St Pats’ once unbeaten run counted for nothing come finals, the minor premier bundled out by a resurgent East Coast on Saturday in a deflating preliminary final.
The Swans’ win followed a familiar path to last year’s meteoric rise, reaching the division 2 grand final from the elimination final.
After producing another solid year, Ned Hyland’s outfit continued to save their best for the cutthroat games in the 16.12 (108) to 7.15 (57) win at Invermay Park.
“I’ve talked about it before that we had a bit of a midseason rut with a few injuries that did hold us back,” the East Coast coach said.
“We dropped a couple of games that we probably should have won, but that actually worked for us – we learned quite a lot from that.
“I think the form we’re in at the moment, we’ve hit the finals series absolutely at full pace. We feel unbeatable.”
But from the outset, St Pats sounded out its intentions to wrest back the ascendancy lost from a first defeat all season in last week’s semi-final upset against Evandale.
The Saints had looked on target to set up a rematch in next week’s grand final after putting away the opening four goals to pull out to a 23-point lead inside the first 15 minutes. But that was just a ruse for what would happen over the next three quarters.
East Coast swamped the team with a 15 win-one draw record throughout the regular NTFA season to slam past 16 of the next 19 goals.
The momentum shifted soon after Cameron Bailey took a stray elbow to his head that left the Saint out cold but for having convulsions.
The match was halted for almost 30 minutes as an ambulance was forced to make its way onto the ground.
The Swans were quick to refocus their energy early in the second term and turned an 18-point quarter-time deficit into a handy eight-point lead at the main break.
But a five goal-to-one third quarter almost secured the St Helens-based team into the premiership decider.
Veteran Michael Murfet and opportunist Gene Savage snagged two goals and Nick Child another to blow out the margin to 21 points.
Will Stoltenberg added four goals in the last quarter alone, joining both Murfet (five) and Child (three) as forwards too dangerous for a vulnerable St Pats to handle.
“You’ve got to know how to lose before you know how to win,” Hyland said of St Pats.
“The fact they dropped one last week, they probably weren’t ready for that. Their success during the rostered season was ultimately their undoing in the end.”
Saints coach Alex Russell was almost lost for words.
But he was full of praise for East Coast’s resilience.
“They took what we were doing in the first quarter, but probably did it better,” he said. “You’re not going stop a side that has had three good quarters and one bad.”
The Saints rooms were sombre after being eliminated in back-to-back weeks prior to the grand final.
It happened for the second year in a row after Old Scotch’s exit last year ended a four-year premiership reign.
“The club didn’t want to be a part of it, but now we’re in it,” Russell said. “There’s nothing certain in football.”