BEFORE the season, North Ballarat Rebels regional manager Phil Partington and coach David Loader felt there was something special about this playing group.
When the right words became hard to find, Partington started by voicing this to his players in the rooms.
This has been a stellar season for the Rebels, who many TAC Cup rivals had overlooked as a major contender for 2012.
The Rebels won 14 of 17 home-and-away matches to capture the minor premiership, then pulled off a stunning comeback to snatch a two-point victory against Sandringham in the qualifying final and leap straight into the preliminary finals.
Individually, the Rebels were represented strong in Vic Country, Nick Rippon was runner-up in the league's Morrish Medal, Jake Lloyd voted the TAC Cup coaches' player of the year, and the side had three players named in the TAC Cup team of the year.
AFL combine invitations continue to roll out.
Finals are always unpredictable and emotive.
What happened on Saturday was an aberration.
Unlike anything this team had produced all season. One of those days where it is hard to get anything right.
Partington looked at the players lining the lockers, family and friends listening from the side of the room, and reminded the players how special they still were.
Loader reinforced that the Rebels had developed as individuals, as a team and as mates.
As disappointing as the finish was, Loader hoped players would learn from the match.
Bottom-age players would come back hungrier, he predicted.
In a media briefing, Loader said he was proud of his players and entire staff to reach the top four.
Loader said they could not have been better prepared for this clash, but physically struggled to execute on the day.
It was a tough note on which to finish an outstanding season a season in which Loader was immensely proud of what his team had achieved.