ECHUCA UNITED Football Club proved to be a contender against the Murray Football League’s top sides after meeting the benchmark on Saturday.
The Eagles fell just two goals short on Nathalia’s big ground — the closest any side had come to the reigning premier prior to its two-point loss to Mulwala last week.
The Purps have held onto their position on top of the ladder but it’s clear other teams are catching up; with United still fifth on the ladder and showing how close the top six sides are this season.
Coach Guy Campbell said to be where they’re at this early in the season with a new playing group was pleasing to see.
‘‘We’ve grown a lot in stature in just three rounds and with the way our juniors are developing at the club the future is even more promising,’’ Campbell said.
‘‘Our young guys and players who have come this year are continuing to impress each week.’’
New recruit Jack Hajro and young players Bailey Sawyer, Hamish Cohen and Kyle Armstrong were some of the players who stood out in Saturday’s game.
‘‘Bailey and Hamish were playing against guys with a lot bigger bodies and more than 200 games of experience over them and still held their own,’’ Campbell said.
‘‘There was a lot they can take from the game and it was good for our whole playing group in knowing the structures we’ve been working hard to put into place can stand up against the best in the competition.’’
A damning first quarter had the Eagles chasing from the start, however Campbell said it’s good to know nothing major needed adjusting in their game.
Despite solid defensive pressure from their forwards which saw 19 tackles in the first term, the Purps continued to find a loose man in bringing it down their end.
Anthony McMahon kicked the first goal for United, but two missed opportunities saw them trail by four goals at quarter time.
Tom McMinn came off with a possible fractured cheekbone meaning the Eagles were already a man down going into the second term.
Nick Denahy kicked the opening goal to give them the lift they needed and it was clear the Eagles had a defensive game plan similar to what they produced against Barooga the week before.
They tightened their man-on-man defence to create a lot more turnovers, continuing to create opportunities in their forward-line.
A goal square kick-in penalty against Nathalia resulted in another goal to United, finished off by Farran Priest, to make it a two-goal margin.
Nathalia’s Brodie Ross put them another goal ahead at the 20-minute mark and while the Eagles had their chances up forward they couldn’t seem to mark inside 50.
Peter Quanchi continued to drive the ball long and just as United looked to struggle to find a target inside Denahy stepped up to produce the mark of the quarter — if not the game — to take an absolute screamer on the shoulders of his opposition.
He held on and finished it off with a goal to put the Eagles within two goals at half-time, 4.4 (28) to 6.3 (39).
Neither side was able to break away in the second half, both kicking 2.2 in the third and despite a late comeback from the Eagles in the final term the Purps held for the win 12.8 (80) to 10.8 (68).
Denahy was named best for Echuca United with four goals, with Phil Hubbard, Armstrong, Sawyer, Cohen and McMahon rounding off the list.
Duane Hueston and McMahon finished with two goals for the game and Jamie Ferguson also slotted a major.
Zac Mihocek missed this week’s game, but Campbell said it was more about player management rather than anything major.
‘‘It’s pleasing to see we’re not relying on any one or two players out there to get the job done,’’ Campbell said.
‘‘We certainly miss those players who are injured, but it gives us the opportunity to create more depth at the club and bring even more players into the mix.’’