GRAND FINAL PREVIEW – MEN’S PREMIER DIVISION
Written by Michael Shillito.
It has been a season of highs and lows, twists and turns, and here we are at the final Men’s Premier Division game of the year, where Sydney University will take on Pennant Hills at Blacktown.
For Sydney University, this has been a season of dominance. They endured just three losses during the regular season and built a large percentage, in a year where the Students took all before them.
They followed that up with a one-sided demolition of North Shore in the Second Semi-Final to book their place on AFL Sydney’s biggest stage.
The Students may have scraped into the finals a couple of times in recent seasons, but this year is the first since they began their NEAFL existence that they have been a genuine contender at Premier Division level.
Premier Division Coach, Tony Overall has moulded a side capable of matching it with the best. He has had a trickle-down from a strong NEAFL squad and a lesser injury toll than previous years.
Cameo appearances from the likes of Xavier Richards during the regular season certainly helped the Students establish their imposing percentage, but there is more to the Students’ success than that.
Up-and-comers such as Will Stratford and Harry Morrison have established themselves as regular Premier Division players.
Only Sam Clark has played every game this year, but the likes of Allister Clarke, Monty and Spencer Krochmal, Nick Bowen and Luke Vella have given the Students consistent performances, holding down positions in the team and getting the job done every week.
The Students have not drunk from the Bill Hart Cup since 1992. They made a Grand Final in 2010 but were well-beaten on the day. After a strong season like this one, they will have high hopes of breaking their 25-year drought.
To taste Premiership glory, they have to get past the Pennant Hills Demons – and that will not be easy.
The Demons had looked vulnerable for much of the year, but when it came to the business end of the season, they have found their best form.
In Chris Yard, the Demons have a mentor who knows what it takes to produce the goods when the game is there to be won. This year, the Demons’ leader brought up his 500th appearance as a player/coach for the club, and has been on hand for their greatest triumphs before.
Six points out of the top five, a month before the finals, they were not likely to make the finals – but they got there. Three goals behind at three-quarter time in the Preliminary Final last week, they were not likely to make the Grand Final – but here they are.
Stephen Wray and Tom Edmonds have played every game this year, and they typify the Demons’ habit of rising to the occasion, lifting their game as the season progressed and playing key roles in the finals.
Josh Boag, Campbell Luscombe, Jesse Hare and Matt Carey have been consistent performers for the Demons all season, and will again be players to watch this time round.
The Demons have certainly had the big game experience. Just two years ago in 2015, a barnstorming final quarter saw the Demons take out an unexpected Premiership. Being the underdogs again should hold no fears for Pennant Hills. Many from that 2015 team will pull on the Demon guernsey again on Saturday.
This year is the fourth time in ten seasons since Premier Division went to a final five, that a team has come from the Elimination Final to make the Grand Final. The previous three teams all lost. Can the Demons succeed where East Coast in 2008, Balmain in 2012, and the Demons themselves failed in 2013?
On form, there is no reason why not – after all, winning form is good form. Although the fatigue factor of playing several games in a row, while their opposition have been resting, will surely have to be a consideration.
In their favour is a weather forecast of partly cloudy skies and a maximum of just 22, a contrast to the searing heat of 2008 and blazing sunshine of 2012 and 2013.
The two sides have met twice this year. Early in the season at Mike Kenny Oval, while the Students were on a roll, they easily accounted for the Demons by 39 points. The return game at Sydney University No. 1 Oval was unfortunately cut short after only 20 minutes when a horrific injury struck. The Demons had looked good in the early exchanges that day, but the result was recorded as a draw.
Sydney University will be the hottest of favourites. They have barely put a foot wrong this season, but that all counts for nothing if they cannot get the job done on Saturday.
History does not honour the team that wins the most games. It honours the team that wins the last game.
Pennant Hills will not make that easy. They will make the Students earn every possession. Favouritism on paper counts for little once the ball is bounced in a Grand Final.
Will the Students be glorious and victorious? Or will the grand old flag of the red and the blue be flying?
All will be revealed on Saturday. Anticipate a Grand Final that, for one reason or another, will go down in AFL Sydney folklore.