Polaris

Bendigo FNLRichard Jones | With four rounds to go in the BFNL 11 seasons back the Bendigo Advertiser pundits were hard at it making their Final Five predictions. All of us, yours truly included, had pencilled in Eaglehawk to finish on top of the ladder by the end of August.


At that stage lying in second spot the Hawks had the easiest run home of any of the Top Five clubs. In a nine-club competition, they were scheduled to meet Kangaroo Flat (6th), Castlemaine (7th) and Sandhurst (8th) with a bye thrown in for good measure three weeks out from the 2008 finals. So no matches against a fellow Top Five club. South Bendigo, equal on 48 premiership points with the Hawks, had a much tougher run home. The Bloods had to play Sandhurst (8th), Gisborne (3rd), Kyneton (last) and Golden Square (4th) before the September action unfolded. Third-place Gisborne also faced some big hurdles before August faded into the distance.

The Bulldogs had the Round 15 bye but then faced South Bendigo (top), Golden Square (4th) and Kangaroo Flat (6th). All of we Addy tipsters had Gisborne finishing in the top three. I had them second as did Luke West and Adam Bourke while Nathan Dole fancied Gissy for a third-placed finish. The Wade Street Dogs looked the most vulnerable. Fourth going into Round 15 they faced Maryborough (5th), Castlemaine (7th), Gisborne (3rd) and South Bendigo (top). Square’s round 15 trip to Maryborough shaped as a season defining match. Win and they’d be on course for a Top Three finish.

In their weekly Friday column entitled The Final Word both Bourkey and Westy lamented Square’s terrible performance the week before against Eaglehawk. Adam threw in a bit of comparison --- equating Square to the Geelong of the 1990s who promised plenty with their loads of talent but failed to deliver --- and describing the Bulldogs as “having very little bark.” Luke had covered the match for the newspaper and remarked that midway through the second quarter Golden Square was already 68 points down. “As a side sitting on top of the ladder they showed absolutely nothing when something could have been expected. “And from here they won’t make the top three,” West predicted. “As for having very little bark I’d say there was no bark at all against Eaglehawk, as shown by the very fact that they were more than 11 goals down in that second quarter.”

Bourke and West then went on to discus the future of the VFL’s Bendigo Bombers – a club which was struggling financially and whose seconds were just about ready to fold. Bourke mentioned that from the very start of the VFL concept in central Victoria, when the then Bendigo Diggers kicked off, there hadn’t been a “healthy relationship” between the BFL clubs and the Diggers/Bombers. West added that enforceable regulations needed to be put in place for the 2009 season to “prevent BFL coaches from having to chop and change their teams on the eve of important games dependent on what the Bombers do with their selections.

”Moving forward a couple of weeks and Kyneton celebrated their first win for 2008 following the round 16 clash against fellow-strugglers Sandhurst. A six-goal-to-one third quarter sealed victory for the Tigers. The Dragons looked good early with Lachlan Watts nailing the opening two goals of the day before the Tigers bounced back with the next four majors to take a 12-point lead into the first break. That lead was whittled down slightly by half-time with Kyneton ahead by 10 points: 6.6 to 4.8. Then the Tigers turned in their best quarter of the season.

Playing coach and ex-AFL footballer Brett Cook controlled the ruck, Brian Ruffell was a focal point up forward as he finished with six goals for the day, on-ballers Brent Dryden and captain Darren Chambers (2 goals) and key defender Leigh Erwin were all excellent. Add in the contributions of Brad Else and Ben Edmonds (also 2 goals) and the Tigers had winners everywhere. The loss threatened to hand the Hurst the 2008 wooden spoon. Since reforming straight after World War 1 --- way back in 1919 --- the Dragons had never ever finished last. There was just 1.61 per cent separating Sandhurst and Kyneton in the BFL cellar with just two rounds remaining. Hurst playing coach Kieran Nihill, clearly his side’s best, said his players were disappointed about the loss: not so much about landing with the wooden spoon.

And the only other Sandhurst players worth a mention apart from Nihill were Tyson Findlay, Rising Star nominee Jarrod Bateson and key backman Sam ‘Spekky’ McGee. It was a big day for key forwards that mid-August day in 2008. Christian Carter (GS) and Harry Maddern (KF) both booted seven with Ruffell’s six goals for Kyneton the best return by a Tiger since Wayne Eve had drilled a half-dozen against Castlemaine in round 16, 2007. But the major talking point from that August day was the effort of 306-game AFL player Paul Williams.

Playing for Kangaroo Flat in their crunch match against Maryborough the ex-Collingwood and Sydney Swans half-forward garnered 14 kicks, five handballs and six marks. The 35-year-old also crumbed a great left-foot snap at the 22-minute mark of the final term, the goal which iced the Roos’ 20-point win over the Princes Park Pies. “I was pretty rusty early as it was my first game for two-and-a-half years,” Williams told the Addy. “But I started to run to the right spots as the game went on. I started to get rid of the cobwebs,” he said. Roo coach Darryl Wilson emphasised that he’d got more out of Williams than he expected “and at the end of the day I thought Paul contributed well and he finished with a nice front-and-square goal at the end.”

The win catapulted Flat into the Top Five, but they had a far worse percentage than Maryborough (77% to 92%) and faced Gisborne in the crucial last round. That round 18 game against Gisborne at Dower Park would be the game which defined the Roos’ season. So what happened by the end of the 18th home and away round, with the finals looming? Well, the Top Five 11 years back finished with Eaglehawk, Gisborne, South, Square and Maryborough ending up in that order. Golden Square was the surprise packet of the 2008 finals. They won the elimination final, the first semi and the preliminary final before going down by one kick to Eaglehawk in the decider: 95 points to 89.

South Bendigo had the most miserable September. Gisborne beat the Bloods in a low-scoring qualifying final --- 6.16 (52) to 3.6 (24) --- and then the Bloods went out in straight sets losing the first semi-final to the Wade Street Dogs. Of course after that 2008 season the Square then went on a mighty five-flags-in-a row sequence taking home the premierships in 2009-10-11-12-2013.