MATCH REVIEW: Men’s Premier Division Preliminary Final
Written by Michael Shillito
Pennant Hills Demons vs. Sydney University – Blacktown ISP on Saturday 7th September
When a spot in the Grand Final is on the line, you can expect a tight contest that won’t be over till it’s over. This time round, for most of the afternoon the result was looking a foregone conclusion; but suddenly at the end everything we had assumed for most of the day was suddenly thrown into doubt.
UNSW Eastern Suburbs were already through to the Grand Final, and the Bulldogs were watching with interest to find out who their Grand Final opponents would be.
Sydney Uni were third after the regular season. A win over North Shore in the Qualifying Final set up a Major Semi-Final clash against the Bulldogs; and although the Students went down in that clash, this was another chance to make it through to the big one.
Pennant Hills were making another of their trademark runs through sudden death finals, knocking off East Coast in the Elimination Final and North Shore in the Minor Semi-Final to make it to the Preliminary Final. The Demons had momentum behind them, and were looking to capitalise on that form and make it through to another Grand Final.
The sun was shining over Blacktown International Sportspark on Saturday, but a strong and inconsistent wind blowing across the ground made long kicking difficult. It didn’t favour either end and it was possible to score at both ends.
The Students hit the ground running and made a statement early. Bursting out of the blocks, they were moving the ball quickly and putting the Demons under pressure. It was relentless in the early exchanges, as the Students forced a string of turnovers and the Demons struggled to get into the contest. The scoreboard was an accurate reflection of the run of play, as the Students landed four goals to one to lead by 18 points at quarter time.
The second quarter ran along a similar theme to the first. The Demons did manage one goal, but it was the exception to the rule of Sydney Uni controlling the play, with a lopsided possession count and forcing the ball inside their forward 50 time and again. The Students were controlling the ball at will, and the Demons found themselves chasing the contest. The Students drew twin flags from the goal umpires three times during the second quarter, and as they returned to the rooms at half time with a 27-point lead, the Uni boys looked to be well on their way.
In the third quarter, it seemed that the Students’ victory was assured. The Demons were nowhere to be seen, struggling to string passes together and create any form of coherent attacking structure. The Students were cruising, landing three goals for the quarter. For much of the term, the game appeared to be drifting towards its inevitable conclusion. The Demons were unable to score and barely able to get anywhere near their attacking 50. While the Students were happy to accumulate possessions and keep the Demons at bay. By the time the three quarter time siren sounded, the game looked to be beyond doubt with the Students holding a 50-point lead.
For three quarters the Demons had barely been sighted, and had little impact in the contest. But whatever happened in their huddle at three quarter time is something they would want to bottle and keep for future reference. When the last term started, suddenly they sprang into action. Players who had barely touched the footy for three quarters began to get into the game. Suddenly the ball was being pumped into the forward 50, finding the leading forwards or into the hands of those running towards the goal. And in no time, the margin was shrinking as goal after goal went through.
The Students managed one against the run of play, but the Demons kept coming. Goal after goal coming from nowhere, and suddenly the Demons had a sniff. The Students had slowed to a walk, and had nothing more to give. But the Demons kept pressing, kept firing, kept the pressure on. And still the scores kept coming. The eighth Pennant Hills goal of the quarter came, and suddenly there was only a kick in it. But there wasn’t time to snatch the lead, as the Students hung on for dear life in the desperate final seconds. The siren finally came after a marathon final quarter, and the Students had just hung on.
The final margin was just four points. For much of the afternoon the Students looked like they were cruising home, but in the end they only just hung on.
Heartache for Pennant Hills, to have got so close and fallen just short. Ranga Ediriwickrama, Luke Skrivanic and Marc Sheather had played pivotal roles for the Demons, particularly in that last quarter fightback. But in the end, they left their run too late; and despite the brave fightback, the deficit at three quarter time was just too much to make up. The Demons are the masters of coming from nowhere, but this Houdini trick was just too spectacular to pull off.
And so Sydney Uni hang on, and are through to another Grand Final. For much of the day, it looked a foregone conclusion; but in the end it was relief rather than jubilation when the siren sounded. Luke Vella, Aaron Day and Ben Hawtin were in the thick of the action all day; and featured prominently as the Students build up what turned out to just be a match-winning lead.
It’s the third Grand Final in a row for the Students. In the last two years, they’ve lost by a kick after looking to have a match-winning lead. UNSW-ES await, and the Students will need to last the distance if they are to knock them off this time.
The Students this time lived to sing the song. But their toughest test, the one that will truly define their season, is yet to come.
Sydney University – 4.2 | 7.3 | 10.8 | 11.9 (75)
Pennant Hills – 1.2 | 2.6 | 2.6 | 10.11 (71)
Sydney Uni Goals – M Picken 3, D Bonney 2, M Nettheim 2, W Stratford, D Loffley, J Fox, L Vella
Pennant Hills Goals – M Sheather 2, J Preedy, T Moraitis, S Wray, P Witt, C Smith, T Edmonds, C Luscombe, N Hey
Sydney Uni Best – L Vella, A Day, B Hawtin, J Fox, D Loffley, A Clarke
Pennant Hills – R Ediriwickrama, L Skrivanix, M Sheather, S Wray, T Angel, T Edmonds