MATCH REVIEWS: Men’s Premier Division Week One Finals
Written by Michael Shillito
After the home and away season, only five clubs remain. Now that we’re up to the finals it’s a whole new ball game, the time when the cream rises to the top. Over the next four weeks legends will be made, heroes created and dreams will be realised and shattered.
North Shore Bombers vs. Sydney University – Blacktown ISP on Saturday 24th August
Our finals series started under sunny skies at Blacktown, the mercury rising to the mid-20s. Saturday afternoon saw the Qualifying Final, matching North Shore up against Sydney Uni. The Students had lost their last two and were looking to hit back in the finals. The Bombers were going into the match in second place on the back of a seven-game winning streak and having only lost three games in the regular season. But two of those three losses were to the Students, who had also knocked them out of last year’s finals.
The Students burst out of the blocks, with a behind on the board within 20 seconds and a turnover from the kick-in saw their first goal on the board. It began a litany of horror for the Bombers in the opening term. When a rare move forward gets kicked into the man on the mark, or when three back-passes result in a turnover in the defensive goal square, the Bombers were in trouble. The Students kept their mistakes to a minimum, maintained their structure and got on with the job. And the scoreboard would tell the tale, with the Students landing four goals to one to lead by 20 points at quarter time.
Two early goals for the Students in the second term took them out to a lead that the Bombers were never going to overcome. The Bombers were forced into catch-up footy, taking risks that didn’t always come off. The Students didn’t have to do anything fancy, and they didn’t. All they had to do was hold their nerve and stick to the game plan. Even with the Bombers hitting back late in the quarter, the term would yield three goals apiece; with the Students looking comfortable with a 19-point lead at the long break.
The Bombers got one early in the third term, and suddenly the margin was back to 13 points. For the next several minutes, the ball was in North Shore’s forward half. But, as was the case for so much of the day, the Students pounced on a Bomber mistake and ran the ball coast to coast to restore the half time margin. Bomber hearts sank, while the Students found their voice. The chance of a Bomber comeback was extinguished, while the Students continued to shine bright. One more Student goal would result, the University side holding a 26-point lead at the last change.
The result was beyond doubt, and the last quarter wasn’t one that reached any great heights. The Students would add two goals to one, extending the final margin to 32 points. The strong start had set up a lead that the Bombers never really looked likely to overcome.
Tom Dunlop, Spencer Krochmal and Michael Nettheim played pivotal roles for the Students. But it had been a solid all-round team performance; applying pressure that forced the Bombers into mistakes, holding their ground and finding superior numbers around the ball all afternoon. Their fourth win in a row against the Bombers, two of them in finals.
The Students will meet UNSW-ES next Saturday. Last year, those two sides faced off in a Grand Final thriller. One of them will be back for this year’s decider.
Max Thomas played a lone hand up forward to kick four goals; joining Luke Parks and Jackson Barling among their best. But it was a disappointing performance for the Bombers. After crashing out of last year’s finals in straight sets, their inability to perform in finals footy again would be of concern.
But it’s not sudden death for the Bombers, and they have another chance. Next Sunday they take on Pennant Hills. They’ve beaten the Demons comfortably twice this season. If the Bombers can turn their finals form around on Sunday, they’re still in title contention.
It’s first blood to Sydney Uni. But there’s a long way to go.
Sydney University – 4.2 | 7.3 | 9.5 | 11.6 (72)
North Shore –1.0 | 4.2 | 5.3 | 6.4 (40)
Sydney University Goals – D Smith 3, M Nettheim 2, W Stratford 2, D Loffley 2, A Lucy, M Picken
North Shore Goals – M Thomas 4, S Lee-Steere, J McKenzie.
Sydney University Best – T Dunlop, S Krochmal, M Nettheim, D Loffley, A Clarke, A Day
North Shore Best – L Parks, M Thomas, J Barling, S Lee-Steere, P Roseby, N Brewer
East Coast Eagles vs. Pennant Hills Demons – Blacktown ISP on Sunday 25th August
The Hills Derby, when East Coast Eagles and Pennant Hills Demons take each other on, is always keenly anticipated. Neighbours geographically, but there’s plenty of spice in the rivalry. Some Grand Finals, some close matches; it’s always a clash to look forward to.
And this time it was a knockout final. Survival in the 2019 season was at stake. The Eagles had finished fourth after the regular season, the Demons fifth. The two clubs had split their meetings during the season, both storming their opposition’s fortress for an away win. This time it was on neutral turf, and the pressure was on.
Blacktown International Sportspark was bathed in sunshine on Sunday, with a blustery wind picking up unpredictably at times. Overall conditions were good, and a keen contest was anticipated.
The Eagles made the early front-running, getting early goals on the board and threatening to create plenty more. It was taking time for the Demons to hit their straps, and the Eagles were piling the pressure on early; and probably should have been further in front than they were. But the Demons survived the early onslaught and fought back late in the quarter. Three goals apiece would see scores level at the first change; as the Demons pegged back the Eagle advantage late in the quarter.
Now the contest was on, and the search was under way for the decisive advantage. The second term was a tale of twisting fortunes, as the big name players from both sides pulled out the tricks and looked in vain for the knockout blow. Both sides stood their ground when the opposition looked to make their move. It was looking an even contest, but on the scoreboard the Demons held the narrowest of advantages as they landed three goals to two and took an eight point lead into the rooms at half time.
The game was there to be won, and it was up to the team who would stand and deliver to make the decisive move. And in the premiership quarter, that team was Pennant Hills. Building on their narrow half-time lead, they defended resolutely and choked the life out of the Eagle forward moves. As the pressure built, cracks appeared and scoring chances opened up. It wasn’t always the prettiest of football contests, but it was effective as the Demons added three goals to one for the quarter. 21 points clear at the last change, the damage was done.
The dam had burst, and the Eagle hearts were broken. For all they had achieved this season, they had nothing more to give. In the final term, battle fatigue had taken its toll; and they were unable to score. At the other end, the Demons kept coming and kept pushing hard. Some wasteful finishing kept the margin from blowing out completely, as the Demons faced minimal resistance but sprayed shot after shot wide to finish with 3.9 for the quarter. But it was enough for a convincing result, a comfortable 48 point victory.
Andrew Browning, Jackson Moen and Josh Large had put in big performances for the Eagles. But it wasn’t enough to prevent a disappointing second-half fade out. For the second year in a row, the Eagles’ season comes to an end in the first week of the finals; making it into the playoffs but going no further.
This was Pennant Hills’ day. Theo Moraitis guided traffic on the forward line to finish with four goals while Marc Sheather, Braeden Campbell and Matt Thomas made key contributions around the ground for the Demons. It had been a tightly-contested first half, but when the game was there to be won it was the Demons who put their hand up and got the job done. The Demons go through to the second week of the finals, and North Shore awaits.
It’s an odd-numbered year. Could the Demons come from nowhere and make a run through the finals to claim the flag like they did in 2017 and 2015? It won’t be easy, there’s some quality opposition ahead. But the Demons can’t be ruled out.
Pennant Hills Demons – 3.2 | 6.4 | 9.8 | 12.17 (89)
East Coast Eagles – 3.2 | 5.2 | 6.5 | 6.5 (41)
Pennant Hills Goals – T Moraitis 4, B Campbell 3, N Hey 2, M Sheather, J Preedy, J Boag
East Coast Goals – K Emery 3, K Merson 2, J Large
Pennant Hills Best – M Sheather, B Campbell, M Thomas, C Allison, T Wales, T Widmer
East Coast Best – A Browning, J Moen, J Large, T Organ, M Eastman, J Etto