COBDEN’S baby-faced assassins had little time to celebrate killing off North Warrnambool Eagles’ dreams of a first grand final appearance after a crushing 52-point win on Saturday.
Coach Wayne Robertson was quick to applaud his side’s ninth win from its past 11 games in the 19.8 (122) to 10.10 (70) preliminary final victory over the Eagles at Reid Oval.
But during the celebrations he urged his players to head to Lady Bay’s icy waters for a recovery session before another yesterday at Lake Bullen Merri.
“We will enjoy the week but I will be keeping it in check big time,” Robertson said.
“Getting there is the easy bit. Now that you’re there, winning it is the hardest bit.”
And he should know. He played in Cobden’s back-to-back flags in 1997-98. He coached Irrewarra-Beeac to consecutive Colac and District league grand finals in 2006-07 but both times his side missed out on the ultimate prize.
Saturday’s win extended the Bombers’ remarkable transformation. Last year they finished seventh with just six wins and a draw. Depending on the result of Saturday’s grand final showdown with Warrnambool, they will finish first or second this year.
“I’ve got a lot of belief in this group,” Robertson said.
“I’ve been on the record from the start saying I want to pride ourselves on hard work, discipline, belief and respect.”
Vice-captain Paul Hinkley was beaming as he was congratulated by supporters in the Reid Oval change rooms.
“Bloody unreal,” he said of the winning feeling.
“You see the buzz around here, it’s bloody good.”
Hinkley, at 24, is one of the elder statesmen in a team that has been affectionately dubbed the Baby Bombers.
Known for his roles as a key forward, Hinkley has spent all but three games this season in defence.
It has been a master stroke. On Saturday he kept Eagles coach David Haynes to 2.2 and one out of bounds on the full and in round 18 Haynes could only manage one goal against Hinkley.
Hinkley wasn’t the only good player for the Bombers. As has been the case in their wins this season, they had 21 contributors. Ruckman Levi Dare was again superb. He dominated tap-outs around the ground, had 20 kicks, one handball and seven marks and kicked two goals. His brother Joe was dynamic in the midfield, making his 12 kicks, 11 handballs and two marks count.
Teenage midfielder Daniel Watson, in his first game back from TAC Cup duties since round two, had 17 disposals in an impressive first half. Another teenager Zac Merrett’s exquisite skills were damaging, especially in the third term.
Leigh Evans provided dash out of defence, Damon Delaney was good in the middle and lively up forward with three goals. Tom Spokes seemed to be everywhere, winning possessions in defence and kicking two rover’s goals in attack, captain Paul Foster won some crucial centre clearances, Tim Horan (two goals) and Aidan Cole (three goals) in the key forward posts were good marking options.
The Bombers kicked the only two goals of the first term and led by 12 points at quarter-time despite the Eagles, kicking against a slight wind, having more of the ball, with 15 inside 50s to 10.
The teams traded goals in an entertaining start to the second term, despite the Eagles dominating the opening six minutes for little reward on the scoreboard. Then the Bombers through Ben Robertson and Levi Dare scored consecutive majors to jump to a 23-point buffer 19 minutes in.
But the Eagles, through some clean centre breaks, found a way to escape Cobden’s fleet of runners, who hunted in packs to apply pressure and close down space. They kicked the last three goals of the half, including one after the siren to captain Tom Batten to close the gap to five points.
In a dramatic third term that saw Haynes booked for striking Delaney by two umpires, the Bombers turned the game and the finals series on its head. They kicked 9.2 to 4.2 to take a 35-point lead into the last change. If there was any doubt about the result, the Bombers kicked the first four goals of the final term before Parkinson kicked a goal to leave the margin at 52 points.
It was a dramatic fade-out by the Eagles, but perhaps that is selling Cobden’s ability to get numbers around the ball through hard running short.
The Eagles had Marcus Darmody and Andy McMeel to thank for strong first half contributions. Darmody finished with 33 possessions, including 16 in the opening quarter across half-back. Their other leading contributors were midfielders Dean Gavin (28 touches), veteran Liam Ryan (25) and Josh Parkinson (22).