Numurkah may have defeated Cobram by 29 points in its semi-final on Saturday at Lonsdale Reserve in Mulwala, but the boys in yellow and black certainly didn’t lose any fans in the aftermath.
The Tigers’ premiership dreams essentially went up in smoke in one dismal quarter.
Numurkah produced a blistering opening term, piling on six goals to Cobram’s one.
It was nightmare start for Cobram and there was a sense of déjà vu following a near identical opening to the qualifying final against Nathalia a week earlier.
‘‘Two weeks in a row we were probably just waiting for things to happen rather than taking on the game early,’’ Cobram coach Josh Noonan lamented.
In the first term it appeared that a lethargic and tentative Cobram was carrying a psychological burden after being ravaged by injury against the Purples the previous week.
The Tigers lost their spine, with defenders Nathan Hartley, Steve Smith and Mitch Richman forced to sit out with injury, while key playmaker Cadeyn Williams could not recover in time from a knee injury.
‘‘As much as I tried not to make a point of it (injuries) going in to the match, I’ve got no doubt it probably played a part in our slow start,’’ Noonan said.
‘‘But once they settled, they realised what they could do and they took it up to them.’’
With a Cobram backline devoid of experience, Numurkah forwards Ben Gunning (five goals), Bradley Vassal (four) and Nathan Hicks (three) ran riot for the Blues.
The injury crisis meant Cobram was forced to field eight players who are eligible to play under-17s and the lack of experience was telling early when the heat in the contest was scolding.
The young Tigers were falling down with their structures at stoppages and Numurkah seemed to pounce on every little mistake in the first term, with the Blues’ midfield running freely and providing silver service to their forwards.
It wasn’t until an Adam De Cicco snap late in the first quarter that the Tigers showed any potency in the forward half.
The Tigers looked shell-shocked at quarter-time after being blown out of the water, but this developing group of players displayed its burgeoning maturity after that point.
A huge blowout looked imminent, but the Tigers rallied strongly after quarter-time and won the remaining three quarters by three points.
They clawed their way back in to the contest in the second quarter but truly came to life in the third, kicking four goals to Numurkah’s two.
Darcy McCormack (three goals) produced a moment of magic, kicking a banana from the boundary line, and a Tom Scott thunderbolt from 40m injected some belief into the Cobram camp.
The Tigers were trailing by 40 points at three-quarter time and Noonan implored his troops to keep fighting, saying stranger things had happened in games of football.
They responded to their coach’s message and again kicked four goals to the Blues’ two, but it wasn’t enough. The damage done in the first quarter proved insurmountable.
While there was disappointment in the rooms after the game, Noonan said he couldn’t have been prouder of the way his troops fought out the game and applied themselves during the season.
‘‘There’s been so much natural improvement within the group this year, let alone the young kids who have played senior football who are only 15,16 and 17 — they’ve got so much footy still ahead of them,’’ he said.
Cobram’s natural progression this year has been starkly evident for its supporters to see, and Noonan said he would only look at the year positively.
He said the Tigers finished roughly where they deserved to.
‘‘I think we got the most we could out of the group. There were games we missed out on and games we pinched,’’ he said.
‘‘Going from eight wins last season to 13 this year is a big step. Playing finals is a step in the right direction. Exposing these kids to finals football is a major bonus and having the group starting to really play for one another was also pleasing.
‘‘Going in to next year, we should have a stronger belief in our own expectations now.’’