MERRIVALE will start hot favourite to win its first premiership in eight seasons when Warrnambool and District league grand final day arrives in a fortnight.
The Tigers booked the first spot in the decider with a comprehensive triumph against Panmure in the second semi-final at Noorat Recreation Reserve on Saturday.
The 16.10 (106) to 9.11 (65) win was almost as regulation as their qualifying final defeat of Dennington, if slightly more drawn out.
But they have at least one injury concern. Joe Woonton rolled an ankle in the third term and cast a frustrated figure in the change rooms post-match.
Jet Dowie also suffered concussion after a horror collision with Bulldog Andrew McPherson late in the second term, but should play in the grand final.
The two concerns aside, Merrivale will chase the flag in season-best form. The premiership is the Tigers’ to lose.
The semi-final whitewash built on their dismantling of the Dogs seven days earlier and again gave coach Karl Dwyer much to be happy with.
Their pressure was high, their spread again sound, their skills superior. They also had 12 different goalkickers, a welcome change.
Dwyer kept his players on the field post-match, urging them to enjoy the build-up to the grand final but with the knowledge the job was far from complete.
He credited their efforts to reach the big dance, having started the season with much expectation after a straight-sets finals exit in 2013.
“At the moment we’re really satisfied to get into the granny,” he said.
“I said to the group ‘we enjoy tonight, they don’t come along every day of the week, grand finals. It’s been eight years since we played in one’.
“But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re halfway there. We celebrate the fact we made a granny but come Tuesday it’s all back to what we need to do.”
Merrivale laid the foundation of the win with a wind-assisted 6.6 to 2.2 opening quarter, which included six unanswered goals after Panmure booted the first two.
The Bulldogs were on the verge of breaking even into the breeze before Seamus Blake kicked the Tigers’ fifth and Josh Keilar then grabbed the sixth on the siren.
The true value of the fast start emerged after the second term. Panmure, with the wind at its back, could only manage 4.4 and conceded 3.0.
The most telling moment of the term — and arguably the most important of the match — went the way of Merrivale, from an unlikely source.
The Bulldogs had closed the gap to 20 points with consecutive majors midway through the period and were mounting a comeback.
But teenager Hamish Gurry, a revelation this season, bobbed up with a left-foot snap near a point post to extend the margin to 26.
Panmure kicked the last goal before half-time thanks to Brady Purcell but any chance of making further inroads evaporated during a dour third term.
Merrivale added the only two majors and kicked three of the first four in the final stanza to put the result to bed.
The Tigers’ onballers — ruckman Manny Sandow, James Kelly, Josh Sobey and Blake — were key figures, working tirelessly without much fanfare.
Jack Grace, with a lot of help from his teammates, kept Tom White to one goal while Scott Kelly was the catalyst of attacks off half-back. The Bulldogs had their winners, just far fewer and barely any in the midfield.
Shamus O’Beirne provided trademark dash, Purcell ran all day while Michael Payne kicked two goals and curbed the influence of Alister Porter.
Tom Wright, Dan Meade and Ben Meade restricted the Tigers’ spearheads to a collective three goals and also earned credit under trying circumstances.