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CHURCHILL stunned raging favourite Heyfield to claim the North Gippsland football premiership.
Best-on-ground Brendan Holt kicked seven goals to steer the Cougars to the shock victory, 20.9 (129) to 10.18 (78).
The star forward was not alone in a true team effort as Churchill took command of the game early before an inspiring eight-goal to three third term all but flattened Heyfield’s hopes, leaving the Kangaroos coaching duo of Damien Birss and Adrian Cox heartbroken for the second straight season.
Churchill exposed Heyfield early as it hit the scoreboard in the opening minutes, responding to the Kangaroos’ first major with two of their own and stamping their intention in a fast-paced passage of play in front of a record crowd of 4491 spectators.
Consecutive behinds kept Heyfield in touch, before a major levelled scores.
Churchill looked to respond, Hamish Towns’ shot was marked on the line by Joe Whykes, but his shot hit the post. Moments earlier, Williams missed an easy opportunity as both sides become unravelled by the nerves on the big stage.
Towns made no such mistake second time around, scooting away from Brenton Dinsdale to run in to an open goal and register Churchill’s third goal.
It was followed in close check with the Cougars’ fourth after an errant Heyfield handpass was intercepted by Nick Celima.
A shot from Brad Knowle swayed across the face of goal before Holt, playing the role of rover, picked up the loose ball and snapped a goal from five metres out.
Trailing by 14 points, Shaun Humphries took a strong contested mark to combine with Daniel Stevens in the corridor. Stevens’ kick hitting the chest of Jesse Jackway, who took a solid mark to go back and split the middle of the sticks after the quarter-time siren.
Jack Woodland was ferocious in his attack on the ball and man as he tried to create a spark for the Kangaroos entering the second term.
The sides exchanged blows during an even second term.
Churchill felt the effects of injury, first losing Towns after the youngster looked to take a courageous mark in the forward line. The youngster flew back with the flight of the ball and crunched into the behind post.
Soon after, a stretcher was called when Travis Brighton went down with what was feared to be a knee injury.
Knowles opened the scoring with the first goal of the second term as onballers Knowles, Brighton and Chris Williams looked to impose restrictive pressure on Heyfield’s Dave Kelly, Josh Stubbe and Woodland.
Heyfield continued to show signs of unease with an endless list of errors – kicking into the man on the mark, kicking straight to the opposition or running themselves into trouble holding the ball – becoming common.
Churchill’s inaccuracy in front of goal kept the door ajar for Heyfield to challenge.
Heyfield threatened, Humphries was inspiring, working hard to spoil the tall timber of Andrew Brown and Dillon Leys; Jackway was holding the upper hand against defender Dean DeGroot, while Cam Garrett’s pace was proving advantageous on the rebound.
Knowles added his second major for the term which hurt Heyfield before Kangaroos captain Brenton Dinsdale’s responded with a goal boosted his side.
Churchill’s defence, led by coach Allan Chandler held strong under the pressure, Tim Darby pushed into the back line early as he directed traffic to restricting the impact of Heyfield forward Jesse Bedggood, who was forced to work hard for each possession.
Churchill defender James Hayward conceded the free kick to Daniel Stubbe, whose goal reeled the margin back to eight points.
Nick Campbell directed traffic on the wing for the Cougars. Amassing possessions he made his mark in the second term, Campbell set-up several majors as he was allowed to go at will.
The pressure of the Cougars forwards resulted in Holt again winning possession to add another to his tally ahead of half-time, with Churchill leading by 16 points.
A barnstorming eight-goal to three third quarter from the Cougars was telling in the eventual result.
Churchill continued on from where it left off in the first half with Holt in the thick of it, Campbell was a major player along with captain Williams, who stood up in front of goal and delivered the ball to Holt.
Campbell’s sleek handpass to Williams saw the midfielder sprint into goal to register the Cougars’ second on the run to blow the margin blown out to 31 points.
Brenton Dinsdale and Bedggood worked hard to halt the Cougars’ run with the latter kicking a goal from an acute angle on the boundary line.
Knowles had his third goal for the match as the Kangaroos were found wanting caught holding the ball as the margin drew out to seven goals.
Birss and Cox made the move, Lucas Jenkins onto Holt as they looked to outmuscle and negate the impact of the forward, but as they did that others stood up. Paul Metilkovec roved the ball in the goal square to score.
A late major to Heyfield was the only shining light in a disappointing term.
Holt registered his seventh major in the opening minutes of the final quarter, from there it was a precession of quick majors with Williams and Knowles adding to their tally.
The ideal ending to a perfect season was denied by a sleek and hungry Cougar outfit.
The Cougars’ midfielder of Williams, Brighton, Brandon Mahoney, Whykes, Celima, Campbell and Brown presented all day, with Holt the barometer of the side’s charge on the scoreboard in the third term.
The defence, led by Darby, had reassurance when under stress – whether it was Jarrod Broadbent’s timely spoils, Jordon Fenech dropping back into marking contests or Chandler on the overlap for a relieving hand pass.
Heyfield challenged with its characteristic midfield control, fast breaks and, at times, audacious and adventurous ball-sharing by the forwards, particularly Bedggood, Jackway and Daniel Stubbe, as it looked to remain in the contest in the third term. But when it counted, last year’s runner-up found itself again with the same result in an uncharacteristic performance.