MATCH REVIEWS: Men’s Premier Division Week Two Finals
Written by Michael Shillito
MAJOR SEMI FINAL
UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs vs. Sydney University – Blacktown ISP on Saturday 31st August
Saturday was the last day of winter, but the cold season wasn’t quite ready to go away yet. It was grey and overcast, windy and cold. But the footy action was red-hot, a battle of the universities; Uni NSW-Eastern Suburbs against Sydney Uni. And a spot in the Grand Final was up for grabs for the winner.
The Bulldogs have been the front-runners this season. They came into this contest fresh after earning the first week off from taking out the minor premiership. Defending their premiership from last year, the Bulldogs haven’t tasted defeat since April.
Looking to go one better than last year’s runners-up status, the Students have been solid and only dropped four games in the regular season. And in the first week of the finals they signalled their intentions with a win over North Shore to win through to this major semi-final clash.
The Bulldogs had won both clashes between the two sides during the regular season; hanging on in a thriller the first time and denying scoring chances to the Students the second time.
But when this clash got under way, the Students were taking it up to the Bulldogs around the ground. Had they finished with more precision, the momentum of the game may have changed. But too many chances were wasted, swinging wide in the swirling breeze. As the quarter unfolded, the Bulldogs would make the Students pay for their wasteful finishing; a late flurry by the Bulldogs resulting in a return of four goals to one for the quarter and a lead of 13 points at the first change.
The Bulldogs had been let off the hook, and they made the Students pay in the second term. This was the runaway competition favourites at their best, as they set the game into an unassailable lead. Plenty of run through the midfield, plenty of forward options presenting themselves with some handy leads. And a miserly backline that pressured the Students into errors and turnovers and prevented them from working their way back into the contest. Six goals to one was the result on the scoreboard; and with a 44-point lead at the long break, it was already clear that the Bulldogs were on their way to their second straight Grand Final.
In general play, it wasn’t quite as one-sided as the margin would suggest. The Students were winning their fair share of contests and getting a reasonable share of the ball. But their inability to find the big sticks would continue to haunt them all afternoon. They frequently found themselves with few options on the forward line and having to bomb long, where the blustering breeze would count against them. The Bulldogs were in control of their game, and continued to press home their advantage in the premiership quarter. A further four goals to two were added, as the Bulldogs extended their three quarter time lead to 51 points, despite having only had one more scoring shot.
The Students won the last quarter, salvaging something from the afternoon with a return of three goals to two to cut the final margin to 45 points. But the damage was already done; and the Bulldogs were happy to play out time secure in the knowledge that they were through to Sydney footy’s biggest day.
On a day when the Students were finding goals hard to get, Jesse Aish’s value to the Bulldogs was enormous as he landed four major scores and played a hand in setting up several more. Hayden Nichols, Johnny Pawle and Joe Byrnes also played pivotal roles for the Bulldogs.
The win sees the Bulldogs into the Grand Final; and with another week off to get over any niggles. They’ve been in great form all season, and clearly have been the standout team in the competition. But the job isn’t done yet. They have two weeks to prepare, but they know there’s still one more mountain they need to climb.
Allister Clarke, Aaron Day and Marcus Valastro made important contributions for Sydney Uni. The Students wasted too many chances to put the Bulldogs under pressure, and never looked a chance to get through.
But it’s not over yet for Sydney Uni. They have another shot. Next Saturday it’s do or die. If they can get up, they get another crack at the Bulldogs; in what would be a repeat of last year’s Grand Final. But if they can’t, it’s over.
UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs – 4.0 | 10.4 | 14.5 | 16.9 (105)
Sydney University – 1.5 | 2.8 | 4.14 | 7.18 (60)
UNSW-ES Goals – J Aish 4, J Pascoe 3, J Pawle 3, C Burgess-Hoar 2, H Annear 2, B Jack, C Kilpatrick
Sydney Uni Goals – W Stratford 2, D Smith, T Dunlop, D Bonney, T Cordner, M Krochmal
UNSW-ES Best – H Nichols, J Pawle, J Byrnes, C Burgess-Hoar, M Rawlinson, D Pfeiffer
Sydney Uni Best – A Clarke, A Day, M Valastro, M Thompson, S Krochmal, W Greenaway
MINOR SEMI FINAL
Pennant Hills Demons vs. North Shore Bombers – Blacktown ISP on Sunday 1st September
After the gloom of Saturday, the sun came out on Sunday and the Minor Semi-Final was played in warmer weather, with blue skies overhead. Sunday was sudden death, North Shore taking on Pennant Hills, in a contest from which only one could survive.
North Shore finished second after the home and away season, but a loss to Sydney Uni in the Qualifying Final had put the Bombers into a sudden-death situation. The Bombers went in the favourites having beaten the Demons twice during the regular season.
Pennant Hills were fifth after the home and away season, but had made their way to this match after a strong win against East Coast in the Elimination Final. The Demons were hitting form at the right time of year, but knew that the Bombers would put up stiff resistance.
There wasn’t much in it early, as the two teams were putting on a willing contest. Midway through the quarter the Bombers were threatening to make a move, only for the Demons to peg them back. Plenty of big hits and fierce tackles, as would be expected in a sudden death contest; with players putting their bodies on the line for the cause. The Bombers’ strong period during the quarter was enough for them to lead by four points at quarter time, after kicking three goals to two for the quarter.
Finals footy needs discipline and a level head, keeping your nerve when all around are losing theirs. But in the second quarter, the Bombers’ discipline would let them down. Of the Demons’ four goals in the second term, three of them came from 50 metre penalties and the other from a free kick. The Bombers would pay dearly for their lapses, conceding the lead and finding themselves under pressure that need not have been there. The Demons kept their heads, even with the Bombers picking themselves up to score three goals for the quarter. But the Demons were holding a seven point advantage at the long break.
A goal in the opening minute of the third term extended the Demons’ advantage. But the tension was rising. For 15 goal-less minutes the ball travelled from end to end. The Bombers were looking for the spark that would get them back into the contest. The Demons were looking for the blow that would put the margin into panic stations territory. It was an arm-wrestle, the tension building and neither team willing to crack. But eventually the Demons would break the deadlock. Another goal apiece would follow, and the Demons were holding a 22-point advantage at the last change. The lights were on. The shadows were long, and so were the North Shore faces as the spectre of elimination hung over them like a Damocles sword.
But for a fleeting moment, what seemed a sure result was thrown into doubt. Two goals in the first three minutes of the final term cut the margin to 10 points. Suddenly the Bombers looked on a roll, and looked a good chance to run the Demons down. But the Bomber challenge would go no further. A clever snap from an impossible angle, and then another silly free kick in the backline would undo the good work the Bombers had done. Bomber heads dropped as the Demon roar from the grandstand grew louder. The Demons were home.
A marathon final term finished with the Demons kicking five goals to four, taking the match by 29 points.
The siren sounded, and North Shore players slumped to the ground in despair. For the second year in a row, the Bombers had crashed out of the finals in straight sets. Shaun Crane, Pierce Roseby and Max Thomas had fought hard all afternoon; but it wasn’t enough to stop another finals fadeout by the Bombers.
In the last four years, the Bombers have won more home and away games than any other club; but have not made a Grand Final. Again this season they played some great footy during the regular season, but when it came to the finals they were unable to get it done.
But this was Pennant Hills’ day. Theo Moraitis spearheaded the charge with four goals; while Stephen Wray, Tim Wales and Cameron Smith played key roles around the ground. When the game was there to be won, the Demons kept their nerve, stuck to their role and got the job done.
The Demons have the ability to come good at the right time of year, especially in an odd-numbered year. Now they’ll be playing a Preliminary Final against Sydney Uni. And suddenly they’re on a roll. They beat the Students in the last round of the regular season, and have built some momentum through two finals wins.
And history is on Pennant Hills’ side. In the last 16 seasons, 13 times the team that won the Minor Semi-Final has followed it up to win the Preliminary Final. The Demons have winning momentum. They’ll be hard to stop.
Pennant Hills Demons – 2.4 | 6.9 | 9.13 | 14.16 (100)
North Shore Bombers – 3.2 | 6.2 | 7.3 | 11.5 (71)
Pennant Hills Goals – T Moraitis 4, M Carey 3, C Luscombe, B Campbell, C Smith, T Wales, H Maguire, J Boag, L Skrivanic
North Shore Goals – M Thomas 3, A McConnell, J Campbell, Z Fyffe, P Roseby, C Silvester, C Murphy, J Barling, S Carruthers
Pennant Hills Best – S Wray, T Wales, C Smith, T Edmonds, B Campbell, H Maguire
North Shore Best – S Crane, P Roseby, M Thomas, K Devlin, J Campbell, J Rayner