Gisborne may have fallen just short of a Bendigo Football League grand final spot, but the Bulldogs walked off the field united and with their heads held high.

For much of the week, the focus for the Bulldogs was not the preliminary final against Eaglehawk.

Reserves player Nathan Williams, 19, died in a car accident late last Sunday night, leaving the club in shock.

Bulldogs playing coach Clinton Young said he was proud of how the club stood strong in the lead-up to the game.

“We had a crack, but didn’t get the result we wanted,” he said.

“As I mentioned to everyone post game, I’m proud of how they played and proud of the club.

“We have Nathan’s funeral on Thursday. To have Steve [his father] speak at the club on Thursday night was special.”

A minute’s silence was held before the final in memory of Williams and his father Steve, who was on the ground in his usual role as runner for the senior side.

Young said the team never gave up, pushing Eaglehawk all the way in what turned out to be a thriller. Eaglehawk eventually won 12.7 (79)-11.9 (75).

“We started off really well and we were on top early,” Young said.

“Eaglehawk is a good team and they played well in the middle stages and looked on top.

“We could have fallen away, but we found something and kicked some goals.

“We were four goals down early in the last quarter and were able to hit the front late.

“[But] It was not meant to be.”

Pat McKenna was a star up forward, kicking six goals for the Bulldogs.

Young said Casey Summerfield’s last quarter was special, considering he was injured earlier in the game.

Josh Grabham and Tim Walsh were the other standouts, with several other players also playing good games.

Gisborne returned to finals last season. This season they won a final and were just five points away from a grand final. Young said it was all part of the process.

“I feel the last few years we’ve been steadily making progress. We weren’t able to make the grand final, but we made further ground,” he said. “We’ll go into next year with extra finals-level experience under our belts.”

Eaglehawk now faces Strathfieldsaye in the grand final.

The Bulldogs under-17 netball side lost a preliminary final against Sandhurst, 40-29.