MATCH REVIEW: Men’s Division Two Grand Final
Written by Michael Shillito
UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs vs. St George Dragons – Blacktown ISP on Sunday 15th September
Sunday afternoon at Blacktown saw the Men’s Division Two Grand Final, a match-up between UNSW Eastern Suburbs and St George Dragons.
The Bulldogs were first to qualify for the Grand Final. A week off before entering the finals as minor premiers; and they recorded a comfortable win over North Shore in the Major Semi-Final to earn another week off before the big dance. They were rested and ready to go.
The Dragons had a setback in the Qualifying Final when they went down to North Shore. But they bounced back in style with a good win over UTS AFC in the Minor Semi-Final, and then turning the tables on North Shore to win through the Preliminary Final. And although the Bulldogs had been the standout team all season, the Dragons were well prepared for the challenge that lay ahead. There wasn’t going to be much in this contest.
The Bulldogs had a goal on the board in the opening minute of the quarter, but they would not post another major score in the rest of the term. The Dragons scored two goals to lead by five points at the first change, after a hard-fought quarter of footy in which the defensive lines of both sides were put under plenty of pressure but passed with flying colours.
But this was to be a Grand Final of twists and turns, and when the game opened up in the second quarter, the crowd on hand were to witness fluctuating fortunes. The Bulldogs were on top early, quickly regaining the lead. But every time they looked like kicking away and getting out to a handy lead, the Dragons would find a way to bounce back. For a fleeting moment late in time on, the Dragons drew level, before a late Bulldog goal saw them leading by six points at the long break after a quarter that had produced a return of five goals to three.
After such a free-flowing quarter of footy, both coaches put the emphasis back onto doing the defensive work to hold their opposition out; and the game tightened in the third term. Neither side was prepared to take the risks that would leave them exposed to danger; and the third term became a hard-fought physical encounter. The Dragons would score a goal early, getting them within a kick, but could get no closer as the Bulldog defenders turned the screws. But at the other end, although the Bulldogs created chances, they were unable to break through for a major score. And so three quarter time sounded with the Bulldogs five points ahead.
The nerves were building. Only a kick in it, a premiership on the line; and both coaches were pleading with their charges to leave nothing in the tank. This was their time to shine, the premiership was there to be won by the team that was good enough to take it.
Within seconds of the restart, David Williams was on the end of a chain of handpasses to boot the goal through and give the Dragons the lead. Three minutes later, a free kick to Matthew Knight just cleared the line and the Dragons were seven points ahead. The Dragons had the momentum, and the Bulldogs had to find something or their premiership dream would be denied.
A behind cut the margin to six points, and at the 11 minute mark a textbook lead and mark by Cameron McKinlay gave him a chance from 40 metres out. McKinlay made no mistake with the kick, and scores were all tied up. Plenty of noise from the grandstand, as supporters of both clubs were willing their heroes to one more big effort to turn the contest.
The game was looking for the match-winning hero; and it was Cameron McKinlay again who stood and delivered, marking just inside the 50. A study of concentration as he focused his efforts on what would need to be a long and straight kick, he found his distance and the ball sailed over the goal umpire’s head, restoring the lead for the Bulldogs.
There was still time for the Dragons to wrest back the advantage, but it wasn’t to be. The clock ran down, and the Bulldogs had picked up a hard-fought eight-point win.
There were wild scenes of celebration after this win. All 22 Bulldog players were hailed as heroes; but there was one for whom this meant a lot. The immortal Troy Luff, after a long AFL career and an even longer AFL Sydney career. He’s won individual awards, and played in plenty of losing Grand Finals; but finally after about 15 attempts he has got to wear a premiership medal and drink from a premiership cup.
And in the rooms after the game, another cup made an appearance. The AFL’s trophy that will be battled for at the MCG on the 28th had been making a tour of Blacktown; and made its way to the Bulldogs rooms to be a part of their celebrations.
Cameron McKinlay was the star of the day, kicking five goals in a best on ground performance; while Michael O’Donnell and Matthew Pettit also made key contributions to the Bulldogs’ premiership success. But it was a solid team effort that got the Bulldogs across the line.
The Dragons were disappointed to lose, but can be proud of their efforts this season and their run through the finals. On the day, they had solid service from Jonathan Pearson, Zac Newton and David Williams.
But this was the Bulldogs’ day. A day when they were able to add another entry into what has been an impressive set of additions into their trophy cabinet. And a day when after nearly 50 years, the Troy Luff curse was finally broken. And who’s to say that, with the monkey finally off his back, he can’t play another season and double his premiership medal collection.
UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs – 1.3 | 6.4 | 6.9 | 8.12 (60)
St George Dragons – 2.2 | 5.4 | 6.4 | 8.4 (52)
UNSW-ES Goals – C. McKinlay 5, T. Luff 2, J. Fox
St George Goals – Z. Newton 3, D. Williams 2, P. Heptinstall, M. Knight, J. Smyth
UNSW-ES Best – C. McKinlay, M. O”Donnell, M. Pettit, E. Lewis, C. Peters, L. Jones
St GeorgeBest – J. Pearson, Z. Newton, D. Williams, M. Jeffrey, J. Maldigri, T. Kannan