Sunbury knew the loss of ruckman David Kovacevic was going to have a detrimental impact on its Ballarat Football League premiership prospects.
He has combined superbly all year with the Lions’ midfield – one of the most potent in the competition.
With Kovacevic, the likes of Alik Magin, Mathew Medcraft and Greg Hay steered the Lions all the way into Saturday’s grand final.
So there could not have been a worst scenario for Sunbury than injury to its most valuable player.
And it showed at the Eastern Oval.
Jesse McInneny was thrown into the number one ruck role and threw everything at Cobra star Daniel Burton.
He did well early with a hustle and bustle approach, but the further the day progressed the more difficult it became and the wider the Lions were forced to look to fill void.
Trent Stead, who was called up to replace Kovacevic, had to give away height but tracked Burton around the ground, while the likes of Adam Short and Joe Redfern found themselves pinch-hitting.
What it all meant though was that the Sunbury midfielders did not get the service they are accustomed to for clearances.
Sunbury coach Rick Horwood said the Lions could not get the ball out in the open to free up the runners who could be so menacing.
This really began to bite in the second term, with Bacchus Marsh adding five unanswered goals to get 39 points in front.
It was then that Sunbury breathed new life into the game with two goals before the main break to be in touch.
As promising as that was, Horwood said the Lions’ inability to put scoreboard pressure on Bacchus Marsh had been decisive.
Sunbury would not get any closer than 25 points.
Horwood conceded that in the end Bacchus Marsh was simply too strong.
Horwood remains upbeat about Sunbury’s future though.
While it means the Lions have now lost three of their past four grand finals, with their latest premiership being in 2012, but that was a much different list of players. All but a handful of those players left after 2013 so Saturday’s grand final was the biggest step so far after three years of a rebuild.
“It remains a work in progress,” Horwood said.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Horwood, who added the likes of Grant Valles, Joe Redfern and Alik Magin to a strong homegrown bunch this year.
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