionate supporter of.
Pressure and teamwork has played a big part in Mounts’ run.
Saladino said the wider expanses at Huntly would suit the running style of both teams.
“We are not an overly tall team, so it’s run and carry that’s a big part of our game.
“Just dumping a kick down the line does not work.”
Self-belief, risk- reward are two of the key mantras of Saladino’s coaching.
He is in charge of a team that has the quality of Braden Padmore, Corey Grindlay, and Sam Cheatley medallist Liam Jacques.
“They have been superb players all season, but it’s the workrate and skill of all 22 on the field, no matter who they are, that’s put us in this position.”
Among the challenges for the Saints will be in the ruck where Mount Pleasant captain Chris Down could have a major impact at centre ball-ups and stoppages.
“It could be a warm day, so we may look at using Braden Padmore in the ruck where his ability to run and create around the ground is a huge plus.”
In attack it’s Grindlay and Shannon Dowsett as major targets.
This time the Saints’ defence does not have to worry about the dangerous Ben Weightman because of a back injury.
“It means Mounts is less predictable in its forward line, so that’s a big challenge for our defence.”
The Saints’ back six is brilliantly led by captain Codie Price who also brings premiership-winning experience from Sandhurst.
Just who is in Heathcote’s team for the grand final may not be decided until late Friday.
“Brayden Klemke hurt his hamstring in the second semi. He has done his rehab and will train on Thursday night.
“Being able to get through that session and then on how he is feeling on Friday means a decision on the 22 in the grand final could be delayed.”
Saladino said many people had played a part in the club’s rise from winning one senior game in 2019 to be in the grand final.
“Our president, Bec Dickinson has done a superb job leading the club and so many people have contributed.”
The first of a Heathcote DFNL senior grand final between the Saints and Blues was in 1967 when Mounts won.
Four years later and the Blues beat the Saints again.
Heathcote’s victory in ’82 denied Mount Pleasant a fourth consecutive victory.
A run of seven consecutive grand finals for the Saints between 1989 and ’95 included a win against the Blues in ’92, but losses to Mounts in ’90, ’93, ’94 and ’95.
Another streak for the Saints was 2008 to ’11 when the record was 2-2.
Heathcote is back in a grand final for the first time since 2011, and aiming to add to the seventh senior flag it won in 2010.
A wait of 13 years which has included some incredible lows could soon be over for the Saints fans of all ages.