COROWA-Rutherglen blew a golden opportunity to snap the league’s longest finals hoodoo when it coughed up a 23-point lead to fall to Wangaratta Rovers by 13 points in yesterday’s elimination final at Myrtleford.
The Roos, who haven’t won a final since 2003, were almost four goals clear of the Hawks 20 minutes into the second quarter.
But a second half fadeout — which saw the Hawks pile on the last five goals of the game — ended the club’s fairytale season under Bryce Campbell that saw it play finals for the first time in five years.
Campbell, who watched on from the sidelines, was bitterly disappointed after the defeat but conceded the club’s lack of finals experience may have played a part in the fadeout.
“But it’s easy to say that,” Campbell said.
“We put ourselves in a position to win.
“We haven’t been able to put a side away all year and that second quarter was a really good chance to go into the break five goals up and we couldn’t do that and you give them a sniff.
“At times towards the end of the third quarter and in the last quarter — players froze.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse, because it’s not, but in reality I think that’s what has happened.
“Our playing group is really immature in regards to being exposed to finals and pressure games and as bad as it sounds, it’s going to be a really good learning curve if the players want to learn going forward.”
The Hawks burst out of the blocks early, kicking the first three goals of the game, but were quickly chasing tail.
Corowa-Rutherglen piled on five goals to none in the second term, with long bombs from Mick Collins and Jarred Lane following a ripper from Luke Gestier to open the Roos’ account.
Gestier, who ran riot opposed to Tyson Hartwig in the two home and away encounters, had his influence largely curtailed yesterday by promising Hawk James Smith.
It also freed Hartwig up across half back.
“It was a big ask for a young bloke, wasn’t it?” Wangaratta Rovers coach Paul Maher said after the win.
“Gestier is a quality player but I thought James was outstanding.”
The Hawks had winners everywhere when it counted.
Hartwig was exceptional in defence and halted numerous forward thrusts from the Roos.
Shane Gaston was the dominant big man on the ground, while Lochy Dornauf bobbed up with three crucial goals in the third term to get the Hawks back into the contest.
But it was Sam Carpenter who did the most damage.
The former Corowa-Rutherglen midfielder put his old side to the sword in the second half and continually found himself free at the stoppages. He kicked the final goal of the game to give the Hawks’ breathing space.
“That’s where you really value those guys,” Maher said.
“They get the ball and they don’t panic.”
There was daylight between Kade Kuschert and Corowa- Rutherglen’s next best player.
The veteran utility kept the Roos in the game late with several strong grabs in defence but it was to no avail.
The Hawks had five chances to put the game beyond all doubt in the dying stages but missed them all. It didn’t matter.
Maher said there was little doubt last week’s thriller against Wodonga helped the Hawks when it counted.
“Absolutely it did,” he said.
“We drew on that.
“We found ourselves in a similar situation last week. I think now we’ve got that belief that we didn’t have mid-season.”