A GOAL two minutes from time in an inspired final quarter saw the Bathurst Giants pull off a tense 2-3-15 to 2-3-15 draw with Central West AFL women's rivals the Bathurst Lady Bushrangers on Saturday.
The Lady Bushrangers had restricted the undefeated competition leaders to just a pair of behinds across the first half and looked headed for an upset win.
The likes of Alora Dickson and Donalee Delahunty had fired across half-forward-flank and centre-half-back to see the Lady Bushrangers dominating the inside 50 count.
The Giants back line had toiled to restrict their rivals' set shots, their tackling pressure a highlight, but the women in orange and charcoal struggled to make an impact on the scoreboard.
Matilda Flood finally booted their first major two minutes out from three-quarter-time and as the clocked kicked down in the final term, it was Flood who rescued the Giants as she nabbed a second goal.
Giants coach Liz Kennedy knew her side was fortunate to avoid its first loss of the season, but was happy with how they responded to the Lady Bushrangers' pressure.
"They were a bit sluggish to start off with, I think Bushies really wanted it more than us," she said.
"We've got a lot of players out today, but we rallied at half-time and made a few changes and came out firing.
"It was a great game and I really think the score is what that game was. It deserved to be a draw."
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While it was Flood that booted both the Giants' majors, Kennedy felt the telling moment came in the dying seconds when Brooke Alexander won the ball inside the defensive 50 and attacked along the half-back-flank.
"Brooke down there [in the back line] was just amazing, I think she actually saved us the game there when she ran it out and had that good kick," Kennedy said.
"Bushies wanted it more in the first half, but then we rallied and you could see we wanted it in the second half. They were down and flat as a tack to start with, so it is good to see they can lift themselves."
While Flood's late goal denied the Lady Bushrangers, coach Brian Matheson was still delighted with the performance.
It highlighted just how much the Lady Bushrangers squad has improved since suffering an 11-13-79 to 1-1-7 loss to the Giants in their season opener.
Aside from Dickson and Delahunty enjoying plenty of possessions, Amelia Wright was strong in the ruck and Beth Durham solid in the halfback line.
"That was just absolutely fantastic," Matheson said.
"We've got a lot of inexperienced players and in that last quarter it probably showed, but as I said to the girls, we are going to learn from that.
"The first time we played them they spanked us, we weren't in the contest. The girls tried, but we had so many new players.
"We've still got a lot of first year girls who are only playing their fourth or fifth game, but they are training really hard and you can see their tackling.
"They are only going to get better and better. I would have loved the win, but I'm more than happy with the draw."
The first chance of Saturday's derby fell to the Lady Bushrangers as a 50 metre penalty moved them within scoring range.
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However, Alexander was able to get a finger on the ball before it crossed the line to restrict the shot to a minor score.
Alexander, Katie Kennedy and Tamara Thompson all impressed with their work rate in defence as the Lady Bushrangers applied constant pressure. They tackled strongly, scrapped well on ground level and linked well with the midfield.
The Lady Bushrangers finally got the opening major with a nice piece of improvised play from Angela Evans.
She managed to side-foot a set shot from Delahunty between the sticks as it appeared set to go through for a behind.
Down the other end of the field the Giants had just one set shot for the quarter and were unable to convert, going to the break trailing 1-1-7 to 0.
The second quarter saw more of the same, the Bushrangers' forward press applied pressure while the Giants continually cut the ball off before it reached the back pocket.
The Lady Bushrangers added another major via Durham after Delahunty picked her out on the lead.
The Giants managed a pair of behinds in the final 90 seconds, but with their rivals leading 2-3-15 to 0-2-2 at the long break, they knew they had to step things up.
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That they did, with Flood's run through the midfield helping to spark a revival.
A Danita Lane behind early in the fourth stanza got the Giants back within a kick of drawing level and it set up a tense finish.
Both sides defended grimly, but Flood salvaged a draw for the Giants.
With Parkes forfeiting their scheduled clash with the Lady Bushrangers later on Saturday afternoon, Matheson's side now holds a firm grip on third place.
While injuries have placed pressure on the squad, Matheson said those who have taken to the field are improving their skills.
"Injuries are killing us, we've had two ACLs in the last two weeks, we've got an ankle that's an out for the season, a broken wrist, an arm and another girl with an ankle injury that's been out four-five weeks. But everyone we have has been playing their hearts out," he said.
"I couldn't be prouder. It's a process, I don't care about the scoreboard, if we are winning or losing, it's about the end of the year. If we play better football each week, the results will happen."
The Giants went on to defeat Cowra 21-9-135 to 1-1-7 in their second match, with Lane kicking nine majors as her side's percentages got a healthy boost.