For Central Highlands Football League coach Clive Raak and the five players involved in last year’s narrow AFL Victoria Community Championships defeat, the sound of Saturday’s final siren would have hurt just a little more than most.
It signaled a second-straight interleague campaign ruined by less than a goal, with the weekend’s four-point loss to the Southern competition the same margin as the Highlanders’ defeat to Geelong and District in 2016.
While the deficit was the same, the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s result were much different.
The CHFL had genuine claims to being the better team in last year’s loss, but it’s hard to say the same in relation to the weekend’s clash in Lyndhurst.
Southern produced clearly the stronger first half, and despite being completely outplayed by a rejuvenated Highlanders outfit in the third term, did what it required in the last quarter to secure the result.
Trailing by seven points at the last change, a brilliant two-goal burst from Daniel Farmer saw the hosts regain the lead mid-way through the quarter and then lock down to protect it amidst a pressing CHFL side.
As is usually the case in close matches, there was an opportunity for a late winner. And when Jack Duke bobbed up deep in attack late in the match, it looked as though the Highlanders were about to pinch the victory. But his quick shot in the dying seconds just missed and it proved the last score of the game.
“It’s frustrating, but how we went about it was pretty good after half time. We weren’t out of the game, but we weren’t playing really good footy,” CHFL coach Clive Raak said.
Raak said he used the side’s versatility to make positional changes at half time and gave the side a good rev-up before the third term onslaught.
“The pleasing thing was that we got ourselves back into it,” he said.
“I’m pretty happy with the group in general because we’ve got a very young group and that’s the way that we needed to go. So the group’s got a taste of interleague footy now...”
While Lincoln Barnes won the medal as the CHFL’s best on ground for his quality display in the midfield, it was Matt Dawson that arguably had the biggest influence for the beaten brigade.
Dawson was brilliant all afternoon in defence and during a stint in attack after half time when he kicked an important goal.
Captain Jarrod Morgan was another strong contributor and kicked two goals, Billy Driscoll showed class and poise and was dangerous all day, Jackson Hogan presented well in attack and Justin Simpson drew plenty of praise from Raak for his defensive efforts.
Dylan Fishwick was a late call-up to the CHFL side after Jake Dowell pulled out on Friday because of illness.
Southern coach Ben Lockwood said he felt his team could have been further in front at half time, but paid tribute to the Highlanders’ performance.