AUSSIE RULES: Gunnedah Bulldogs AFL women’s Poochettes fell agonisingly short at the final hurdle of season 2022 North West AFL, defeated by a devastating single point against the Inverell Saints in the grand final at Tamworth.

Final scores read a heartbreaking one point loss – 35 to 34 in favour of their opposition. 

The Poochettes were left to rue the opportunity of capping a brilliant undefeated season with a trophy in the cabinet for the Gunnedah Bulldogs AFL club.

The Poochettes have been a pillar of consistency in their three seasons – 2020, 2021 and 2022 -notably remaining undefeated through the home and away season and triumphant in their major semi-final of 2022, also against the Saints, all despite player turnover and retired veterans and coaching staff over their joiurney.

The Poochettes had beaten the Saints on two occasions and on another secured a tense draw in the three home and away fixtures of the 2022 season, and in their major semi-final clash put together a clinical display of ball movement.

Behind at the first quarter change at 13 points to six – a solitary major to full forward Gyarn Waugh the only score to show – the Poochettes clicked into gear in the second term to kick two goals.

Full forward Waugh was at the fore to hit the scoreboard and double her tally and captain Rani Grant also notched her name on the scoresheet with a major of her own.

They kept their opponent scoreless to reverse the early deficit to lead by seven points at 20-13 going into the half time main break.

Midfielder and captain, Grant, was essential for the Poochettes gaining ascendency out of the middle during the second term, ably supported by fellow midfielders Katrina Rekunow, Chloe Sumpter and Laura Ewington in a rotating midfield combination to extract the ball from inside to out.

Commitment to the ball at ground level was the key driver in the Poochettes clawing their way back into the contest to lead at the main break, but the tall timber of the Inverell side meant they dominated the aerial contests to wrestle back momentum at the beginning of the third stanza.

Throughout the third quarter, the Poochettes were holding the fort desperately in defence. Highlighted by the tackling pressure of half backs Casey O’Connell and Georgia Tibbs, the scoreline could potentially have been more dominant in the Saints favour had the Poochettes not thrown themselves into every contested situation, snuffing out numerous waves of Inverell attack.

With the wind behind them, and a premiership flag on the line, the Poochettes began the last stanza with a bang.

Forward Khobi Devine slotted a goal from her pocket following consistent forward entries from the Poochettes, Zoe Palmer on a wing linking with her midfield to drive the ball deep inside forward 50 for Devine to clunk a clutch mark and kick truly.

With 10 minutes to go, the Poochettes again extracted the ball out of the middle and had another opportunity which was rushed through by the Inverell defence.

The Poochettes looked as though they would hold on to their seven-point, 34 to 27 lead.

Unfortunately, Inverell gained the ascendency once more in a match that ebbed and flowed from one side to the other, and although missing an initial shot on goal with five minutes to go, were able to slot a crucial major which sealed the fate of the Poochettes with three minutes to go.

Although not able to jump the final hurdle, the Poochettes were impressively represented in the naming of the North West AFL women’s team of the year announcement, named in the lead up to the grand final.

Captain Rani Grant, Khobi Devine, Katrina Rekunow, Nikki Morrison, competition leading goal scorer Gyarn Waugh and key defender Casey O’Connell were honoured in the side as the Poochettes combined to influence more than a quarter of the team of the year. 

In the men’s division, full forward James Mack, who finished third on the leading goal scorers list, and backman Ryan King were named in the men’s North West AFL side of the year.

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