Ararat Rats embracing the big stage

Liam Cavanagh has been one Ararat's best this season.

ALEX Rance’s post-match interview after rupturing his ACL in the first round of 2019 gave as good an insight as any into a premiership-winning culture.

Instead of lamenting a season-ending injury, Rance adjusted the ACL acronym to read ‘always celebrate and laugh’; providing a glimpse into Richmond’s emphasis on not only embracing adversity, but doing it with a smile.

Gone are the days of ruthless aggression being the sole tool used to motivate a group of young men ahead of a big game of footy.

Despite mounting pressure and a club’s longing to lift senior football silverware for the first time in two decades, the Ararat Rats’ approach to Sunday’s preliminary final with Stawell is one built around “leaning into” the excitement, rather than worrying about the outcome.

“We spoke about how exciting this finals series is, regardless of the results,” Rats defender Liam Cavanagh said.

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“Finals only make up around one per cent of your career when all’s said and done, so you need to enjoy every bit of it.

“I think what I saw in our first final is some of the younger guys go into their shell a bit and perhaps shy away from any risk and that’s not the way we play. Sometimes you need to lose a final before you can win one and I think there are some good lessons there.

“You can be overwhelmed by it, or you can stimulated and driven by it and we lean into the fact that there’s pressure and that there’s no guarantees and how exciting the opportunity we have is in front of us.”

One of those opportunities is breaking a premiership drought spanning two decades on the year the club celebrates its 150th anniversary.

The ledger stands at one win each between Ararat and Stawell this season, with the Rats opening their season with a 49-point win over their rivals before Stawell got their redemption with a five point win in round ten.

The Rats are expected to field a full-strength team for Sunday’s final at Warracknabeal, with Cavanagh anticipating a tight midfield battle.

“I think the midfield battle is going to dictate a lot of what happens,” he said.

“I think both teams’ tall players tend to balance each other out. We know we can beat them because we did it round one but in saying that we know Stawell will put on a really good show and they’ve had a great season, so they’ll be hungry and we’ll need to maintain that belief.”

Cavanagh, who lives and works in Melbourne, has played every game this season upon his return to the club, where he leads a tight Rats backline.

“The season’s gone really quickly and it’s been great to get back to where it all began and see the evolution of the club,” Cavanagh said.

“I’m there now playing with guys whose names I knew but never really had a conversation with, so it’s been great to come back and get to know these guys. The club culture is as good as it’s ever been, but we’re not getting too sentimental because we’ve got another week or two of footy to go.”

A Semi-Final defeat to Minyip-Murtoa last week means the Rats will have to overcome arch-rivals Stawell to qualify for the Grand Final.

The club’s reserves team will also gearing up for a preliminary final this weekend.

Like the seniors, the reserves went down in their semi-final last week and meet the Horsham Demons in the penultimate match of the season on Sunday.

The winner will face Minyip-Murtoa in the Grand Final.

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