“HEPBURN boys are happy!”
The Burras’ club song was belted out in the heart of Eureka Stadium on Saturday as the Central Highlands Football League powerhouse celebrated another chapter in its golden era of success.
Hepburn’s come-from-behind nine-point grand final win over Buninyong clinched a fifth premiership since 2004 and first since 2010.
A turning point in the afternoon’s encounter was the red card to Mark Phelps – for a head-butt on Alan Ware – in the second quarter.
This left the Bombers with 17 men on the ground until midway through the third quarter and cut their rotations for more than half of the match.
After just sticking with the Bombers all day, Hepburn nailed the minor premiers in the final term.
Buninyong’s 11-point lead at three-quarter time was under siege from the first ball-up of the last quarter and became a Hepburn advantage midway through the term after back-to-back goals from livewire Jimmy Rodgers.
Best-on-ground medal winner Andy McKay kicked his fourth goal of the game shortly after, and when his younger brother Mitch converted after a great pass from Ken Cummings, the Burras were on top by 15 points.
Buninyong’s standout contributor Ned Gilbert and skipper Adam Scott pegged back the margin to two points deep in the term, before an errant kick-in found Hepburn spearhead Lee Cox, who sealed the triumph with a goal from the pocket.
The win was pure joy for first-year senior coach Clive Raak, who has long prepared his team to peak when it mattered. And it did.
Hepburn finished the home and away season fourth – dropping four games – and was the only team to beat Buninyong all year, doing so in both the qualifying final and then the decider.
While Andy McKay was a deserved winner of the best-on-ground award – his second at senior level – centre half-forward Trevor Johnson had just as big an influence on the result.
Johnson worked his way into the game after the opening term, booting one goal and having a hand in numerous others.
Daniel Rees was busy all afternoon on his customary wing, while Cox kicked five majors and a string of behinds in another important performance from the Hepburn spearhead.
Daniel Smith and Segifili Asa Leausa – with his long, penetrating kick-ins – led the defence, McKay’s younger brothers Mitch (two goals) and Brad did some good things at times, as did Fergus O’Connor and ruckman Brendan Sutcliffe.
The loss was heartbreaking for the Bombers, who fell short by the same margin against Daylesford in last year’s grand final.
Senior coach Joe Gilbert was among the better contributors for the vanquished with a goal, as was defender Michael McKenzie, who had the job on Cox, forward Glen Phelps (three goals) and ruckman Anthony Ebery, who was influential both in stoppages and around the ground.