MAKE no mistake about it, Hepburn’s loss to Buninyong was a crushing blow to the spa country giant.
The ramifications for top-four spots were known well before both teams headed to the ground on Saturday and, for the Burras, it’s a disastrous result.
With a blockbuster clash against ladder-leader Bungaree on the cards this coming weekend, Hepburn, now fifth on the ladder, needs things to go its way to secure a prized double chance in finals.
No team has won the premiership from outside fourth since the Central Highlands Football League changed to a top-eight finals system in 2011.
The manner of Saturday’s defeat will also be extremely tough to take for the Hepburn boys, who let go a seemingly unassailable lead in arguably its most important match of the season so far.
But coach Clive Raak and his charges have been in a similar place before.
It was 12 months ago that Buninyong crushed the Burras in round 15, only for the result to be overturned in the qualifying and grand finals.
“We are not down and out yet. We were in a worse situation this time last year when we lost by 72 points and still won a grand final, so it’s not doom and gloom,” Raak said.
However, there’s a difference this year.
Hepburn was entrenched inside the top four with two rounds to play when that result occurred in 2013, but this year faces a battle to force its way back in.
There are still plenty of chances for teams in the four to stumble, giving hope to the Burras, which must simply focus on winning their remaining home and away fixtures against the Demons and Dunnstown.
“(Saturday’s loss) could work two ways, I think. It could be a good kick in the backside for us or it could work the opposite way,” Raak said.
“We are up against the eight-ball now. We have got a massive game next week.”
The win, meanwhile, has further galvanised the Buninyong playing group, which continued a winning streak on home soil that goes back to round 12 of 2011.
Victories over top-four sides Bungaree and Hepburn and a draw with Waubra confirms the Bombers remain one of the genuine flag contenders, despite many believing they would drop off after back-to-back grand final defeats and a turnover of players on their senior list.
“We haven’t played Gordon, but we have now got the belief that we can match it with the other top three,” Bombers coach Jarrod Morgan said.