CHURCHILL advanced to its first North Gippsland football grand final in five seasons after rallying from behind to win a classic tussle against Sale City.
The Cougars will next week meet Heyfield, the same opponent they battled with for the premiership title in 2009.
The Cougars won 13.13 (91) to 10.11 (71).
Trailing at the final change, the signs appeared ominous in the early stages of the fourth term for the Cougars. Sale City was the first to go forward before the Cougars rebounded to score through Brendan Holt to regain the lead.
Holt became the forward of the final term, kicking three of his game high four majors during the quarter.
Tim Darby and Nick Campbell made it three straight to hand the Cougars, considering the tight contest, a commanding 13-point buffer.
On the back foot for the good part of the contest, the Cougars had a number of opportunities to regain the lead and blow the game apart, however, their inaccuracy in front of goal was costly all afternoon, booting eight behinds in the second half alone.
City’s key play makers stepped up on the big stage from the opening bounce. The side’s younger players, continuing what had been an impressive finals campaign, hit the ground running led by Byron Shingles, Brendon Rathnow, Brad Walsh and Nick Grainger.
Matt Lutze was dominant in the ruck against the formidable combination of Andrew Brown and Dillon Leys, Shingles created plenty of play on the ball, while the back line led by Tim Dimarco withstood the Cougars’ early forward pressure.
The Cougars were slow to begin with City drilling forward from the opening bounce.
City coach Hayden Burgiel registered the first major of the contest with a long kick from outside 50 splitting the sticks and settling the nerves of the young pups.
Burgiel’s major would be one of three for the term before Jake Schuback got in on the action. Matt Lutze rotated at full forward and combining with Rowan Bell, who returned to the line-up following a two-week suspension, to set about establishing an eight-point buffer at the first change.
Churchill had its chances in a scrappy opening term, with league rookie of the year Hamish Towns making the most of his opportunities registering one of this three goals for the match for the Cougars, while their back line led by coach Allan Chandler was sublime in cutting off the Bulldogs’ delivery into key forward Schuback, who was marked closely by James Hayward.
Chandler demanded pressure during his quarter-time address, asking “what are we willing to do to take the next step to play together in a grand final?”
The goals were few and far between with both sides missing good opportunities to kick goals.
Poor entry into the Cougars’ forward line was hindering their attack on the scoreboard before a major to Nick Celima steadied the ship and reeled the deficit to two points.
On the run through the middle of the ground, Chris Weller took a great intercept mark to set-up Holt with his first goal of the afternoon to hand the Cougars the lead.
Following two consecutive misses for goal, City’s Mitch Bennett redeemed himself with his major putting the Bulldogs back in front. Mitch Evans extending the margin with a goal ahead of the half-time siren.
Grainger opened proceedings in the second half before Towns added another for Churchill to reel the margin back to under a goal.
City focused on hitting a target when moving forward, however the target of past weeks Schuback was well covered with the back six moving the ball well on the rebound.
While the ball movement and execution through the middle of the ground was gaining momentum, the same couldn’t be said for the forwards’ preparation and shots for goal. Brad Knowles had three missed chances, while Celima and Holt also missing majors.
Towns registered his second goal for the term to again wrest the lead back for the Cougars.
Burgiel changed things up for the Bulldogs with Schuback sent into the midfield and Jake Milham thrown up forward, were he would quickly hit the scoreboard.
City took a five-point lead into the final change.
Fast and frenetic paced footy with ferocious tackling was common place in the final term. Both sides had their chances early with City missing a direct shot in front of goal, while Holt sparked to life in the opposition 50 for the Cougars.
Holt kicked a goal on a slight angle from 10 metres out to hand Churchill a one-point lead. Goals from Darby and best-on-ground Nic Campbell followed.
City took little time to respond with Shingles roving the tap well to bomb the ball long into Schuback, who pushed back on his opponent to run onto the ball and goal.
Bell’s lightning handpass to Burgiel allowed the coach send his side forward, Rathnow running onto the ball to goal and cut the deficit back to a point. Grainger’s second goal was a result of a free kick in the goal square and would be the last for the Bulldogs.
Forced onto the back foot, the Cougars pushed back in the final stages of the match, Holt and Brandon Mahoney adding the final three majors of the match to register a 20-point victory.
IN the reserves, Cowwarr recorded 14.13 (97) to 12.8 (80) victory over Churchill to advance to the grand final to meet minor premier Heyfield.
Thirds minor premier Churchill sealed its third grand final appearance in four seasons with victory over Yarram, 11.16 (82) to 6.12 (48). The Cougars booted six goals to two in the third quarter to set-up the win, which books them a grand final place against Traralgon-Tyers United.
Saturday at Traralgon Recreation Reserve:
Seniors: Heyfield v Churchill, 2.30pm.
Reserves: Heyfield v Cowwarr, noon.
Thirds: TTU v Churchill, 9.30am.