Grand Final Review – Men’s Premier Division
Written by Michael Shillito
And so we’d made it to the final game of the season. For the third year in a row, the Men’s Premier Division Grand Final would be a university derby, as UNSW Eastern Suburbs took on Sydney Uni at Kanebridge Oval.
The Bulldogs had won the last two premierships, and were first into the Grand Final this time round; after defeating Sydney Uni in the Qualifying Final and then getting up over North Shore in the Major Semi-Final. After their loss in the Qualifying Final, the Students defeated St George in the Minor Semi-Final before a win over North Shore in the Preliminary Final booked their place in the big dance.
Conditions were great for footy, with the sun shining but not too warm. The ground was looking a treat and both sides had their supporters out in force.
It was looking even better for the Bulldogs when Errol Gulden marked and converted his set shot from the 50 metre arc to put the defending champions on the board when barely a minute had passed. And when Ned Reinhard took a strong mark and converted, the Bulldogs were off to a flyer.
But the Students hit back, with Timothy Cordner marking in the pocket and kicking truly. Nick Lees led out and marked and there was only a kick in it. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the quarter, as both sides kept their opposition at bay.
The Students took the upper hand in the second quarter, making their move and setting up what would be a decisive lead. It started after just three minutes, when Nic Foster crumbed a marking contest and snapped truly. Aaron Day got the next, finding himself in perfect position to mark a wobbly-looking forward kick and made no mistake with the set shot. And at the 16 minute mark, it was again Day in the thick of the action as he marked 40 from home and put it through to put the Students 18 points to the good.
Day had his third with another strong mark as the clock ticked into time-on. Darcy Cordell was impeded and took his free kick to get one back for the Bulldogs, cutting the margin to 17 points at the long break. But the Students were looking dominant, and again found themselves four points ahead when Will Sierakowski had room to move and goal on the run.
The Students had a handy break, and their support crew was becoming increasingly vocal. But were still reserved. They’d been in this position before, only to be let down. They were well ahead in 2017 but were hauled in. They were well ahead in 2018 but were hauled in. They were within striking distance last year but couldn’t get it done. They knew the Bulldogs would fight back. It was too early to call this premiership as won.
The Bulldogs started to work their way back, but some missed shots would haunt them. A free kick from a boundary throw-in infringement hit the post. But finally, after 17 minutes, the goal came when Ned Reinhard held the ball for just long enough to be paid the mark and kicked truly. In time-on, Cooper Kilpatrick soccered a shot through the sticks. And when Charlie Burgess-Hoar laid a tackle and was rewarded with the holding-the-ball call with just seconds left on the clock, suddenly there was only a kick in it; and the Bulldogs contingent on the hill were in voice.
The Students were under the pump, hanging on to their lead. We were into the final quarter, and this was set for another thriller. Reinhard had a chance to put the Bulldogs back in front but missed. The Students needed a buffer, and they got it when Jack Hiscox found room to move and ran it to slam the goal through.
But there was plenty of defending to do. The Bulldogs weren’t finished. Kilpatrick had a shot but missed. He had another chance to run into goal, but the bounce of the ball didn’t run his way. Ned Reinhard got his hands on a one-out marking contest at the top of the square but the ball didn’t stick. Then a set shot sailed wide for a behind. Tom Banuelos went long from the 50, but his shot was touched on the line. Frustration for the Bulldogs, as they were throwing everything at their opposition; and the clock was ticking.
And time and again when they went forward, Tim Barton was there to take the intercept marks and shut down the Bulldogs’ forward moves.
Minute after nervous minute ticked by; but finally the siren sounded. Finally, after three unsuccessful Grand Finals in a row, the Students had prevailed. Finally, for the first time since 1992, they would take the Premier Division cup back to the campus. They’d been tested all the way, they’d had to dig deep and defend with every ounce of their being. But they got it done.
Tim Barton took out the Rod Podbury Medal for best on ground, a recognition in particular of his magnificent last quarter when he played such a role in holding the Bulldogs out. Andrew Sierakowski and Cameron Williams had also played important roles for the Students.
For the Bulldogs, Adam Gulden, Zac Cameron and Dean Towers had fought magnificently all day. The Bulldogs gave it everything they had, going all out for the three-peat; but in the end they fell so agonisingly short.
This was Sydney Uni’s premiership. Undefeated until the last round of the regular season, they had to do it tough in the finals and almost didn’t make it to the Grand Final. But once there, their devastating burst in the second quarter set up a lead that, despite the Bulldogs’ best efforts, they were unable to recover.
And so the season was over. A season that almost didn’t happen. But footy found a way. A season unlike any other; but the premiership was very real for the Students. They began the year expecting to play NEAFL, but instead took out the Sydney title. The NEAFL is no more, and who knows what the future holds. But they will always have this moment.
We’re done and dusted for 2020. But 2021 isn’t far away. With this season running into October, it’ll probably be a shorter off-season than normal; and pre-season training isn’t far away. For the Students, they have a title to defend. And for nine other clubs, their plans for next year’s silverware are already being prepared.
Sydney University 2.1 6.3 7.3 8.6 (54)
Uni NSW-Eastern Suburbs 2.3 3.4 6.6 6.9 (45)
Goals : Sydney Uni – A. Day 3, N. Foster, N. Lees, J. Hiscox, T. Cordner, W. Sierakowski. UNSW-ES – N. Reinhard 2, C. Kilpatrick, C. Burgess-Hoar, E. Gulden, D. Cordell.
Best : Sydney Uni – T. Barton, A. Sierakowski, C. Williams, T. Ayton, J. Bartholomaeus, L. Stevenson. UNSW-ES – A. Gulden, Z. Cameron, D. Towers, E. Gulden, N. Reinhard, B. Foote.
At Kanebridge Oval, Saturday 10th October 2020.