Sport

Can Bears stop Bombers?

by
September 22, 2017

Brett Warburton famously bowed out as Shepparton Swans coach after four years in charge when the Swans caused a giant upset of Benalla in the 2014 grand final.

There is no way Kyabram should lose on Sunday. The Bombers have won 41 straight games, hardly being challenged since Paul Newman took over as coach ahead of last season.

They have put together one of the greatest streaks in country football history and their dominance is capturing attention right across the country.

Kyabram boasts 10 players who have AFL or VFL experience. There are genuine matchwinners on every line, with their forward line and defensive half simply outstanding. Any of the front six can pop up to dominate a game and no team in the league has been able to contain all of those players at the same time.

Confidence and belief runs high in the Bombers team as they feel it is possible to win from any position, how dire it may seem. While the red and black army go to Deakin Reserve expecting to win, nothing is ever guaranteed.

That is the beauty of sport. Anything can happen. The similarities between this grand final and the one that took place three years ago are uncanny. That bodes well for supporters of Shepparton aiming to see the Bears holding the Hastie Perpetual Cup aloft for the first time since 2000. In 2014, Shepparton Swans ended a 44-year premiership drought by breaking the hearts of the Benalla faithful.

The Saints of that year had not lost a game heading into the decider and were considered untouchable. They were looking to break their own spell without a flag, having last tasted the ultimate success in 1973. The Swans had been building nicely under Brett Warburton, but the weight of numbers pointed towards a comfortable Benalla victory.

But on a day where the wind played havoc at Deakin Reserve, the Swans handled it better and somehow became premiers, despite registering only one behind in the final quarter. The scenes after the game were surreal and like something out of a Hollywood film.

While the Swans fraternity embraced, celebrated and simply went wild, Benalla players slumped to the turf, shattered at the lost opportunity like nothing I have seen before. It was the perfect way for Warburton to bow out as coach after four years in charge.

When he was appointed coach, the Swans were in turmoil after spending big in 2010 and getting nowhere. Experienced key players left and the only thing to do was build again from the ground up. The first two seasons with Warburton as coach were difficult on the field, but the promise was there with rising stars such as Jessie Finnen, Tom Preece, Mitch Bell and Quade Johnstone gaining valuable experience.

By the end of Warburton’s third season, the Swans were one of the league’s best teams and enjoyed a golden run into a preliminary final. They lost to Shepparton United in the second last game of the year, but the building blocks were there for the golden season of 2014.

Like Warburton at the Swans, this grand final will be Campbell’s last game with the Bears after announcing before this season he would be stepping away after four years. The parallels do not end there. The initial two years were hard for Campbell, but there were gains being made after a winless campaign in 2013.

The Bears started to deliver in the second half of last season and ultimately made the finals. Shepparton finished second on the ladder in the home-and-away season this year, ensuring it got a shot at Kyabram in the qualifying final.

The Swans almost knocked Benalla off in the first week of the 2014 finals, losing in the dying minutes. While the Bears were not as close to beating the Bombers three weeks ago, they were far from disgraced and took it up to the champions for most of the night.

A third quarter spree and Kyabram young gun Kyle Mueller running riot in the forward line with seven goals was the difference. All three games between Kyabram and Shepparton this season have been closely contested, but the Bombers have managed to hold off the up-and-comers. The scary thing for opposition supporters is Newman’s team has rarely put together a game where it performed at its best for four quarters.

The Bombers have been able to win by playing a good quarter, even a 10 or 15-minute burst is usually enough to chalk up a win. If Kyabram plays at its best, or near it, back-to-back flags are heading back to Bomberland for the first time since 1928.

The Bombers at their peak will defeat anyone and there is nothing that can be done about it. But if they have an off day and the weight of being the hottest of hot favourites catches them out, then Shepparton is a genuine chance.

The longer they stay in the game, the more the crowd will be on their side and the nerves could start creeping into the Kyabram camp. The Bears have an incredible history in grand finals against Kyabram, defeating the Bombers in 1925, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1973.

Players such as Luke Smith, Nik Rokahr and John Bradaric have shown their ability to stand up in finals already and could be trump cards for Shepparton.

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