SALE'S Gippsland League football season came to an end on Sunday, as the Magpies lost to Moe in the first semi-final, 6.3 (39) to 9.16 (70).
Most pundits entering the Traralgon Recreation Reserve went into the game thinking the contest would be a genuine 50-50, as only a one-point win to Sale in the final home-and-away round gave them the double chance in the finals ahead of Moe.
Both teams won 13 matches during the regular season, but for Sale, two of those victories came against Moe.
Through a combination of injury and unavailability, the Magpies were forced to make half a dozen changes to the team which took care of Moe with relative ease only five weeks ago.
Moe was also forced to make some changes to the team which defeated Drouin in the elimination final, with key defender Lachlan Rees coming in as a like-for-like replacement for the injured Joel Bragagnolo, and Tristan Gum replacing Bryce Collings, who has been eating his meals through a straw after sustaining a broken jaw the previous Sunday.
Honours were shared in the opening term as neither side was really able to gain a decisive advantage. Moe kicked the first goal through a Spencer White set shot, before Sale got one on the board through Jarrod Freeman.
Freeman was walked to the goal line after receiving a free kick and a 50 metre penalty after the ball was not handed back to him in a gentlemanly manner.
Moe went into the first huddle with an 11-point lead after registering eight scoring shots to two, before making some decisive inroads in the second to be ahead by 21 points at the main break.
The umpires put their whistles away during the second quarter, as players from both teams battled desperately to keep the ball moving forward.
The crowd was given a moment to laugh after a spectator failed to kick the ball back in from the grandstand to the field of play, somehow managing to kick it flush into a nearby flagpole.
As teams re-entered the arena for the second half, there was a noticeable absentee from the Sale camp, with league leading goal kicker Brad Dessent taking no further part in the game.
Moe extended its lead to a game high 34 points at the seven-minute mark of the third quarter as dark clouds began to develop. The Traralgon lights were turned on early in the term, as people began to check their phones to see how the radar was tracking.
With a huge storm on the way, Sale knew it would need to get a move on if was to be any chance of staying in the game. The Magpies kicked back-to-back goals through captain Jordan Dessent and Mitch Dowse, who kicked truly at the 21-minute mark to cut the margin back to within four goals.
The Lions were able to snuff some of Sale's momentum with a goal late in the quarter from Hayden Prestidge, who kept his composure and kicked a clutch set shot.
Moe found the first goal of the final term through Dylan Farrell, who put his team 35-points ahead.
As rain began to pelt down midway through the final term, the result became a forgone conclusion, as a few Moe players rugged up on the interchange bench and turned one eye to the next game.
In the finish, arguably the difference between the two sides was how many marks they took inside 50.
The Lions were able to find 17, while the Magpies could only manage three.
Sale veteran Chris Laverty was best afield for his team, with the defender's efforts ensuring the Magpies were not blown out of the water. Zac Hurley also put in some admirable efforts in the back line, and found support further up the field from Will Leslie, Mitch Dowse, Jack Lipman and Oliver Collins.
Chief ball winners for Sale were Mitch Dowse with 21 touches, Luke Williams (20), and Jack McLaren (20).
Moe's best players were Ben Morrow, Jacob Wood and Mitch Stanlake. Wood had 23 disposals, while fellow midfielders James Blaser (24) and Jordan Ceppi (22) were also busy.
The Lions will now play Leongatha for the chance to play in their first grand final since 2000. Current Moe player Peter Ainsworth played in that grand final nearly 19 years ago.
For the Magpies, the end of season 2019 may draw some parallels to how last season finished up, as the senior team has now exited two consecutive finals series in the same way.
Sale will have a few days to acknowledge the season that was before regrouping and working on putting together another strong list to compete next season. The club will be looking forward to enjoying their new change room facilities at Sale Oval, which should be ready in time for the start of the 2020 season.
Gippsland League preliminary final
Saturday at Morwell Recreation Reserve:
Seniors: Leongatha v Moe, 2.20pm.
Reserves: Traralgon v Leongatha, 12.30pm.
Under 18s: Traralgon v Leongatha, 10.45am.
Under 16s: Traralgon v Moe, 9am.