It has been a season of highs and lows for the Benalla All Blacks, with finals proving no different.
After a momentous win against Glenrowan in the semi-finals, the Panthers bowed out of the preliminary final to Milawa on Saturday.
The 71-point loss shattered the All Blacks’ chances of making a second consecutive grand final and a shot at premiership redemption.
Benalla All Blacks coach Harry Moran said it was a bitterly disappointing end to the season.
‘‘We were blown out of the water in the first quarter and the damage was done,’’ Moran said.
‘‘We were just outclassed and full credit goes to Milawa, we didn’t deserve to go through.’’
Milawa came out to play from the first siren, boasting a 46-point lead heading into the second quarter and continued to capitalise on opportunities.
Chris O’Connor managed to sneak two goals in for the Panthers, while Justin Gervasoni, Ben Pretty, Nicholas Spencer, Jack Doidge and Riley Moran all joined him to round out the best players for the day.
Despite their finals campaign ending, the home and away season provided many highlights for the Panthers, including taking the Gerry Crothers Cup in round five and the White Ribbon Cup in round 15.
But with the success came a string of injuries, with Jack Ellis, Chris Lockhart, Joel Bate and coach Harry Moran just some of the big names to fall throughout the season.
‘‘Because we didn’t have some dominant players out on the field it’s evolved other blokes further which has been a great way to look at the season,’’ Moran said.
‘‘I thought when I did my knee in round five that it would be it for footy and I wouldn’t be able to cope with it.
‘‘It’s been kind of funny because going from a playing coach to being an off field coach I think I’ve adapted to it pretty well.
‘‘I have learnt so much more about myself as a coach and I know more about my players now than I ever have.
‘‘I’m probably more driven now than ever to play football again.’’
It was also a special season for four Panther players who were named in the Ovens and King league team of the year in Alistair Jacka, Riley Moran, Andrew Trende and Chris O’Connor — all continuing their top form into finals.
Moran also praised the efforts of Justin Gervasoni, Ben Pretty, Kyle Collison and Jayden Guppy for the influential roles they played throughout the season.
He also acknowledged the tireless work of Panthers coaching staff Colin Tatterson, Paul O’Brien and Shane Allen for helping the team since taking over the reigns in 2016.
‘‘The credit has to go to these three,’’ Moran said.
‘‘I get all of the accolades and the credit and it’s my head on the chopping block if we aren’t going as well as we should, but these blokes have put in a phenomenal amount of effort.
‘‘They’re three of the best blokes I’ll ever coach with, they’re just phenomenal.’’
Milawa will now take on Tarrawingee at City Oval on Saturday to decide who will take the Ovens and King league premiership for 2018.