Lions meet Blues for spot in William Buck decider

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Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead

History is one solitary game away for St Kevin’s as they inched closer to securing their first-ever William Buck Premier flag with a 23-point win over University Blues at Trevor Barker Oval on Saturday.

After a disappointing 2016 season in the VAFA’s top section, SKOB embarked on a recruiting drive for the ages in a bid to break that A-Grade drought and, up until this point, it has certainly gone to plan. Recruits the ilk of Mitch Brown, Jay Schulz, Sam Critchley and Tom Jok each had an impact over the weekend. Their talent, alongside the internal improvement of Lachie Sullivan, Gerard Gleeson and Michael Di Natale, is a huge reason for SKOB’s dominance this year and the attention to detail of Shannon Grant in the senior coaching post cannot be underestimated.

Leading by 14 points at three quarter time, Grant’s chargers ignited with six goals to four in the fourth on the back of an inspired performance from Steven Salopek. He would have had more than 40 possessions and 15 marks throughout the day, seemingly galivanting across the pristine Sandringham deck with the ball on a string. Tim Geappen continued his outstanding form as the number one key forward in the competition, kicking five goals for the Blues and taking his season tally to 49 from 17 games. Dale Hinkley produced his most impressive performance for the year, while Kieran Harper returned his first game since Round 15 and will be better for the run.

The Lions will not go down without a fight this weekend after they came from 26 points down at the first break and overran De La Salle by 15 in a thrilling final on Sunday. Despite the even nature of the game, the social room end was certainly the scoring end for most of the match, with 19 of the 28 goals kicked to that end. De La were phenomenal in the first term and brought a physicality worthy of finals football to take a five-goal to one lead at the first break. However, Shane Joyce made a point of visiting each individual group at the quarter time break, imploring his men to exceed the physical pressure of the De La Salleans and “sort it out”. They responded. Sam Hibbins led the charge through the midfield as he produced the single-greatest individual finals performance I’ve seen in the VAFA; tackling, taking contested marks and racking up clearances at will. Will Tardif provided the x-factor up forward and kicked two high-pressure set shots in the second term on his way to a bag of five. After a dominant first quarter from Jason Tutt, Jake Trotter made a point of ensuring his influence was kept to a minimum for the remainder of the match via a successful tagging role. Niggling your opponent from 150m away from play is unnecessary but the result cannot be ignored. Tom Humphrey was inspirational in the first half when down back, while Sam Williams and young gun Liam Murphy fought valiantly all day.

Which brings us to preliminary final weekend; arguably the greatest spectacle in football with two teams going head-to-head for that final spot in the ultimate event. The Blues will get their chance to go one further than 2016, while the Lions can return to the big dance after unsuccessfully playing off in the 2014 decider against Uni Blacks.

Of interest is the midfield battle between the fleet-footed, highly-skilled Blues brigade and the sheer physicality and toughness of the talented Lions. While the Blues have a forward line capable of overpowering any defence with Harper, Geappen and Tom Quinn, the Lions have a big-bodied midfield with Hibbins, Courtney Hylton and Viv Michie so they need to use this to their advantage and physically get after the Blues in the same vein as De La last weekend. Of course, it is easier said than done. The Blues midfield of Ross Young, Ryan Eade, Jeremy Mugavin and Marshall Rippon is all class and physical in their own right.

The potential match-up of Will Johnson and Tim Geappen is mouth-watering, while Cam Williams and Tom Penberthy in the ruck is one to watch. Either way, both teams have knocked off SKOB throughout the season so these finals two weeks are not to be missed.