UNDERESTIMATE a champion team at your own peril.
Warrnambool dominated North Warrnambool Eagles in the Hampden league preliminary final on Saturday, booking its sixth straight grand final spot in emphatic fashion.
Its control from the outset was in stark contrast to the sides’ two down-to-the-wire clashes through the regular season.
Warrnambool won 21.9 (135) to 9.12 (66) in front of a healthy crowd at Reid Oval on Saturday.
The Blues’ defence was resolute, their midfield slick and quick and their forward line multi-pronged.
They played with purpose, poise and conviction.
Jackson Bell’s dribbling goal to open scoring in the first term signalled the reigning premier’s intentions — we’re not done yet.
Warrnambool built its lead at every change.
The Blues were 10 points up at quarter-time, 34 points ahead at the main break and had a 43-point buffer at the final change.
The Eagles were still a slim chance of claiming an unlikely victory, given their propensity to score quickly.
But the Blues didn’t relent, kicking seven goals to two — including a weaving Jake O’Donnell special — in the final term for a comprehensive victory.
Warrnambool had three goalkickers in its second semi-final loss to Koroit.
It had 10 against the Eagles.
Jason Rowan and Travis Graham provided strong leading targets, combining for eight goals for the second straight week.
But the difference was the Blues’ secondary avenues to goal.
Jed Turland and younger brother Jye kicked five goals between them and key position swingman Tim O’Keeffe and lively midfielder Jackson Bell kicked two apiece.
The Blues generated winners across the ground as the flat Eagles struggled to get their short-kicking game into action.
Undersized ruckman Andrew McCarthy played a key role in the win, plucking numerous saving goals in defence, while full-back Will Jacobs blanketed enigmatic Eagle Robbie Gregg and Sam Cowling kept coach David Haynes goalless.
Young ball winners Bell, Jake O’Donnell and Darcy Graham were important.
Bell and Rowan kicked the first two goals of the game as the Blues got the fast start the Eagles had in their round 18 encounter.
The two sides then traded goals.
North Warrnambool Eagles bridged the gap to four points early in the second term when Gregg kept his feet in the goal square.
But the Blues, with McCarthy playing a vital role in the ruck, kicked the next six goals.
The decisive burst started when McCarthy converted from a 50-metre penalty. Liam Hoy, Travis Graham, Darcy Graham, Jed Turland and Rowan all goaled as the Blues’ clean and quick corridor play reaped rewards.
Marcus Darmody floated forward to kick the Eagles’ bookend goal nearing half-time but momentum was well and truly wearing Blue.
Warrnambool was inaccurate early in the third term, kicking five straight behinds.
The Eagles were boosted when Marcus Darmody kicked his second but they failed to make any inroads on the scoreboard.
A purple patch late in what was otherwise a lacklustre term gave the Blues further confidence.
The strong celebrations told the tale. The Blues knew these goals could be the back breaker for the Eagles.
Jye Turland started it with a beautiful, long-range running goal before older brother Jed Turland and O’Keeffe snapped truly.
Warrnambool coach Scott Carter said the Blues’ four-quarter stranglehold was pleasing.
“I am really proud with the way the boys responded after last week,” he said.
“We are a resilient group and when we fall over we have a habit of getting back up really quickly.
“I probably think a lot of people underrated us today to be honest.
“I don’t think many people thought we’d get the chocolates but we were quite confident going in. We have a really strong sense of self-belief and it came to the fore today.”
Carter said quelling the Eagles, playing in only their second preliminary final, early was paramount.
“North Warrnambool started so well last week and won by so much, we had to try and take a bit of their confidence out early on and we were able to do that and coming in with a five-goal lead at half-time was always going to be pretty hard to peg back in pretty taxing conditions with the heat,” he said.
“But the good thing was after half-time we didn’t rest and wait for them to come at us, we kept trying to move forward.”
The premiership coach said the Blues would go into the grand final as underdogs following three losses to the much-improved Saints this season,
“You can’t be happy just making a grand final, we put a lot of work in and you have to make the most of your opportunities,” Carter said.
“I am sure we will give a really good account of ourselves.
“It is not a sense of achievement making a grand final. We see it as an opportunity.”