A MAIDEN grand final berth in the senior men’s AFL Central West competition narrowly passed by the Bathurst Giants in a two point defeat to hosts Orange Tigers on Saturday.
Giants finished with high intensity footy but couldn’t bring down the minor premiers at Waratahs, the match finishing 7-5-47 to 7-3-45.
In a physical contest both teams dealt with injury, with the Tigers losing Michael Rothnie to a hamstring strain early in the week and playing coach Dale Hunter struggling with a heel issue.
Meanwhile the Giants were harder hit losing Josh Broes (shoulder) and Sam Sloan (dislocated finger) before half-time – not that coach Mark Kennedy used that as an excuse, saying he was proud of his charges for taking it up to the minor premiers right until the siren.
“I can’t be prouder of our playing group this year, to come from where we started from a few years ago, we were getting beaten by 100 and 200 points and we were two points away from making a grand final,” Kennedy said.
“It was one of those games I described as if we’re going to beat the Tigers over here it would be like climbing mount Everest in flip-flops – although today flippers would have been more useful.
“We’ve got a few younger bodies out there, half the side is under 17 and they’re developing and we just want to put our best bodies on the field but look out next year, the boys will be bigger, stronger and more hungry and as I said, two points off making a grand final I can’t be prouder.”
The Giants started like a house on fire, making the most of the wind to kick three goals to two in the opening quarter before the Tigers flipped the table to kick two goals to nil to hold a nine-point lead at half time and match the Giants in the third despite kicking against the wind.
However, a Mitch Taylor major seconds before the three-quarter time siren cutting the Tigers’ previously-healthy margin to just seven points heading into the final term, stealing the momentum off the yellow and blacks.
Despite the finale kicking off with a Tigers point and an Andrew Henry check-side to extend the hosts’ lead to 13, the Giants surged against the two-goal breeze to cut the margin to two points and looked like they had the leg-speed to run over the top of Orange.
Nathan Belbin converted a set-shot from 20 metres out and Frank Bright slipped out the back of the pack to run into an open goal with half the final quarter to play and the intensity was turned up to 11.
It would turn out to be the final score of the game, but everyone in the crowd expected more scores to come with the Giants and Tigers both pressing hard.
Both defensive lines stayed composed and level-headed despite the pressure.
“Pressure was definitely on, backed our structures and backed our teammates which is something we haven’t done in the past few weeks but they really stood up today and proud of them,” Tigers ruckman Andrew Nelson said.
“I’ve been around [the Giants] from the start and they’re a great club and with a lot of young kids there’s a lot of potential and with top blokes around them like Paul Jenkins, Dave Manning and Simon Kay, they’ve got the talent to be a top side.”