As far back as the online records go (2014) Springbank has not finished a regular Central Highlands Netball League season outside of the top four.
That was until this year, when thanks to a round 17 bye, the Tigers were overtaken by Rokewood-Corindhap in the top four, who defeated Clunes to finish third.
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Still, despite finishing fifth on the ladder, Springbank stood as good a chance as any to challenge for a premiership, especially given its finals credentials in the past decade.
The Tigers, like some other teams in the Central Highlands football and netball leagues, copped the rough end of the stick in terms of fixturing due to COVID-19.
They had two byes in the final three rounds and played one less game than Rokewood-Corindhap.
If the finals had of gone ahead, it would not have been the best way to enter a finals series.
They also faced the equal third most eventual top eight sides throughout the season - six, along with Dunnstown and Newlyn.
Springbank were 4-2 in those games, its only two losses coming at the hands of top two sides Buninyong and Hepburn.
The Tigers presented a new-look defence this season, with 2016 East Point premiership player Bethany Smith and 2019 Hepburn premiership player Katrina Lindkvist joining the side.
The pair had an immediate impact, helping the Tigers to become the third best defensive side in the top eight in terms of average goals against, allowing 29.20 per game.
"Those two new additions, ultimately we had a fresh new brand, a brand new defence line alongside myself and my sister Amy from the mid-court," coach Kelly Conroy told The Courier.
"We were so excited to see what our potential was going to be and I think that's one of the things that finds you a little bit disappointed or disheartened from the season is that we didn't really get to reach that."
Their fourth-ranked offence was nothing to scoff at either, however, Springbank's average of 48.60 goals per game remained a fair way off Hepburn's 76.20 goals per game and Buninyong's 62.45.
This was evident in the Tigers' two losses for the season against Buninyong and Hepburn, where they scored just 18 goals in both contests.
"I think that's probably where we might of had our difficulties just based on the fact of consistency of players being available to play on certain weeks due to their family demands and that kind of thing," Conroy said.
"Each game we'd be working with a different combination between the mid-courters into the goaling ring and not that it wasn't working, but all good things take time.
"The amount of practice that you need to try and get it to where you want it to be, you do need a full-season of netball and training, that's for sure."
Losses to fellow contenders during the regular season has occurred in Springbank's premiership years in the past, however, so it was of little concern for the reigning grand finalists as the finals approached.
Despite falling off the pace of the top two sides slightly in the regular season, Springbank remained dominant over the challenging teams.
It defeated Gordon, Dunnstownn, Beaufort, Learmonth and Skipton, all either in the top eight or just outside it, by an average of 21.2 goals, putting up 47.8 per game and allowing just 26.6.
As the off-season begins, Springbank don't need to add much to its 2021 squad, but there is no doubt some continuity of playing and training will assist it in returning to the top four once again and challenging for a premiership.
"We were gaining momentum and we were gaining practice and confidence in our abilities and friendships were strengthening, everything was on the improvement like it usually always is heading into finals," Conroy said.
"I think that's why it is just that sad feeling of not fulfilling potential and not being able to expose how far we'd actually come and how much strength we did have in our team."
Conroy, who was in her first-year of coaching the group, is undecided on whether she will coach again in the 2022 season.
8-2, 80 per cent games won, 166.44 traditional percentage
Round one: defeated Newlyn 66 - 16
Round two: defeated by Buninyong 18 - 36
Round three: defeated Gordon 37 - 23
Round four: defeated Dunnstown 44 - 21
Round five: defeated Beaufort 59 - 25
Round six: defeated by Hepburn 67 - 18
Round nine: defeated Ballan 63 - 19
Round 10: defeated Clunes 82 - 21
Round 11: defeated Learmonth 43 - 34
Round 12: bye
Round 15: defeated Skipton 56 - 30
Round 17: bye
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