Barooga sent a strong message to the Murray Football League at the weekend when it held off a fast-finishing Moama, scoring 13.5(83) to 11.8(74) for its fifth successive win.
But after bursting out of the starting gate with a 26-2 quarter-time lead, Barooga co-coach James Hazelman said his team had to dig deep after Moama outscored them 11 goals to nine in the final three quarters.
In the end Barooga’s weapons up forward were too much for Moama to handle, with Lucas Olson kicking five and Thomas Wilkinson three.
Co-coach Tyrone Downie was also quite influential.
Hazelman said his Hawks knew they had a big challenge in front of them going into the game.
‘‘Moama have really improved as the season has gone on and we expected exactly what we got — a fiercely contested game,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘We really worked hard to regain control in the last quarter when they had a run on and for me that is a sign of how tough we are as a unit.’’
Hazelman still rues the mid-season form slump, where the Hawks dropped too many games, not helped by a swag of injuries.
That saw them lose their grip on a top-two finish.
But locked into third place on the ladder, with only an away game against lowly Congupna before the finals, Hazelman has every right to feel confident.
Most notable were their two matches against league-leading Numurkah — an agonising two-point loss at Numurkah in round four and then a 13-point triumph on home ground in round 15.
But with 20 long years since Barooga’s last flag, Hazelman conceded there was a lot riding on the performance of the current senior list, a list he said was improving by the day as some of the team’s better players come back in from injury.
‘‘We are getting some real depth again and I would rather we copped the injuries in the middle of the year, like we did, than have them now,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘It is much better at the pointy end to have players, good players, coming in.
‘‘The boys know how good this team is, they just have to believe.’’
And not lose focus, such as going into this weekend assuming the game was already as good as over.
‘‘It is vital we maintain our focus and concentrate on what we do really well and lift in the few areas where there is still some room for improvement.’’
Hazelman also believed in the team’s coaching triumvirate — him and Downie as playing coaches and Nick Flanagan running the game from the bench.
He said they had excellent communication, were talking every day and made the most of each other’s strengths.
‘‘Nick has been working with this senior group for a few years now and has an excellent footy brain, he is good for ideas and with selection,’’ Hazelman said.
The Magpies fought hard to get back into the game after a goalless first quarter put them on the back foot and losing dropped them out of the Murray League’s top four, hurting their chances of playing at home in week one of the finals (with the fourth versus fifth elimination final to be played at Moama Recreation Reserve).
The Magpies would likely need to beat Nathalia this weekend to hold fifth with sixth-placed Mulwala likely to beat Finley.
‘‘We got off to a scrappy start against a tricky wind in the first quarter,’’ Moama coach Mark Lloyd said.
‘‘The wind was quite prevalent and it made it difficult to score, but we had some good inside 50s and couldn’t convert,’’ he said.
‘‘But in saying that, Barooga beat Numurkah a couple of weeks ago and they have a side that could go all the way this season.’’
●Cobram travelled to Echuca to face a determined Echuca United and for a time it looked like the Tigers were going to succeed in their quest for victory as they led out early — however the home team bounced back and ran out winners in a tough game for both sides.
●On Saturday, Barooga travels to Congupna and Cobram plays at home against Deniliquin.