Charles Sturt University coach Pat Noonan was left ruing the fact they had to play catch-up in Sunday’s elimination final loss to East Wagga-Kooringal.
In their first finals appearance in seven years, the Bushpigs were down by three goals in 10 minutes. They came back to threaten and trailed by only 10 points late in the third quarter, only to see it slip away again.
“I think it was our intent – we looked like we didn’t want it as much as they did. It was in there in patches but I think those patches came too few and far between,” Noonan said.
At three-quarter-time, Noonan still held plenty of belief that the three-goal-margin was within reach. But trying to run down a team with plenty of big stage performers proved too big an ask.
By the end Noonan couldn’t help but think back to the beginning.
“I think we need to start getting into the mentality that we’re actually a really good side and coming out more aggressive, playing offensively,” he said.
“It’s still about knowing when to be defensive but really make teams chase us instead of chase them all the time.”
Missed opportunities, particularly in the second quarter and early in the third, also hurt their cause as they fought to get back on level terms.
“We didn’t take those chances when we had them. That’s what finals football’s about – when you get those chances, you’ve really got to take them,” Noonan said.
Leaders Diarmid Cleary and Brayden Ambler did all they could to keep the Bushpigs in the contest while Max Hanrahan, in his first year of Australian rules, brought the attitude Noonan hoped would rub off on everyone else.
“He’s a guy that’s got intent, that you know is going to go into a pack and give it everything. Then he’ll go to the next one and do the exact same thing. If I had 22 of him, that’d be awesome,” Noonan said.
Falling at the first finals hurdle wasn’t the way the CSU fairytale was meant to end.
But Noonan said nine wins in his first year as a coach – as many as they'd had in the previous four seasons combined – met the targets they’d set.
“I think when we spoke earlier in the season, my goal was to beat the amount of games we won last year (six) and we’ve done that, so that’s a success for the season,” Noonan said.
But it felt bittersweet at the end of an elimination final.
“You know, I absolutely wanted to win today – massively – but it’s happened now.
“That’s happened and I can’t do anything about it so I’m keen and looking forward to next year.”