IN NEAR darkness and driving rain, Central Highlands burst back into the interleague spotlight with a stirring 13-point win in Nar Nar Goon on Saturday.
The Highlanders prevailed in a genuine, old-fashioned slog over Ellinbank and District league, in what was a passionate Victorian Country Football Championships arrival for both competitors.
It was perhaps Central Highlands’ early accuracy in front of goal that proved telling in the end result.
Springbank forward Tom Eltringham was dangerous with two first-quarter goals, as the Central Highlands, which had 10 inside 50m entries to its rivals’ nine, speared out to a 21-point lead at the first break.
Five straight behinds were costly for the hosts, who moved the ball well but lacked the finishing touches up forward.
Trailing by 19 points at half-time, the Ellinbank and District boys started the third term with a bang.
A free kick resulted in the ball finding slippery forward Kael Bergles, who goaled after two minutes, before the home side’s sustained pressure was broken by a strong mark and goal to Waubra spearhead Lee Brown. It was momentum-stoppers like this that allowed Central Highlands to keep a grip on the contest and maintain the lead throughout the afternoon.
Simon Quinlan gave away a dubious 50m penalty, which resulted in a goal to opposition captain Shane Brewster, and when Bergles kicked his second of the term on the run, the margin was back to a goal.
But a crucial free kick to Eltringham shortly before the siren gave Central Highlands a vital 12-point buffer heading into the final term.
Goals were always going to be at a premium in the last quarter as the rain pelted down, and when Brendan Kimber kicked long and straight, the lead was back to six points.
Central Highlands then wrested control of the contest, and after a string of behinds, skipper Adam Sewell emerged from a pack to goal and give his team a match-winning break with about 10 minutes to play.
It was the efforts of Sewell, who was a warrior all day in the midfield alongside VCFL medallist Tristan May, who helped stave off a determined charge from the Ellinbank and District outfit.
Sewell had a stack of the ball and showed his resolve with a team-high 13 tackles, with Quinlan the next best with eight.
In defence, Ash Whelan, Damian Day and Mark Gunnell led a division under constant siege, while in attack, Eltringham’s four goals were telling given the heavy conditions.
Louis Franc was important with clearances out of the backline, Nathan Pring and Ash Munari did some good things, and number one ruckman Sam Roache enjoyed a good battle with rival Ben Dwyer.
Central Highlands coach Shane Skontra said it was a gutsy team effort from his charges.
“I was really chuffed at the effort from the players. They really wanted to win that game of footy and did everything in their powers to do it,” Skontra said.
“Given the conditions, it was a real battle and I reckon the boys were as committed as I’ve seen.
“It was a finals-like commitment.”
There was disappointment from Ellinbank and District coach Steve Hodge, who lamented his team’s wastefulness in front of goal.
“It has bitten us on the bum, hasn’t it?
“A four-goal head start becomes 10 goals on a dry day,” Hodge said.
“We just didn’t capitalise on our opportunities, and the small amount of opportunities that the CHFL had, they goaled,” he said.
Hodge said the efforts of Brewster, Kimber and VCFL medallist Leigh Sheehan were important for his team.
CHFL 9.7 (61)
EDFL 6.12 (48)