One year after suffering relegation from Division 3, Aquinas bounced back in sensational style by taking out the Division 4 premiership with a 25-point victory over Manningham Cobras. Leading by just two points at the half time break and seven at three quarter time, the Bloods launched into action with five goals to two in a match-winning fourth term.
The 2017 premiership topped off an exceptional year for Aquinas who not once ventured out of the top two on the ladder during the home and away season. After being relegated from Division 3 as the third-last side, the Bloods banded together to produce a remarkable season, only dropping the two games for the year. After recruiting heavily over the off-season under the tutelage of new senior coach, Ash Naulty, they started the season in excellent fashion with a 96-point Round 1 victory against Mt Lilydale. They dropped their first match of the season to North Brunswick in Round 3 but came back from that with a huge 175-point win one week later. The only other game the lost was to the Cobras late in Round 18, but that certainly had no impact on their grand final performance.
Despite the disappointment of falling agonisingly short, Manningham should be very proud of their efforts throughput the 2017 season. As I said in the season preview, if the Cobras could shake that ‘middle of the table’ trend they would have a great chance at finishing somewhere around the top and pressing for a grand final spot. That prediction came true as Manningham not only managed to defeat enough teams to finish 3rd in the home and away season, they knocked off the two teams above them throughout the year and defeated the Bulls in the preliminary final to book a spot in the big one. Kane Maghamez (63) and Chris Jolly (50) were unstoppable up forward with 113 goals between them. Adam Baltruweit was phenomenal through the midfield and took home the Division 4 OJ Meehan Medal.
North Brunswick had the most impressive start to 2017 as they commenced the year with 11 straight victories and looked likely to break a 17-year run in Division 4 under new coach Marcus Butera. They lost their first game at the hands of the Cobras in Round 13 (bye round included) before making it two in a row against Aquinas the following week, ultimately relinquishing top spot. The Bulls looked like they would be competing with the Bloods in the season decider but fell short, going down to Manningham in the preliminary final. As disappointing as it was for North Brunswick, their losses came at the hands of those who played in the grand final and they had the leading goal kicker in Division 4, Jake George, who managed to 66 for the year.
Mt Lilydale rounded out the top four but were unable to match the Cobras in the first semi-final and bowed out via a 113-point loss. The Rams were inconsistent with a Round 5 victory against the Cobras offset with losses to Parkside and Elsternwick. Stephen Donald (35) and Max Hampton (31) were outstanding up forward with 66 goals between them.
Eley Park Sharks narrowly missed the finals after commencing the season with seven wins from their opening 11 games. They were two games and nearly 20% clear of the Rams after Round 12, but lost their final five games to miss a finals berth by half a game. Their strongest performance was a 25-point victory over Mt Lilydale in Round 5.
Elsternwick floated around the middle of the table all season after suffering relegation from Division 3. They were far too good for the teams below them on the ladder and registered two fantastic victories over Eley Park Sharks (44 & 9 points) but struggled against the top four, losing seven of their eight outings by an average of 51 points.
Parkside was the third of the trio of relegated sides to re-enter Division 4 at the end of 2016 and were unable to make ground in the lower section. The Red Devils had just one win after their Round 13 bye but galvanised for an exceptional finish to the season as they won four of their last five and climbed to seventh on the ladder.
Masala and St Francis Xavier OC managed the two wins apiece in 2017 to finish in eighth and ninth spot, respectively. The Tigers’ first victory came in Round 9 and they showcased significant improvement with a Round 10 tie against the Rams and a six-point loss to the Sharks. Young gun, Phillip Solomon, was a standout in his 12 games despite his tender age of 16, while Sam Freeman bagged 44 majors.
The X-Men returned to Division 4 from Club XVIII and their two wins came against the Tigers. Jake Cowan was lively in front of goal with 22 for the season, while Brendan O’Hara was named in the best 12 times from his 16 games.
AK White Medallist: Nick Morrison-Story (Aquinas)
OJ Meehan Medallist: Adam Baltruweit (Manningham Cobras)
Leading Goal Kicker: Jake George (North Brunswick) – 65