Kyabram has won its way through to a fourth consecutive Goulburn Valley League grand final.
After securing win number 62 on the trot on Saturday against Echuca — a Victorian record streak and sixth on the all-time list — the Bombers also remain in the hunt for a third successive unbeaten premiership.
But as with last weekend’s clash against Shepparton, the Bombers were forced to do it tougher than they have all season against Echuca, only breaking away in the final term to secure the 34-point victory.
The old adage that tall players do not get any shorter as the game wears on was on full display as Brad Mangan clunked a pair of telling marks at the top of the goal square in the last quarter.
The imposing forward finished with four majors for the day, joined by Kyle Mueller on that number after the young star returned to the field for his first finals match this year.
But it was further up the ground where Kyabram’s dominance was truly felt in the last stanza, with Jason Morgan and Lachie Smith patrolling the backline strongly and Luke Morris, Liam Ogden and Zac Norris standing tall in the middle of the ground.
For most of the Tatura Park clash, though, the Murray Bombers were firmly in the contest.
After an Axel Childs opener went Kyabram’s way, Echuca piled on four straight majors in the space of about eight minutes to announce itself on the big stage.
As always, the Bombers hit back, and with two goals before the first break the margin was seven points in Echuca’s favour.
The first four goals of the second term also went to Kyabram, with a feeling creeping into the grandstand that the best team in the business would run away with the game.
Echuca managed to rally with two of the next three majors, but an Ogden special from the boundary — where he baulked two defenders before slotting a checkside — kept the Bombers 14 points ahead at the main break.
The intensity of the match lifted significantly in the premiership quarter, with bodies crashing together at almost every contest as both sides left everything out on the field.
It made for a see-sawing term on the scoreboard, with the ball buzzing from one end to the other when it was not locked in at a stoppage.
The nine-point margin in Kyabram’s favour heading into the final stanza made it anyone’s game, but the Bombers were able to once again put the foot down when it mattered most.
‘‘I think sometimes just making the grand final is the hardest thing, the build-up and all that sort of stuff and (playing against) really good opposition,’’ Kyabram coach Paul Newman said.
‘‘We’ve been really tested over the last couple of weeks, so it just shows that we’re ripe for the picking if we’re not somewhere near our best.
‘‘For the most part I felt like we were in control of the game as far as field position and the ball being inside our forward half.
‘‘But once they sort of broke away through the midfield, just like last week, they scored goals really easily on us, which is a bit of a concern.
‘‘We need to look at a bit more footage and just try and get back to the grind of our pure defence. I think we’ve had a couple of the highest scores against us over the last couple of weeks, so we just want to get back to what’s made us a great side and that’s our defence.
‘‘We’ve got a couple of weeks to sharpen up and I think the week off will be very beneficial for a few of our guys with sorer bodies and all that sort of stuff, so that’s important. We’ll have a look at our opposition over the next couple of weeks and see how we go.’’
Noah Wheeler was exceptional for the Murray Bombers with three goals, relishing the high-pressure game.
Echuca co-coach Andrew Walker was also important, as was Kane Morris in the ruck and Nick Sheldon and Tom Monahan in shut-down roles on Mick Mattingly and Kayne Pettifer respectively.
‘‘They’re a good side. They stand up when they need to and they kick straight,’’ Echuca co-coach Simon Maddox said.
‘‘It was a good game of footy, but we’ve been saying all year we need to do it for longer. We did it for three quarters today, maybe three, but you’ve got to do it for four quarters to beat them.
‘‘I didn’t think it was our best footy either, and to not play our best and get within five goals is probably a good result.’’
The Murray Bombers will have to back up for a preliminary final next weekend — a huge step forward for a team that had not played finals football since 2011 before this season.
‘‘For our young group it’s really good to get finals experience,’’ Maddox said.
‘‘The goal posts have probably changed a little bit. At the start of the year we were happy to make finals. We’re now one of three teams left and we’ve pushed probably one of the best sides in country Victoria, so the goal posts have definitely changed.
‘‘We feel our best footy’s good enough, we’ve said that all year, and we showed it in glimpses (on Saturday).
‘‘The pleasing bit is we matched it with the heavyweights for three quarters, but we’ve got to reset quickly now and get ready for next week.’’
There were no injuries of note for either side on Saturday, but Kyabram was without Hayden Gemmill and will be for the grand final after the attacking weapon broke his scaphoid (a bone in the wrist) last week.