ROCHESTER’S dreams of a second consecutive trip to the Goulburn Valley League grand final were ended on Sunday with the Tigers no match for the Shepparton Bears.
It seemed destined to be a thrilling contest at the half with just six points in it at the main break, but the Bears hit full speed in the second half with eight consecutive goals to blow their opponent away and record a 46-point win.
The win moved the Bears to a preliminary final against Seymour this weekend, one game from a grand final appearance while the Tigers will be forced to watch from the sidelines, their somewhat promising season over earlier than desired.
The result also ended the playing careers of decorated Tiger trio Elliot Bowen, Heath Aitken and Sam Brennan, all three contributing well throughout the contest with five goals between them.
‘‘They had the better start but we came back well and it was pretty even at half-time, but they ran all over us after that particularly in the third quarter,’’ Rochester coach James Flaherty said.
‘‘Their speed through the midfield hurt us, they just seemed to be running riot and we weren’t able to go with them. 17 inside 50s in the third quarter made it pretty hard for the defence.
‘‘It hasn’t been a problem in the last half of the season. Our form was really good going in but we’ve done a bit of travelling recently and have some sore older bodies.’’
A close game was expected, but Rochester took an early blow conceding four of the first five goals, Luke Smith kicking two.
It needed to lift and rallied with the last two goals of the first quarter to be within five points at quarter-time.
John Bradaric added a second goal early in the second but the Tigers had the answer, claiming the lead through Wil Hamilton.
The back-and-forth battle continued with Shepparton wrestling back the lead, Bowen goaling shortly before half-time to keep Rochester within a goal.
But things fell apart after the interval, the fast-running Bears putting their opponents to the sword.
They kicked the next eight goals of the contest with Bradaric completing his five-goal haul, the Tigers with little answer for the rampaging side, eventually falling 15.12 (102) to 8.8 (56).
Bowen again produced brilliantly up forward while usual contributors James Gledhill, Nathan Marrone and Dylan Cuttriss were some of Rochester’s best.
While the loss of experienced talent will bring in new faces, the same face will remain at the top of the side with Flaherty signed on for next season.
But the coach said the club would be a different place with the key personnel departing, the club’s junior ranks put to the test as a result.
‘‘Bowen was probably in our best again, his half-forward role was really important, and Heath and Sam never stopped working; they’re quality people and quality clubmen,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s hard to replace that but we need to look towards the future now. Five or six of our under 18s have had senior experience this season, a few of them have played three, four or five games.
Harrison McPhee, Bailey Wileman and Andrew Harrison stick out as three juniors who have made an impact at the senior level this season and will look to cement a spot going forward.
Flaherty said change was important to revitalise the playing list after three season pushing towards the top of the league.
‘‘We probably need some fresh faces and bodies,’’ he said.
‘‘Especially with those three guys pulling up stumps. Even if they didn’t we would have looked for new faces because it’s important we make some changes.
‘‘We’ve been a similar side for three seasons and we’ve been up and about, but it’s important to get fresh faces in. We’ll tweak a couple of things on the field too, so looking forward we’re excited.
After a slow start to the season, Flaherty said fighting back and winning a final wasn’t a disastrous season by any means.
‘‘It was probably a rewarding season in a way, but there were probably three or four games we lost we really didn’t want to,’’ he said.
‘‘We started poorly to be 1-4 so to bounce back through injuries and blood a few young kids and finish off well was good.
‘‘After starting 1-4 we went 11-2 from there and won a final which was pleasing, but it was a disappointing way to end.’’