Injuries a big blow to Tigers
So close, yet so far. It was that sort of day for Cobram on Saturday as it bravely went down to reigning premier Nathalia by 20 points in its qualifying final at Hardinge St Oval, Deniliquin.
The 14.9 (93) to 10.13 (73) defeat to the Purples would have left the young Tigers feeling a range of emotions post-game.
On one hand, they could be proud of their fighting efforts, for not rolling over when it looked for all the money that Nathalia would sweep them aside after taking a 27-point leader into quarter-time.
But on the other hand, the Tigers would realise this was an opportunity lost after leading by a goal at halftime.
It’s not often the Purples are challenged in the way they were Saturday afternoon by a hungry and resilient Cobram outfit.
The Tigers were in the game up to their necks, but in the end Nathalia’s experience, finals know-how and healthier bench proved the greatest difference between the two teams.
Leading in, the narrative underpinning this match was as interesting as the contest itself.
Here was a young Cobram team, not yet fully aware of its own capabilities and very much in a developmental phase, coming up against the Murray Football League’s dominant force of the past decade — a perennial winner and finely-tuned machine in Nathalia.
Many pundits would have expected a blow-out, but this was no mismatch.
With a strong breeze howling down Nathalia’s end in the first term, Cobram’s defence was put to the test early but did well to restrict the Purples to five majors.
‘‘I wouldn’t say they jumped us, but they tried to put their stamp on the game early with their physicality and aggression at the football,’’ Cobram coach Josh Noonan said.
‘‘They were first to the football and just seemed to have more numbers at the contest.’’
The Tigers found a way back into the game in the second term by cranking up the pressure on Nathalia, forcing the Purples into a host of uncharacteristic mistakes.
‘‘We started doing the little things right and got our hands on the footy. We got back into the game by playing the Cobram brand of footy that we wanted to play,’’ Noonan said.
After enjoying a six-point lead at half-time, the onus was on the Tigers to slow down Nathalia’s ball movement and limit its scoring considering the Purples again had the benefit of the breeze.
Cobram did well, again keeping Nathalia to five goals, while it managed to sneak two goals of its own to make the margin a very gettable 11 points with the breeze in its favour in the last quarter.
After stemming the bleeding reasonably well in the third, Cobram was hit by a serious ankle injury to midfielder Lance Crowe, which seemed to sap the Tigers’ spirit.
It was a savage blow for the Tigers as it left them another player short on the bench after also losing defenders Steve Smith and Nathan Hartley to injury during the game.
With Crowe down, the already difficult challenge to kick away suddenly became a mountainous task for Cobram.
‘‘I thought we had enough in our tank in the last quarter to perhaps run over them, but in the end we were pretty short on the bench and didn’t have enough legs to run out the game,’’ a disappointed Noonan said.
Although the result didn’t go Cobram’s way, Noonan could not fault the application of his troops.
‘‘The effort was fantastic from the boys all day,’’ he said.
‘‘At times our skill execution and decision making let us down, but to put a team like Nathalia on the back foot and make them second guess themselves is probably the biggest thing we can take out of it.
‘‘The young kids weren’t put off, they took it in their stride.’’
Cobram will take a lot of confidence from its strong showing against the minor premier when it travels to Lonsdale Reserve in Mulwala on Saturday to face Numurkah, who it defeated only a few weeks ago, in the first semi-final.
‘‘Our planning will probably be pretty similar to last time, but obviously we will know a little bit more about them this time,’’ Noonan said.
‘‘We will continue to play our brand of football.
‘‘We are definitely good enough to beat them, it will just depend on whether or not we can be consistent across the four quarters.’’
Leader of the pack: Cobram’s Alex King hunts the football against Nathalia.
Stuck in the middle: Tiger Sam Beasley is the meat in the sandwich in a marking contest.
Straight shooter: Cobram forward Darcy McCormack shoots for goal.