Victoria Country’s under-19 squad held off a fast-finishing Victorian Amateur Football Association to claim its fourth straight Challenge Cup on Saturday.
Three footballers from the region helped lift the cup, with Shepparton’s Luke Smith, Kyabram’s Zac Norris and Nathalia’s Ned Nihill pulling on a Country jumper.
Smith proved to be one of the more influential players on Frankston Oval, booting two of his side’s nine goals in the four-point triumph.
The pair of majors for the young Bear continued his great form in front of the big sticks of late, after kicking 11 goals in his past two matches for Shepparton, despite carrying a niggle.
Smith was one of seven goal-kickers for Country as the nine-goal total was shared among the group.
Country began far better of the two sides, stretching out to a 14-point lead at the first change.
VAFA lifted its output in the second term, but Country was up to the task, with the two sides kicking 2.4 apiece.
Although extending its lead to 23 points at the final break, Country’s inaccuracy (8.13) kept its opponent firmly in the match heading into the deciding quarter.
An inspired performance from VAFA’s Alessandro Mastromanno (five goals) threatened to derail Country’s chances of holding the cup aloft, but a solitary goal to the boys from the bush in the final term allowed them to hold onto a stirring victory.
The result was much closer than last season’s clash, which Country took easily by 44 points.
Unlike the biennial Brian Molony Cup the senior sides play for, the under-19 Challenge Cup is an annual contest.
Vic Country 3.4 5.8 8.13 9.13 (67)
VAFA 1.2 3.6 5.8 9.9 (63)
Vic Country: Sean Downie, Jack Blood, Shaun Mannagh, Rob Turnbull, Jake Kelly, Nick Carlon.
VAFA: Tom Cameron, Tate Short, Sam Michael, Christian Carnovale, Max Williams, Alessandro Mastromanno.
Vic Country: Luke Smith, Jake Kelly 2, Jackson McLachlan, Matt La Fontaine, Jackson McMahon, Hamish Coulton, Rob Turnbull.
VAFA: Alessandro Mastromanno 5, Tate Short 2, Xavier Morgan, Tom Cameron.