“This has been the hardest year to do this.”
That was the assessment of Dennington coach Sue Fleming after her Dogs claimed a remarkable third consecutive Warrnambool and District A grade flag, defeating Nirranda 60-43 in Saturday’s grand final.
The Dogs’ line-up has changed since they saluted 12 months ago. The combinations are different. The game plan has had to evolve.
But at the core of it, it was the same versatile, talented and strong Dennington that has risen to become the league’s leading force.
“We felt a little bit like the hunted,” Fleming said of the 2017 season.
“We didn’t feel like many people had our backs, but we knew that the town would come together and help us over the line, so we’ve very happy to be able to pull it off.”
On Saturday, the Dogs gritted their teeth and absorbed an early challenge from Nirranda as the sides went into the first break 10-all.
The reigning premier came out firing in a second-quarter blitz. Katie Burt (49 goals) and best-on-court Jess Haberfield (11) looked unstoppable in attack, as the Dogs streamlined the delivery to them time and time again with pinpoint passes, opening up a 13-goal lead by the main break.
“They’re strong in there,” Fleming said of her goalers. “They, of anybody, have played the couple of years together and have had experience playing together in other clubs, so it does show – it did show today.”
Nirranda, aided by a fresh Lisa Couch who came on into wing attack, managed to get the deficit back to eight goals at one point in the third quarter, but the Dogs again responded, and by the end of the game held a 17-goal advantage.
Fleming said after the game she would step down the Dogs’ top job, but was happy with where the club was at.
“There’s that much strength in the club, the next coach comes along and nothing has to change,” she said.
Haberfield, who missed the 2016 season as she had twins, said her best-on-court honour was “unexpected”, pointing to team effort as paramount for the Dogs’ success.
So great was her faith in the team’s structures and execution, she wasn’t concerned with margins in the decider.
“To be honest, I didn’t look at the scoreboard all game,” Haberfield said. “I just trusted what we were doing.”