Craig Kellow has a massive amount of trust in his Nathalia troops.
After seven Murray Football League premierships in 12 seasons, including the past two flags, he has every reason to.
But following a second semi-final loss to Numurkah, the temptation for Kellow to ring the changes in his line-up would have been huge.
Aside from a single move — bringing Nathan Oakes in for Campbell Marx — Kellow resisted the urge to throw the magnets out and start again against Barooga in Saturday’s preliminary final.
His faith was rewarded with a dominant performance across every line as the Purples ran away 41-point victors and booked themselves yet another grand final appearance.
‘‘I backed the guys in in terms of their fitness level, I thought in the second half we could run them over, which was really positive in the end,’’ Kellow said.
Bailey Bell proved the matchwinner for Nathalia with five majors and amazing pressure at ground level right across Cobram’s Scott Oval, but he was not the only player to drastically increase his output from last week.
‘‘In general I thought our mids were far better, we just worked a little bit harder,’’ Kellow said.
‘‘I thought our pressure and our tackling was sometimes a little bit unrewarded, but the guys just didn’t relent, you know even if it wasn’t a free kick we were placing that Barooga kicker under pressure, which makes it so much easier for our backs.’’
A howling breeze punctuated the majority of proceedings in front of a massive crowd and Nathalia used its height advantage superbly by not wasting the football going forward to give Brodie Ross (two goals), Liam Evans (two) and Brett Vallender (one) the best chance to succeed.
‘‘The wind was a huge factor in the game no doubt and I thought we were smart enough when we didn’t have the wind to play that possession style of footy on the safe side of the oval, so when we were in trouble we went out there and I thought that was the smart way to go about it,’’ Kellow said.
‘‘They (our talls) provided a contest, as you could see Bailey Bell had a good day as one of the smalls, but that was due to those forwards providing a contest and bringing the ball to the front, which is one of those things which makes it predictable for the smalls and probably goes a little bit unnoticed.’’
Barooga went toe-to-toe with the Purples during the first half and put up a great fight, but after the main break it was all one-way traffic.
‘‘I think up until half-time we were definitely in the game, but I think in that third quarter we just didn’t quite do enough to keep in touch, and we definitely ran out of legs late in that game,’’ Hawks co-coach James Hazelman said.
‘‘They’re obviously an experienced side, they’ve been there a lot in the last 10 years so they definitely just found a way and we just fell by the wayside a little bit and couldn’t find anything in that last half.’’
Hazelman and fellow coach Tyrone Downie led the way for their side, but it was no coincidence that as towering ruckman Brodie A’Vard was worn down by Nathalia duo Jason Limbrick and Jarrod Maskell, so too were the Hawks by the fierce intensity of their opponent.
Such was the drop-off that Barooga managed to score only three behinds in the entire second half, with the Purples’ defensive unit — led by Phil Carroll and Alex Hicks — able to repel almost every foray forward.
Hazelman will lead the Hawks again next season — and is confident Downie will join him — in an attempt to continue their upward trend of improvement.
‘‘I’ve got the job by myself and obviously it’s a work in progress with Tyrone at the moment, but I’m confident he’ll stick around,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘I’ve obviously been talking to the group the last month or two getting in early and the signs are 90 per cent are going to stay, so obviously it’s a good building block again, but we’ve just got to find out where we need to go in terms of taking that next step.’’
Meanwhile, the Purples will nurse sore bodies after the bruising encounter, including an ankle injury to Vallender, ahead of taking on fierce rival Numurkah on the biggest day of the year.
‘‘We’re just going to have to assess how he (Vallender) comes up I suppose, he did get hurt, but tomorrow (Sunday) will tell the tale I think whether or not he’s a bit sore,’’ Kellow said.
‘‘We’ve got some other guys who are sore, but look we’ve got six days to turn that around.
‘‘I’ll back us in 100 per cent and I think our form is definitely on the rise, it was important to get more time into some guys and we’ll certainly be going in with nothing to lose.
‘‘Everyone’s expecting Numurkah to win it and we’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, our guys’ experience and their want for the contest today was evident and I think if we take that into next week I’ll give us every chance to win the game of footy.’’