North Ballarat Rebels fell 37 points short of Geelong Falcons in its TAC Cup qualifying final at Box Hill City Oval on Saturday.
The Rebels were headed early and failed to reel the second-placed Falcons back into striking distance despite numerous attempts.
Geelong kicked four of the first five goals to open up a handy buffer early in the piece and while North Ballarat refused to go away, it failed to win a quarter for the day as Geelong Falcons progressively built upon its two-goal quarter-time lead.
Amazingly, despite the average losing margin to the Falcons being 29 points from its three encounters in 2016, the Rebels are yet to win a quarter against Geelong – 0-11 and a drawn opening term in round one.
Coach Gerard FitzGerald said the group was made to pay for its sluggish starts to the quarters but paid credit to what was a classy Geelong Falcons outfit.
“They outplayed us early and deserved to have the momentum and the initiative,” FitzGerald said.
I use the analogy with Hawthorn last year ... they made a statement under adversity and that’s what my boys need to do.- Coach Gerard FitzGerald
“At times we just didn’t get our hands on the ball enough and that showed – in the end they were too good. To my blokes credit we fought back three times to give ourselves a chance even at three-quarter-time.”
As the AFL finals series draws closer, FitzGerald drew on the successful Hawthorn campaign of 2016 as inspiration to the group.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, the Rebels 12-5 season rewarded them with a double chance with Oakleigh Charges to be their semi-final opponent.
“I use the analogy with Hawthorn last year. They were soundly beaten in the first week of the finals but then the character in the group and the resilience they showed they bounced back, not only did they bounce back they won the grand final.
“They made a statement under adversity and that’s what my boys need to do.”
FitzGerald said the clubs initial focus would be aimed towards its recovery as the club counts the cost of some untimely injuries. But he had full faith the depth of the list and character of the group would allow it to cover any losses – as it has shown it is capable of throughout the year.
FitzGerald said it was important to thoroughly review Saturday’s clash but equally important to underline what got North Ballarat to this position in the first place and reinforce what it’s best football looks like ahead of its clash with the Chargers – who it comfortably beat by 39 points in round six.
“We’ll be very detailed in our recovery. I’ll explain to my blokes what it looks like when we win and give a clear reminder as to why we finished in the top four and why we’re capable of playing at a standard that is good enough to win next week.”
Dynamic midfield duo Willem Drew and Hugh McCluggage collected 24 and 20 disposals respectively and combined for three goals to be named the side’s best.
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