DIV1 SCRIBE

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22.09.12

A TRULY GRAND FINALE 
In what can only be described as a magnificent showcase of amateur football, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s defeated Peninsula Old Boys by three goals at Sandringham last Sunday to convincingly win the Division 1 premiership. Not since its 1982 A Grade win had the famous Brunswick-based club won a senior flag; importantly, this was the first premiership since NOBs combined with St Patrick’s Ballarat in 2006. For the Pirates, the bitter pill of another grand final loss will surely be difficult to swallow. 
Perfect conditions greeted player and spectator alike at Trevor Barker Oval, and it was NOBs who looked the better team in the early stages. With skipper Matt Keown notching up a couple of early majors to make his presence felt, NOBs had all the play in the first term, kicking six goals to two. By the first break, NOB-SP had opened up a handy 26-point gap over their opponents. It would prove ultimately to be a decisive buffer, for unlike in the second-semi, North were piling on the scoreboard pressure, and the second quarter would evolve similarly to the first. NOBs’ midfield was well on top, winning the contested ball and denying the Pirates forwards any clean supply, whilst ruckman Peter Shepherd was on top in the middle. NOBs booted another five for the term. At one stage, the lead blew out to a massive 55 points before Peninsula kicked the last two to go into the long break 38 points down but with some hope. A huge third quarter would be needed if the Pirates were to get back into the contest. 
To their credit, Peninsula came out into the second half with renewed fight and gradually worked themselves back into the game. The catalyst for their revival was the Pirates midfield, which began to win the majority of contests, whilst the runners across half-back were also causing some rebounding damage. Whilst they only kicked three, Peninsula restricted NOBs to two majors, resulting in the margin being a manageable 30 points at three-quarter time. Pirates coach Brett McIlwraith was measured with his charges at the orange-break. But NOBs coach Richard Peoples was all fire and brimstone, his exhortations imploring his players not to throw away this golden opportunity for glory. 
The last term was a classic. Peninsula, with Nick Fisher standing tall up forward, threw everything at NOBs. Barbour goaled early to ignite the large Pirates contingent, but Peninsula could never narrow the margin to less than ten points: NOBs always seemed to find a steadying goal, never allowing the gap to creep down to single figures. In the last ten minutes, both teams were out on their feet: Peninsula constantly booted the ball long in the hope of a mark, whilst North grimly defended. It was fabulous finals football. When the siren sounded, exhausted bodies were strewn about the arena, gasping for air and either breathing in the sweet scent of victory or attempting to digest foul defeat. 
And so it was that North Old Boys – St Patrick’s, with their eighteenth win in succession,  deservedly claim their rewards; Shepherd, Martin Porter, Tim Brady and the long-kicking Adam Oakley were all excellent contributors for the victors. Horsley and Keown both kicked 4. For Peninsula, best were the afore-mentioned Fisher, Ben Southam and Alex Wood. All Pirates fans should be in no doubt that their players gave their all right until the final siren. 
Reserves: Old Geelong went one better than last season and claimed the “Magoos” flag with a 22 point win over the Unicorns in the curtain raiser. Despite challenging in the early part of the match, MHSOB tired badly in the last quarter, falling away to allow the Oggers to claim a comfortable win. 
Smokie says: After three years, this is my final column for the Amateur Footballer. It has been a blast, but it is now time for a fresh scribe to step into my shoes. I have immensely enjoyed bashing out reports (and latterly, tweets) over the journey. The lunches have been hearty, and the post-match conversations brilliant. Thanks to all the club correspondents who consistently provided me with information and news, as well as the folk at VAFA headquarters. Last, but not least, thanks to my wife for her indulgence. I am fortunate to have been a small contributor to such a well-run competition as the VAFA.          
      

15.09.12

A CLASH OF TWO TITANS
In what seems like the blink of an eye, we have arrived at the season’s denouement. Was it really six months ago that the 10 Division 1 clubs were winding up their pre-season programs, full of hope for the year which lay ahead? The season has whisked past us so quickly. 
Preliminary Final review: Last week’s penultimate game of the season turned into a disappointingly one-sided affair from the outset. Peninsula’s defence was at its meanest, denying Old Geelong’s powerful forward line any latitude, whilst its midfield was on top of the Hoops’ throughout the contest. Despite triumphing in their two previous meetings, it appeared as if the Oggers had played their grand final in the thrilling over-time win over the Friars, and subsequently had nothing left in the tank. In the blustery conditions at Central Reserve, OGs just could not get into the game, despite the tireless efforts of midfielder Mick Rockefeller. Had the Pirates kicked straighter, their win would have been much greater. Coach Frank Dunnell and his charges would have been left lamenting that Old Geelong had come so far only to cop an 8-goal belting, but the OGs have made giant strides this season, and will now enter 2013 as one of the legitimate Div 1 flag contenders. 
Today: And now here we are, with the two stand-out teams of the season, both deservedly promoted to Premier C, primed to do battle in the decider which most of us have long expected to take place. Both North Old Boys – St Patrick’s and Peninsula Old Boys have an excellent blend of experience and youth, and boast depth right down to the 22nd player on the interchange bench. This grand final promises to be a corker. 
2012’s three previous meetings between the competition’s titans provide interesting reading. The results have produced results which have fluctuated wildly, and do not offer any pointers to today’s contest:
Round 2: Peninsula 22.17.149 d NOB-SP 8.13.61. This was NOBs’ only loss for the season, but what a loss it was! Pirates forwards Payze (6 goals), Coghlan (3), and Grigg (3) all managed to get off the leash in this romp at Mt Eliza. Two paltry first-half goals ensured NOBs day was done at half-time, whilst Peninsula stamped themselves as the real deal. NOBSP coach Dick Peoples quickly consigned this game to the dustbin and moved on and his team have not lost since.  
Round 11: NOB-SP 9.11.65 d Peninsula 3.7.25. NOBs gained revenge for their round 2 loss with a convincing win at their boggy Gillon Oval fortress. The Pirates were surprisingly impotent in attack, managing only three majors for the match. Again, the pattern of the game was set in the first half, with NOBs nullifying any Pirates scoring opportunities.
Second semi: NOBSP 8.17.65 d Peninsula 8.15.63. NOBs earned the shorter route into the finale with a tough come-from-behind victory in which they booted the last three goals of a tight contest. It was a typical final: not a pretty contest, but tough and uncompromising. Both teams had heaps of opportunities to steal a break, but neither could produce any efficiency in front of goal until NOBSP finally capitalised on a few late chances.      
Grand final: Thus, the stage is now set for a titanic clash at Trevor Barker Oval. And it could well be across the NOBs half-forward line that the match is won or lost. It will be vital for the Pirates’ chances that their defenders keep NOBs forwards Matt Firman, Todd Patterson, Scott Sleep and Matt Keown (the comp best and fairest) under control. Nothing separates the ruck divisions, led by Peter Shepherd (NOBs) and Brett Brisbane (Pen) respectively, although the former was crucial in the latter stages of the semi. Likewise, the midfields are evenly matched, and both run deep. Stefan Barbour is a gun, and looms as a real key for the Pirates if he can cap off an outstanding season, whilst for NOBs, sweeping defender Adam Oakley sets up many forward thrusts with his pinpoint kicking. Both teams are well-balanced, and are guided by well-prepared coaching units.
Prediction: Amazingly, your scribe has correctly predicted the result of the three finals to date. This grand final has warranted much more deliberate contemplation than the two previous weeks, and I admit to have been swinging back and forth like a pendulum. But I have settled on the refreshed North Old Boys – St Patricks, just, in a clash which promises everything.    

07.09.12

A WEEKEND FOR THE AGES
Last week-end was truly a showcase of amateur football. Perfect footy weather, excellent conditions at Sportscover Arena, and above all, four clubs determined to give their all in their respective semi-finals. With all these factors in play, is it any wonder that both semis were decided by two points? Furthermore, both of the victorious teams overcame three-quarter-time deficits, with one game going into extra time. It was a week-end for the ages; one which has set the stage for a thrilling preliminary final today.   
Second Semi review: On Saturday, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s hit the ground running, controlling possession for most of the first quarter but failing to hurt their opponents on the scoreboard. In fact, that inability to score goals was a pattern which would continue – for both teams – throughout the day. NOBs’ midfield was on top, but the seven-point lead at the first break was not reflective of their dominance to that point. Given their quality, it is not surprising that Peninsula Old Boys worked their way back into the match, with their midfielders taking control and providing good supply to the forwards. A four goal to one term saw the pendulum swing in favour of the Pirates. 
The third term was a tough grind, with the defences of both teams well on top; one goal for the quarter was all either team could manage, with poor conversion still continuing to be a factor. However, it was during this period that I felt NOBs on-ballers were beginning to claw their way back into it. At the final break, the Pirates held a handy (in a low-scoring affair) ten-point buffer. And when Peninsula scored the first goal, it was suddenly difficult to see NOBs winning – another goal would probably have sealed it, but some gettable chances were missed. But all of a sudden the game started to open up: Hosking at half-back took a telling grab from a kickout, the hard-working Brady was finding space as were Cassell, Ezard and Porter. The ball was now spending plenty of time in NOBs forward half. Keown also took three telling grabs to keep the game alive. NOBs began peppering the goals but it took the nerveless Horsley and Ryan, with back-to-back majors, to edge their team into the lead shortly before the final siren. It was a most-deserving victory, which will long be talked about at Gillon Oval. Best for Peninsula were the tireless Stefan Barbour, who kept getting up after being crunched, Cade Bannister and Stuart Grigg with three goals.          
First Semi review: Who would have anticipated that Saturday’s quality and excitement would be bettered in Sunday’s encounter? Although a little blustery, conditions were again excellent. Whitefriars took advantage of their early use of the breeze, and booted 5-5 to take a handy 22-point lead into the quarter-time break. Although Old Geelong had plenty of the ball in the second term, they recorded up to a dozen turnovers, which meant they could make scant inroads into the deficit. Friars retained a three-goal lead at the main break. But the tempo of the match began to change in the third and, although they took a 20-point lead into the orange-break, the Friars looked to be tiring. 
Goals were exchanged early in the last, but OGs were beginning to get on top through Tymms, Rockefeller and Bayles. With ten minutes remaining, Old Geelong hit the front for the first time, but conceded a goal instantaneously. A goal-mouth scramble saw O’Brien dribble a long shot through for a point to tie up the scores. When the siren sounded, it meant extra time. Old Geelong proved too strong in both halves of the extra period, although Friars did not go down without a fight: Mirabella’s long goal narrowing the margin to make for some tense final moments. Tom Pollett, Jarrod Scannell and Rob Petracca (4 goals) were the best for Whitefriars. Coach Theo Vlahos was left to ponder what might have been, but remained proud of his charges’ fighting attitude.    
Preliminary Final review: Old Geelong have taken huge strides this season under the guidance of coach Frank Dunnell: from seventh-placed also-rans to being on the cusp of Premier C. It would be a huge effort to come from those depths to win their way through to the grand final. Having “done the double” over Peninsula this season, they will head into today’s match full of confidence. But the Pirates are a hardened finals outfit, and have a steady hand at the tiller in coach Brett McIlwraith. Last week’s despair may be the extra motivation they require to reverse those two home-and-away losses. Doubtless it will be another thriller. But for me, the experience of the Pirates will be telling, and they should prevail by around ten points.        

31.08.12

ALL ROADS LEAD TO “SPORTSCOVER”
With the weather taking a decidedly spring-like turn for the better, in the air around town we can suddenly detect the whiff of finals. The hard slog of eighteen rounds of preliminaries is over, and now we have arrived at the big show. Let’s be honest; for a number of weeks now the final four has been pretty much cut and dried, with much of the interest centring on whom would be relegated back to Division 2 along with St John’s. But that early settling of the finals combatants in no way detracts from what promises to be a most intriguing finals series. 
The final round of the season threw up some results which were not as easily foreseen as those of previous weeks. Old Geelong probably caused the most raising of eye-brows with their one point defeat of second placed Peninsula at Como. In a cracking game of footy which was worthy of two finals contenders, the Hoops were three points up at the first break, and managed to maintain a narrow lead for most of the day. In the third, Old Geelong should have put the game to bed but were wasteful, booting 4.6. Of course the Pirates only being down by three goals at the final change threw everything at their hosts and almost made them pay, falling short by the narrowest of margins. More than anything else, this win will give the Oggers enormous belief heading into the finals and shows that they are not simply there to make up the numbers.
History will record that Whitefriars had a sound 49-point win over cellar-dwelling St John’s, but the manner of the victory was unconvincing. Understandably, it could all possibly be put down to the fact that the Friars had their eyes firmly fixed on their semi final appointment at Sportscover. Second and fourth quarter bursts of 8 and 7 goals respectively were enough to secure the points. The NOBs were more ruthless in their disposal of Glen Eira, given that the Saints were playing for their place in this comp. But the top team simply had too much class, booting 8.6 in the first quarter to effectively end the contest by the first break. Todd Patterson led the way with 5 majors.
Although Old Mentonians have had much to cheer about, their poor back half of the year (two wins from their last ten) continued when they were defeated at home by MHSOB by 10 points. The Unicorns had their share of injury concerns throughout the year, so to finish in fifth place is a creditable effort. Ormond finished the year on a positive note, crushing Williamstown by twelve goals. The best that can be said for Willy’s disappointing season is that they did just enough to stave off relegation.  
2nd Semi Preview: I have always to subscribed to the theory that – especially for club administrators – this is the biggest match of the year. Win this one and you are up into the Premier grades; a huge relief, and vindication of all the hard work on and off the field. Lose this, and it is back to sudden-death! North Old Boys – St Patrick’s have been the most consistent team of the home and away rounds. True, their percentage is some 50 points shy of their opponents, but they have been much steadier, losing only one match (way back in round 2). That the loss was by 88 points to Peninsula only further whets the appetite for this match. When the Pirates win, they win big! But last year’s finals disappointment may have steeled the NOBs veterans for one last almighty crack at it in 2012, and I think they will prevail. If conditions are fine, it promises to be a fantastic, high scoring encounter.
1st Semi Preview: Having finished four games outside of the four in 2011, Old Geelong have undoubtedly been the big improvers of this season. They are in good form, winning seven of their last eight, and they are hitting September with the scalp of the Pirates under their belt. Whitefriars, whilst blessed with a deep playing list, have appeared a little unsettled at times this season due to a frustratingly long injury list. The Friars have rarely seen all of their best cattle on the park at the same time. Although Old Geelong copped a 43-point win caning from Friars only a fortnight ago, both teams will front up this week-end with a number of different personnel. Indeed, the Friars’ line-up could feature up to seven changes. But I feel OGs are hitting peak form at the right time and I am narrowly tipping them to continue on to the preliminary final.
Relegation: Here’s hoping that both Glen Eira and St John’s OC can have big pre-seasons and bounce back from the disappointments of 2012.  

24.8.12
A TEAM FOR THIS SEASON
All-Australian selectors have it easy. They are comforted by myriad wads of information to assist them in their task of picking the AFL’s best of the best. Statistics, kicking efficiency, hard-ball gets, hand-ball receives, kicks to advantage. It’s all there for them in black and white. And, in truth, it must be mind-numbingly boring. But for your humble VAFA Division 1 scribe, it is an entirely different kettle of fish. I must rely on my own two eyes, along with the nominations of club correspondents and coaches (and for that, I thank you all). There are many wonderful footballers running around each week in this division, many of whom would not be out of place in the premier grades. One of the great pleasures for me this season has been witnessing most of the cream of the comp playing their trade.
When it came to selecting the team you see below, I decided that in the interests of objectivity I would pick two players from each team – except for the best two teams in the competition, from whom three players were chosen. As such, there are many fine players who have missed out (particularly from the dominant North Old Boys and Peninsula), and for that I apologise. Space prohibits me from detailing each player, but I am sure that most observers of Division 1 would agree that this team would take some beating: 
B: James Tran Cameron Christianson Ben Southam
MHSOB  St Johns  Pen OB

HB: Ben Gray  Chris McDonald  Danny Hogan
Will’town  Whitef  Whitef

C: Luke Hull  Stefan Barbour  Tim Brady
Old Ment  Pen OB  NOBSP

HF: Callum Wood Matt Keown  Henry Simon
Old Geel  NOBSP  Ormond

F: Josh Vanderloo  Shaun Payze  Justin Mills
Will’town  Pen OB  Glen Eira

FOL: Gareth Snow  Nicolaus Campbell Dylan Elkman
Old Ment  MHSOB  Ormond

INT: Adam Oakley  Reece Cordy  Andrew Spink
NOBSP  Old Geel  Glen Eira

Jarrod Gaget
St Johns

Review: For the second week in a row, there were no real surprises. As far as the final four is concerned, fourth-placed Whitefriars’ comfortable victory over third placed Old Geelong was foreseeable as it was on Friars’ dung-heap. While it will certainly give them confidence going into next week’s first semi-final, it must be said that neither team was at full strength. At the bottom of the ladder, Williamstown recorded their biggest and most impressive win of the season. That it was over Glen Eira made it all the more important, as they leap-frogged the Saints into eighth place and closer to the safety zone. MHSOB emerged the victors over Ormond in an entertaining tussle at the high school. The fact that the fifth-placed Unicorns have never really been in the finals hunt only proves how great the chasm between the top four and bottom six is. Meanwhile at the top of the ladder, NOB-SP thrashed St John’s while the Pirates ran their cutlasses through Old Mentonians. The Panthers were in the hunt early in the season, but have really fallen away: they have won only one of their past seven.   
Preview: North Old Boys – St Patrick’s will be looking toward next week’s bigger stage, but first they must face Glen Eira, who will throw everything at them. For the Saints, defeat equals relegation whilst victory may provide salvation. Even so, I cannot see NOBs losing focus. Whitefriars should continue their recent impressive form against a St John’s team who will be planning their mad Monday. Old Geelong host Peninsula at Como, and the Oggers will be looking to test themselves against a fellow finals team. Although they will perform better than last week, I cannot see them overcoming the powerful Pirates. 
Williamstown travel to Gunn Reserve for the first time, to face an Ormond team who have endured a five-match losing streak. I am tempted to tip an upset, but I reckon the Monders might just pull something out of the hat at home. In the battle to determine who will be the “best of the rest”, the Panthers should have enough fire-power to outscore the Unicorns.  
Correspondents: Please email me by Monday evening ([email protected]). Particularly those who are finals bound! Follow me on twitter (@smokiedawson) for all Divvy 1 news.   

17.8.12

DOWN, BUT DEFINITELY NOT OUT
It always saddens me a little when it is confirmed that a club has been relegated. In those immediate awful moments, it can seem like years of grinding and grafting and striving to climb the competitive rungs of the Ammos divisional ladders have been laid to waste in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, the dreaded axe fell on St John’s Old Collegians last week when they ventured out west to the Fearon Reserve and failed to contain a spirited last quarter fight-back from Williamstown. Believe me, I have experienced the lows of dwelling in the cellar in a football sense, of course but I feel that the Jocs are uniquely positioned to take plenty of positives out of their year in Division 1. 
After consecutive grand final appearances, the highlight of which was the famous victory over Glen Eira in 2011, St John’s endured a preseason marked by the retirements and relocation of numerous experienced cattle. As a result Matt Jones, in his fourth year as senior coach, had little choice but to place his faith in a young and inexperienced playing group. There has been only one win to date, but the courage and application shown by this hardy group from Dandenong particularly since midseason would indicate that they will be extremely competitive in Division 2 next year. In fact, in that win over Ormond in round 4, twelve of the Jocs were aged under 21! According to assistant coach Dylan Cousins, some of the stand-outs this year have been midfielders Liam Mara, Jarrod Gaget, Keith Ash and defender Cam Christianson. He reserved a special mention for Josh Green, a 17 year old in his first season of senior footy. It is with a heavy heart that we say good-bye to St John’s, but I have a feeling it will not be farewell for long. 
Williamstown’s final-term heroics against the Jocs ensured that will live to fight another day, or this week in fact. At three quarter time, it looked like the CYs would be joining Jocs in the drop (and they may yet), but six goals to nil in the last enabled the home team to record a creditable come from behind 14 point win. In the end, it was potent forwards Josh Vanderloo (8) and Steve Barlow (4) who were the difference, booting twelve of Willy’s fifteen goals. 
It’s the close ones that count and don’t Old Mentonians know that only too well after being subjected to the pain of a third defeat by seven points or less. This time, Old Geelong’s three point triumph drove the stake into the heart of the Panthers’ finals aspirations. The heavy conditions meant goals were at a premium on a miserable day at Keysborough, and when the Panthers hit the front with ten minutes remaining, their season was still alive. But the Hoops managed to winkle out a final major to record a tough three point win. In what was a battle of defences, it was no surprise that the Panthers’ best were back-men Rowan Ball, Zach Nelson and Mike Myers-Synders. Oggers’ best were Mike Rockefeller, Angus Macdonald and Henry Johnstone. 
Peninsula’s percentage of 219 proves that they have rarely been troubled by the bottom teams, and last week was no exception: the Pirates pounded the Saints by 71 points. However, North Old Boys/ St Pat’s had a tougher time of it. In an entertaining shootout, they called upon all their reserves of experience to eke out a one goal win over MHSOB. Whitefriars had an easier time of it at Gunn Reserve, turning a four goal half-time lead into a convincing 40-point win.   
Preview: Although the final four is set, the penultimate round offers up plenty of interest, particularly in the lower reaches of the ladder. Whilst top teams NOBs and Peninsula should have no problem beating their lesser-ranked opponents St John’s and Old Mentonians respectively, the Whitefriars-Old Geelong clash at Friar Park showcases a first semi-final dress rehearsal. Purely because they are on home turf, I am plumping for the Friars. MHSOB (LWLL) host Ormond (LLLL) in a clash for little other than bragging rights. As all those “L’s” indicate, neither team has been on fire in the last month, but the Unicorns’ form has probably been a little better, particularly at the high school.
To the victor will go the spoils of Division 1 survival: Williamstown and Glen Eira meet at the Fearon in a game with massive ramifications – the loser almost certainly will accompany St Johns into Divvy 2 next year. Both teams have had hugely disappointing seasons, and it is with my head and my heart that I tip the CYs to take a huge step toward survival. But regardless of the result, like St John’s, I would expect that the vanquished will quickly rebound.

10.8.12
It was the late Alan Jeans who said that footballers are like sausages. “You can fry them, grill them, curry them, put apple sauce with them. They’re still sausages; all you’re doing is dressing them up”. The words of the master coach came to mind when I sat down to pen this week’s review of Division 1 matches. What could I write about this week? How could I dress up the column to make it more interesting? And then it came to me: just talk about the footy. No begging for lunches. No anti-Olympic rants. No obtuse Nick Wynne-type streams of consciousness. Just talk about the footy.     

All results went according to script last week, with the top five teams on the ladder all recording wins. It was only the margins which were of any surprise. The predictability of the round made the tipster’s lot an easy one. Indeed, looking back, there have been precious few upsets this year. The biggest boil-over remains OGs’ round 8 defeat of the Pirates, closely followed by the Saints’ one-point victory over the Panthers a fortnight ago. However, there would be no surprise in store for Peninsula this week. The Pirates thrashed Williamstown in all facets of the game, but most particularly on the scoreboard. Amazingly, there were only seven pirates who failed to notch up a major. At the vanguard of this awesome display of fire-power was a seven-goal Stefan Barbour, whose name will surely feature prominently when the umpires’ votes are tallied at season’s end. He was ably supported by Nick Fisher and Vaughan Clarke. Undoubtedly, the only highlight of the day for Williamstown was the long bus journey home from the peninsula.    
After consecutive testing road trips to play the top two teams, Whitefriars returned to home territory for the must-win game against Glen Eira. After an even first quarter, the Friars turned on a dominant performance to win by 146 points. The goals were shared around by no less than twelve players. The home team’s running brigade reveled in the excellent conditions and open spaces of Friar Park with Dan Tibaldi, Brendan Stafford, Tom Pollett, Emille Abdallah and Chris McDonald the pick of an enthusiastic bunch. The Saints, after two wins on the trot, were given a stark reminder of the quality chasm between the top and bottom teams. Best for Glen Eira were Jarryd Bloink and Julius Waras Carstensen. 

It had been a long time between wins for Old Mentonians, but they just did enough to get the job done and stay in mathematical finals contention against St. John’s. In windy conditions, the visiting Panthers took a slim five-point lead into the first break, and had slightly increased that margin at the half. But like so often this season, the Jocs did not go down without a fight; they put in a gallant second-half performance, undone only by a brief period in the third term when Old Mentonians booted four unanswered goals. This would be the defining period of a scrappy but hard-fought match, with the Panthers running out 37-point winners. Best for the victors were ruckman Dustin Mills, who booted seven goals, and Tim Wigney. Half forward Ryan Thomas and midfielders Jeremy Diaz and Keith Ash were best for St Johns.  

At Como, Old Geelong kicked 5 unanswered goals in the first term to open up a break over their neighbours from MHSOB which they maintained for the rest of the afternoon. The Unicorns fought back in the second half, but it was too little too late. Meanwhile at Gillon, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s made it thirteen on the trot with an 84-point win over a disappointing Ormond.  

Preview: As North Old Boys and Peninsula edge inexorably closer to a second-semi showdown, they must take care to concentrate on the tasks at hand; today that means visits to Melbourne High School and Glen Eira respectively, where both should have no trouble. The Friars need to keep winning to ensure finals action, and today should account for a Monders team who now appear to be looking to 2013. 

Knowing that defeat will edge them closer to the relegation precipice, Williamstown have the  chance to record their fourth win of the season when they host St John’s today, and I suspect they will join the Saints on four wins. Old Geelong visit Mentone Grammar in what looms as a real danger game for the Oggers. I am tipping a rare upset: the Panthers to keep their finals aspirations alive for one more week at least. 

Do not forget: Send all match reports to [email protected] .com and follow me on twitter (@smokiedawson) to keep up to date with all Division 1 news on Saturday arvos.

3.8.12
GIVE ME FOOTY
My wife thinks there is something wrong with me. Actually, she thinks there are many things wrong with me, but what she really cannot fathom is how disinterested I am in the Olympics. And it is true. I could not care less for Australia’s achievements in the pool, and on the other various courts and fields of play. I admire the athletes and their dedication, but I just cannot bring myself to sit through sporting contests which crop up on television once every four years. 
The battle for control of the remote had extra spice this week. Because I love my footy: replays, analysis, panel shows, AFL 360, footy tweets, dream-team. From AFL down to junior footy. I just cannot get enough. So having fought (and, ahem, lost) the battle of the big screen, I decided to retire to the lap-top and, with four rounds remaining, do some serious thinking about what lies ahead for this division in the last four rounds. 
It is obvious that North Old Boys/St Pat’s and Peninsula Old Boys will play in the second semi-final. NOBs/St Pat’s recorded their twelfth win on the trot with a comprehensive seven goal defeat of Whitefriars. The top team’s experienced line up was never really threatened, and they continue to produce an even spread of goal kickers. The excellent form of Matt Keown is also a highlight. It was the second consecutive seven goal defeat the Friars have suffered to a top-two team, and they now must dig deep to find something extra which allows them to compete with the big two. Kudos to first gamer Michael Nitas, who stood up in the slush. And, on that point, an interesting question will be what effect the heavy home ground conditions will have had on the legs of the NOBs boys come finals time?   
Second placed Peninsula had no trouble dealing with Ormond, particularly after the Pirates went into the quarter time break with a handy four goal lead, it turned out to be game over from that point on. Whilst Sam Murray booted four, it is instructive that Peninsula also shared the goals around. It’s academic, but the Pirates’ mammoth percentage means that any stumble by the NOBs would hand them top spot. Best for the Monders were Tim Naylor and Henry Simon. Old Geelong have third place all but sewn up. The Oggers were challenged in the first half by Williamstown but did just enough in the second half, with CYs falling away badly, OGs ran out comfortable 36-point winners. Again, the victors had an array of goal-kicking options.
Old Mentonians found themselves on the wrong side of a one-point result, where as Glen Eira have staked their claim for retention in this division with their second win on the trot. It seems that no-one is prepared to stand up and grab fourth spot by the scruff of the neck, with the Panthers most likely to blow any chance they had of playing finals footy with their second half surrender to the Saints. For Glen Eira, it was a huge win in the context of their season, with the second relegation spot now most likely to be decided at the Fearon in round 17. 
MHSOB predictably got the points over St John’s, and in doing so moved up to fifth spot and and only sit a game outside the four, but the Unicorns did not have it all their own way. The Jocs stormed home with a five goal to zero final term, but again it was a slowish start which cost them dearly. 
Preview: After four consecutive losses, the Panthers will return to the winners’ list with what will be an overdue victory over the Jocs. One of the longest treks in ammos footy is the journey from Willy to Mt. Eliza, and it will be a long trip home for CYs, who will be looking toward the next two weeks rather than today’s match. By contrast, the Unicorns will make the shortest of journeys: along the Yarra to Como. But they will find the OGs’ form is too hot for them to handle at present. Whitefriars will be looking to sure up their position in the four, and should just account for the improving Glen Eira. NOBs / St Pat’s are well and truly preparing for finals action and will play ungracious hosts to an Ormond side who can still mathematically reach the September action despite losing six of their last nine matches.  
Once again, I urge all correspondents to email their reports to [email protected] by Monday, if you can drag yourselves away from your Olympic viewing habits.   

27.7.12
NOT DEAD YET
I have been known to enjoy a lunch or three. So it was with plenty of enthusiasm that last week I accepted an invitation to the picturesque Fearon Reserve, to enjoy the hospitality of my old club Williamstown CYMS. The attendees were entertained by the wit and wisdom of local boy made good Greg Swann, CEO of Carlton. It was a glorious afternoon for football, spirits were high amongst the CYs faithful in spite of the torrid season the club has been experiencing, and I could certainly detect a measure of confidence that the day could end as enjoyably as it had begun.
That confidence was not misplaced! In front of a huge home crowd, Williamstown got over the line against MHSOB in a thrilling last quarter to prove that they are still alive and kicking in the battle to stay in this division. The home team led at the first change, but the visitors bounced back in the second term to lead by two points at the main break. The game tightened in the third, with goals at a premium.  In the final quarter it was the Unicorns who took charge early, continually trapping the ball in their forward half. But a late goal against the run of play brought Willy back into the contest and with two further goals in time-on, a valuable 13 point win was theirs. Best for Williamstown were midfielder Dan Calman-Orr and forwards Ben Gray and Fin Adamson. For the High School, Steve Villani was in everything, whilst Matt Hamilton-Ho (7 goals) was a powerhouse up forward. 
In the other match with a bearing on relegation, Glen Eira kicked 10 goals in the first term, and so got an early jump on a gallant St. John’s team. The Jocs battled on all day, but could not undo the damage done in that first quarter. In fact, the visitors outscored the Saints after the first break. A half-time rejuvenation allowed St. John’s to come out with all the run to close the gap to within 40 points, but that was as close as it would be. Defender Cam Christenson, along with mids Josh Green and Jarrod Gaget were best for Jocs. For Glen Eira, it was Evan Stuchbery and Matt Harris. 
Old Geelong got off to a good start against the Monders, and continued to dominate the game despite some silly decision-making at crucial times. But in a match in which the visitors dominated inside-50’s 71 to 37, poor kicking for goal was again a feature of the OGs’ play. Henry Johnstone was excellent across half-back, with Bayles and O’Brien dominating the middle. For Ormond, Orry Lack and Simon Kulikov were best.   
At Mt. Eliza, Peninsula kicked away from Whitefriars in the final term to blow out the result to 43 points, after the Friars were a point down at the half. Best for Friars were Dan Hogan, Dan Tibaldi and Ryan Storey. For the Pirates, Stefan Barbour, Ben Southam, Vaughn Clarke and Reed Powney were the best players in a solid team effort.
Old Mentonians were competitive for much of the game, but were just not able to hang tough with NOB/St Pats in the pivotal moments. Particularly in the third term, when the Old Boys took a stranglehold on the game, kicking six goals to two. 
Preview: For two weeks, the final four has looked set. But do not bank on it. With a loss at Gillon today, Whitefriars could well be hanging onto fourth place by half a game. Whilst this thought will provide plenty of motivation for Friars, it would be a surprise to see North Old Boys drop one at home when they are playing so well. 
Second-placed Peninsula journey to Ormond. The Pirates have a habit of kicking big scores against lower-ranked opponents, and this week should be no exception at Gunn Reserve. Likewise, Old Geelong should have too many big guns for Williamstown: the visitors will be buoyed by their gutsy win last week, but will not be strong enough for the Oggers at Como. 
If St. John’s were to pinch a game on the run home, surely this would be one of the matches it has targeted. But I reckon the Unicorns will be too experienced for their young opponents at the High School. Glen Eira will also be looking for another priceless four points, whilst Old Mentonians are still eyeing off a finals spot…and why shouldn’t they? After three losses in a row, their fortunes should change for the better against the Saints today. But the Panthers will need to be on their game, as Glen Eira will throw everything bar the kitchen sink at them. 
And speaking of kitchens, that reminds me of lunch. So if you are looking for someone to make up the lunch-time numbers, you know how to find me!

20.07.2012

RAIN, MUD AND SHELLACKINGS
It would give me great pleasure, dear readers, to announce that last week saw a round chock full of cliff-hanger finishes and nail-biting contests. That under grey and rainy skies there were battles decided by less than a kick. That there were heroes anointed after successful post-siren shots at goal. Alas, the opposite is true: the average winning (and thus losing) margin in round 11 was a whopping 98 points. 
Ironically, the closest game was at Thomas Carroll, where bottom team St. John’s battled bravely all day but ultimately went down to Ormond by 55 points. With the Monders getting the early jump, the Jocs were never able to peg back the seven-goal half-time lead. Best for Ormond were Dylan Elkman and Henry Simon, whilst for St John’s it was Liam Mara and Jeremy Diaz.   
The largest winning margin of the season to date was posted by Peninsula Old Boys in their huge 182-point demolition of an undermanned MHSOB. Veteran Shaun Payze (8 goals) led the way for the Pirates, who quickly put the disappointment of the previous week behind them. Big Brett Brisbane (5 goals) offered good support, whilst Nick Fisher was in everything. The Pirates had fourteen goal kickers. For the Unicorns, best were Lachlan Evans and Steve Villani.  
At a very heavy Gillon Oval, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s did not have it all their own way in the first half. In fact, they were only 15 points to the good at the main break. From that point on it was one-way traffic, with the home team outscoring the visitors 15 goals to four. Best on ground was NOBs veteran – and new games record holder – Dan Tonkin. Matt Keown was again in the best, and must be firming in the odds for comp B & F.
Whitefriars consolidated their position in the top four with a comfortable win over a disappointing Old Mentonians. Led by a powerful performance by Rob Petracca (5 goals), the Friars at last produced a consistent four-quarter effort to run out 71-point winners. Good support came from Brendan Stafford ad Dan Hogan. The Panthers were jumped in the first term in heavy rain, with the Friars’ half-back line impenetrable. Best for Old Mentonians were skipper Brad Norton and Tristan Strange. 
Coach Frank Dunell left Como Park early, making a dash to Brisbane to be on hand to watch his son Sam make his AFL debut. It mattered little, with his Old Geelong charges powering away to a 98-point win over Glen Eira. Even without key forwards Ellis and McEvoy, it was a truly impressive goal-kicking display.  
Preview: Today, at their second home in Mordialloc, Old Mentonians’ season is on the line. Notch up a win against the top team and they are still in the hunt. Lose, and they will most likely be two and a half games outside the four, with virtually no hope of finals action. The Panthers have come a long way this season, but I think the imperious present form of NOB-SP will hold sway.
Whitefriars, looking to add to their five on the trot, make the daunting journey down to the Pirates’ stronghold. In what I expect to be a sensational game between two finals-bound teams, Peninsula’s awesome strike-power should ensure it kicks a winning score. Ormond have been amazingly competitive – their biggest losing margin has been 31 points – but Old Geelong will be looking to shore up their final four position and will have no excuses to drop this one.
I have not tipped Williamstown very often this year, and rightly so. But after the pummelling the Unicorns received last week, the CYs might just be able to sneak over the line against MHSOB. A Willy win would add even greater interest to the relegation stakes, which will be in sharp focus at Packer Reserve. Glen Eira beat Jocs by 77 points last time these teams met, and although I expect the result to be the same, I reckon it will be a lot closer than that. 
Smokie says: Can all clubs and correspondents please send me their reports and news by Monday evening. Email: [email protected] You can also follow me on twitter, where I regularly tweet Division 1 updates on Saturday afternoons: @smokiedawson.    

13.07.2012

PIRATES ON SHAKY GROUND
One could almost feel the seismic shift in the competition last week when North Old Boys – St. Patrick’s comprehensively defeated Peninsula Old Boys at Gillon Oval. That rumbling was not tectonic plates shifting beneath us; indeed, it was the sound of the Pirates being dislodged from their perch at the top of the table for the first time since round 2. All of a sudden, NOBs/St Pats rich vein of form marks them as the new premiership favourites, a prospect which would have been unthinkable to those who witnessed their 88 point capitulation to the Pirates in round 2. It remains NOBs only loss for the season. Prior to last Saturday, the Pirates would certainly not have believed that a romp to the flag was a foregone conclusion, but now they are under no illusions whatsoever that the task before them will be a tough assignment. 
NOB/St Pats produced a display which had the large home crowd in raptures, and in doing so assumed top spot with their defeat of the team they are more than likely to meet in the second semi-final. It was a ruthless display by NOBs, who more than atoned for their early-season loss to the Pirates. A narrow half-time lead of two goals morphed into a 40-point defeat of an off-key Peninsula line-up. In a strangely low-scoring contest, the goals were shared around, with the best for the victors being Sam O’Connor, Peter Shepherd, Adam Oakley and Peter Ryan; for the vanquished, the best players were Joel Hood, Stefan Barbour and Tom Coughlin. 
Just like Old Geelong the week before, Old Mentonians became the latest team to fall to a lower-ranked opponent and thus pay the price of tumbling out of the four. It is never a good time to be in the bottom six, but the closer we get to finals the tougher it will be to climb back in. Terrible kicking for goal – particularly in the first term – did not assist the Panthers’ cause, but all credit must go to Ormond, who bounced back from the previous week’s disappointing loss to Glen Eira to produce a stirring win. The Panthers threw everything bar the kitchen sink at the home team in the final quarter, but the Monders stood tall; best for Ormond were wingman Wayne Cove, ruckman Dan Haysom, and 15 year-old Sam Mason in his second senior game. Best for Old Mentonians were Warwick Stone in the ruck, and on-ballers Tim Wigney and Tim Wilton. 
Whitefriars scored their fourth consecutive win with a workmanlike victory over Williamstown. After an even first quarter, the Friars exerted their superiority in the second to lead by 45 points at the long break, eventually running out winners by 92 points. Dan Massarotti celebrated his return to senior football with a best on ground performance, whilst Rowan Mattinson and Simon Brosolo relished their unfamiliar roles on the forward line; solid performances from all players ensured that there would be no surprise result from the usually tricky journey over the Westgate. Best for Williamstown were Fin Adamson, Ben Gray, Ryan Danaher and Jason Bencich in his second senior game.
The Unicorns easily defeated the Saints at the high school by 49 points, whilst the Oggers made light of the conditions to post a percentage-boosting 20-goal victory over St John’s at Doveton.  
Preview: The Pirates, still licking last weeks’ wounds, will be keen to immediately get back to their winning ways when they host MHSOB. And despite the Unicorns’ solid form, Peninsula should have too many big guns. New top team North Old Boys – St Patrick’s are at home again, but this time to the lowly Towners. NOBs are a lock for a top-two finish, and will have no trouble condemning Williamstown to another defeat. 
Glen Eira will travel to Como Park in search of an elusive third win which will put them within arm’s reach of safety in Division 1 but, equally, Old Geelong will be looking to shore up its top four spot. I fancy the OGs at home. Three losses in their past five outings sees the Panthers now in a struggle to play any finals footy: the Friars at Donvale is not the ideal place to attempt to get back on to the winners’ list.  
Ormond’s one-point defeat by St. John’s in round 4 was the first of three losses by 12 points or less. Had Ormond won those three games, remarkably they would be sitting in third place. I just cannot see the struggling JOCs grabbing a second win today. But earthquakes are known to happen!            
7.07.2012

THE REAL DEAL?
It feels like a lifetime, but in reality it is only two short weeks since I shouted from the rooftops that Old Geelong were the “real deal” and a force to be reckoned with. And who could blame me? Coming as it did following a tremendous come-from-behind win over the Pirates. However, since that inspirational win, the OGs’ wheels have started to wobble. First it was a 12-point loss to the Unicorns, and then last week at Como, a good old-fashioned shellacking at the hands of NOBs. Such has been their fall from grace that Old Geelong now find themselves outside the four, and who would have thought that a fortnight ago? 
North Old Boys – St Patrick’s have now just about locked up a top-two berth courtesy of their big win over OGs. And with the form they showed on a fine afternoon for footy at Como, they look in no mood to surrender it. It was hard to single out best players for NOBs in such a resounding win, but Chris Hosking, Josh Cassell and the Ryan boys will do! A seven-goal first term meant that the visitors were away to a flier, eventually pulling away to win by 61; it’s these wins against fellow aspirants which will be most crucial on the run home. 
Glen Eira breathed new life into their battle to stay afloat in Division 1, when they jumped out to a 26-point lead at quarter-time over an Ormond team who could not trouble the scorers in that period. Creditably, the Monders – led by “Dwaino” Bailey – fought their way back into the contest, and eventually went down by only three points. The final quarter was a humdinger with both teams going goal for goal, but it was the more desperate Saints who hung on for what could be a season-saving victory. Best for the Saints were Matt Harris and Jarryd Bloink. 
Conversely, Williamstown’s season was thrown into further disarray with a dispirited caning at the hands of Old Mentonians. The CYs are now back down to ninth, and are virtually standing on the gallows trap-door. After a competitive first half (14 points the difference at half-time), Willy fell away dramatically as the Panthers did as they pleased in front of a crowd of past players. Best for Old Mentonians were the Hull brothers (Daniel and Luke), as well as Warwick Stone in the ruck and Tim Rooke on a wing. 
With all due respect to St. John’s, Peninsula will be looking for contests which are more competitive than last week’s walk in the park if they are to get some match-hardening prior to finals. The Pirates ran rampant to win big (by 145 points) over their inexperienced opponents: Shaun Payze (7 goals), Alex Wood and Stefan Barbour were just three of the many who cashed in on the day. 
Whitefriars bounced into the four with a win which was solid rather than impressive over a competitive MHSOB at Donvale. Only three points divided the teams at the main break, but the home team drew away in the second half, scoring 5 goals in the third term and then 7 in the last. Skipper Michael Mirabella again produced the goods for the Friars, whilst Heath Taylor was best for the Unicorns. 
Preview: The respective battles at each end of the ladder are no closer to being resolved. Mathematically there are still six teams in contention for finals action, with the relegation battle a three-way fight.  
Although football is a funny game, it is impossible to see Williamstown upsetting the Friars today at the Fearon. Whitefriars, now back in the four, will not be surrendering these types of matches, and will be looking for a percentage boost to boot! Ormond will be looking to bounce back from last week’s shock loss, but Old Mentonians should come home from Gunn Reserve with four precious points. Glen Eira will be on a high after last week’s second win of the year, but the Unicorns still have faint hopes of playing in September and will be looking to keep alive those hopes. Old Geelong will be looking for – and should get – some redemption at Doveton against St John’s. 
The match of the day is at Gillon Oval, where NOB-SP will be looking to put behind them the memories of their big round two defeat at Peninsula. And I reckon they just might do it – NOBs to win by 6 points. 
Smokie says: A big thanks to “Chook” Grey and the crew at Old Mentonians for their hospitality at the pre-match lunch last week. I knew that taking on the role of scribe would see me rewarded one day!  
30.6.12
HALF-YEARLY REPORT
Something which has always stuck in my head was the approach an old coach of mine had toward the football season. He would divide it into four parts: pre-season, rounds 1 – 9, rounds 10 -18, and finals. I did not entirely agree with him because, more often than not, we would end up missing the final part of the year! But as we approach both the end of June and the beginning of round 10, we would all concur it is the half-way way point in more ways than one, and thus the ideal opportunity to sit back and reflect on what we have learnt through the first part of the season. 
Peninsula: the Pirates took a slight stumble a fortnight ago, but that has proved to be their only blemish thus far. With some experienced faces (such as Shaun Payze, Stefan Barbour and Brett Brisbane) enjoying their best season for a while, a finals berth is now assured; and were they to drop out of the top two it would be a huge surprise. Highlight: the 88-point crushing of finals rivals NOBs/St Pats in round 2. A+
North Old Boys/St. Patrick’s: apart from the aforementioned, and totally uncharacteristic, thrashing they received at Mt Eliza early on, NOBs/St Pats have been consistent. To an extent, they have probably flown under the radar, going about their business with minimal fuss with Matt Keown and Adam Oakley carrying on last year’s excellent form. Now six points clear in second place, a double-chance is theirs for the taking. Highlight: the two-point win over Whitefriars in round 7, in which NOBs/St Pats hung tough. A+
Old Geelong: the verdict is still out on Frank Dunnell’s men, mainly because of their inconsistency. Last week presented the perfect chance to silence the doubters, but a horrible loss to MHSOB ensued. However, with forward targets Paul Ellis and Callum Wood firing, Old Geelong are a much improved outfit this season, but a finals appearance is not yet locked away. Highlight: undoubtedly, the come-from-behind victory over the previously unconquered Pirates. A
Old Mentonians: it is a credit to all at the Panthers that they have turned the club around following such a difficult year in 2011. The Mordialloc experiment seems to have worked, and the future looks bright with a large number of younger types playing good senior footy. Instructively, the three losses have been to the clubs above them, which indicates they might not quite be ready for promotion. Highlight: the five goal defeat of Friars in round 6. B+
Whitefriars: usually so strong at home, the Friars have surprisingly dropped three games at Donvale (two by less than a kick). Only half a game outside the four, and with names such as Abdallah, Petracca, Mirabella and Hogan now back in good touch, Whitefriars are keen to make up for lost ground. B
MHSOB: having won four of their last five, the Unicorns are also only two points out of the four. But it seems they just cannot go with the big boys of the competition at present, as their percentage would attest. Highlight: last week’s defeat of Old Geelong. B-
Ormond: three and a half wins sees the Monders clear of the relegation zone, but with not enough credits in the bank to challenge for finals action. Matt Oaten, Henry Simon, Ryan Martin and Boyd Upstill have been the best in a real up-and-down first part of the year. Highlight: the 128-point thrashing of the Saints in round 1. C
Williamstown CYMS: an excellent pre-season gave no clues to the disappointment which would follow. The Cys have a huge fight on their hands to avoid the drop. Highlight: the fighting 21-point win over Glen Eira in round 7. C-
Glen Eira: after the pre-season loss of some quality players, the Saints have found the going tough in the higher division, and to stay up, must now find a couple of wins in the run home. Highlight: the 77-point defeat of fellow battlers St. John’s. D
St. John’s O.C.: the youngest outfit in the section have been out-muscled on many occasions, but one cannot fault their competitive spirit. So it would not surprise if they caused an upset against one of the big boys. Highlight: undoubtedly, the 1-point victory over Ormond. D    
Preview: Whitefriars are now back on course for finals and should have few problems with the Unicorns at home. Down on the peninsula, the Pirates will be far too strong for the Jocs. Ormond should bounce back from last week’s narrow defeat to account for the Saints, whilst the Panthers have too much to play for to drop this game against Williamstown. Possibly the most interesting contest will be played out at Como Park, where the OGs will be looking to re-discover their form of a fortnight ago. I am expecting Old Geelong to pip NOBs in a close one.  

23.6.12

ARE OGS THE REAL DEAL?
It was a win that made the rest of the competition sit up and take a bit more notice of the men from Como Park: a victory over the previously unbeaten Peninsula, which is notoriously difficult to overcome on their own patch down the coast. What also made the pundits pay a bit more attention was the manner in which Old Geelong achieved the win: twenty-five points down at the final change, the visitors came storming home to snatch four precious points on the road at the toughest away venue in Division 1. Peninsula certainly fought all the way to the end of a thrilling match, and a wasteful 1.5 in the third term certainly did not help their cause, but in the end it was a day for Old Geelong to celebrate. Best for the victors were Tom Burchell, Charlie Fairbairn and Callum Wood with five goals, whilst for the Pirates it was Alex Wood, Reed Powney and Stefan Barbour among the better players. 
Ormond, coming off what club insiders called a “gutsy” loss to the aforementioned Pirates, hit the road again, this time to Williamstown. Down by twenty-five points half-way through the third term, the Monders showed plenty of fight to, firstly, claw their way back into the contest and, secondly, run over the top of a fading CYs team to post a comfortable four-goal win. Best for Ormond were wingman Ryan Martin, who had over thirty touches and kicked three goals, along with youngsters Henry Simon and Joss Holdsworth. For Williamstown, Fin Adamson and Ben Gray were towers of strength. 
Glen Eira got away to a good start at Gillon, and actually led by a point over North Old Boys – St Patrick’s at quarter time. But from then on, NOBs probably just did what they had to do in gaining the ascendancy over the Saints, eventually powering away to an eleven-goal win. Glenn Maxton, enjoying a solid year, Tim Brady and Matt Keown (again) were in NOBs’ best, whilst Tom Paterson, Andrew Spink and Jarryd Bloink were Glen Eira’s stand-outs. 
Old Mentonians journeyed back up the Yarra to Melbourne High School, and put the previous week’s defeat behind them with a resounding win over MHSOB. With the amount of ball they had early, the Panthers should have been further to the good than 20 points at the first break. The second and third terms were also an arm-wrestle, with play constantly being bottled up in the pockets. In a lack-lustre match, best for the Panthers were Tim Speers (dominant on the wing), rover Sam Johnson and flanker Elliott Macquire. For the Unicorns, better players were Kane Smith and Heath Taylor.      
A relieved Whitefriars returned to the winners list with a 98 point demolition of an under-strength St. John’s at Donvale. Aided by the return of a number of injured players, the Friars booted the first four goals and then never looked back. Despite a spirited opening to the second term by the Jocs, the home team kicked another four to blow the game wide open. Emille Abdullah was instrumental in setting Friars alight and big Rowan Mattinson also proved a handful for defenders when he was resting up forward. James O’Meara chipped in with four goals. For St. John’s, best were Jarrod Gaget, Josh Green and Corey Ely.   
Preview: A couple of interesting matches on offer this week. Peninsula will be keen to put last week’s aberration aside when they travel up the Nepean to Mordialloc. But, in what would be a “mini” upset, I reckon the Panthers might be a little hungrier at this point in time. Whitefriars – still a game and a half out of the four – will be looking to make up for lost ground and should comfortably defeat the Saints. 
It will be almost like a home game for Old Geelong when they travel to the High School, and I expect them to build on last week’s important win. Ormond host a NOBs team who are really flying at the minute, and I expect the visitors to triumph at Gunn. And at Doveton, a real “eight-pointer” looms: the loser of this St. John’s v Williamstown contest will probably consigned to the drop. I am tipping the visitors in a close one.       

16.6.12

Long May She Reign
Although I am a staunch republican, there is one week-end each year when I make sure I raise my glass and toast Her Majesty, praising her generosity in granting her subjects a Monday morning sleep-in in mid-June. (I am told that this year is even more special, as there is some sort of jubilee taking place in the mother country). The Queen’s Birthday always seems to be a most welcome oasis in what can be a long and grinding season, and it affords us all the opportunity to reflect upon what has transpired thus far. 
 Elizabeth may reign over the Commonwealth, but it is Peninsula Old Boys who are the kings of this division. However, their victory over Ormond was less than regal. Wasteful conversion in front of the sticks probably made the final margin look a little flattering to the visitors, but to the Monders’ credit they battled on to the end and made the Pirates really work for the three-goal win. Remember, the unbeaten Peninsula’s previous smallest winning margin had been 34 points. 
 North Old Boys – St Patrick’s have emerged as the most serious aspirant to Peninsula’s throne. Coach Richard Peoples would no doubt be ecstatic with his charges’ stirring two-point win at Friar Park, especially after Whitefriars seemed to be in control at half-time, leading by 14 points. But NOBs responded superbly, producing a six-goal third-term to lead at the final break by 7 points. A thrilling final quarter saw the home team dig deep to control most of the play. The Friars took the lead back with about 8 minutes to play and were looking threatening until NOBS rebounded from half back after the bounce and a mark and goal put them back in front. Despite several opportunities to pinch the game, Whitefriars could not get the lead back and were left to rue another close loss at home. 
Old Geelong made it three on the trot with a convincing 10-goal win over Old Mentonians. It was a “hard day at the office” for the Panthers, who were jumped in the first term; OGs then comprehensively outplayed them for much of the afternoon, and OMs only managed a solitary major after half-time. The keys to the Oggers’ win were their quick ball movement, run and spread across Como. Best for the home team were Nick Betts, who controlled the middle, and Callum Wood, strong up front with 6 goals. For the Panthers, ruck-rover Luke Hull, wingman Dave Alexander, and ruckman Ben Naylor were the pick of an ordinary crop on the day. 
 MHSOB also made it three from three with a percentage-boosting 58-point win over the JOCs. St John’s were still in the hunt at half-time, but a goalless third term put paid to any thoughts of a win over the Unicorns. Best for the home team were Matt Phaedonos and Rhys Dyker, whilst for the Unicorns Jackson Bunting and Heath Taylor were part of an excellent team effort. 
 Defence? What defence? In a high-scoring and entertaining shoot-out, Williamstown managed to out-shoot their fellow battlers Glen Eira by 21 points. The relief was palpable for coach Ian Rickman, who notched up his first win at the club. With eight players returning from injury, the CYs looked different in both size and quality across the park, although only two points separated the teams at half-time. Best for the Saints were Jarryd Bloink and Chris Higgins, whilst for Willy it was defender Nick Walsh and his partner in crime “Dr John” Gallivan. 
 Preview: NOB-SP should have little trouble in maintaining their streak, and make it six in a row with a big win over the Saints at Gillon Oval. Whitefriars, with players returning from injury, will be looking to make up recent lost ground with a big win over the young St Johns outfit. 
 In the match-of-the-day, Peninsula host the improving Old Geelong. Although I am tipping another Pirate victory, I will be most interested to see how the Oggers approach what will be a stern test of their finals aspirations. 
An intriguing match-up looms at the high school, where the Unicorns will be looking to record a win over one of the teams above them. In fact, a win would see MHSOB replace their opponents in the four. But I am tipping Old Mentonians to bounce back from the hiding dished out by OGs. 
 With a win finally under their belts, I reckon Williamstown could make it two in a row at the Fearon. One thing is guaranteed, it will be a close one: Ormond have lost only three games and have never been blown away, with their biggest losing margin thus far being 31 points. 
2.6.12
What’s wrong with Willy?
After a sustained period of success, featuring back-to-back premierships in 2008 and 2009, the Williamstown CYMS Football Club has suddenly fallen on difficult times. Having last season missed the finals by percentage only, not even the most pessimistic of observers – inside or outside the club – would have foreseen a 0-6 start to the 2012 season. And as someone who played with the club, I am constantly being asked "What’s wrong with Willy?" 
The first and most obvious answer to that question is "injuries". Yes, all clubs cop them, but Willy has had a torrid run of casualties this season. Last week, 25 players were unavailable, which made it a meritorious effort to field a Clubbies team. The injury situation has been compounded by the fact that they have been to key players. Another issue has been recruiting. Over the summer, the club also lost four of its best to the lure of the coin, a battle which most Ammos clubs face. Filling the big shoes of the departed has proved difficult. 
Thus, the CYs have fielded an even more youthful outfit this season. These maturing bodies have been unable to compete for sustained periods with the more seasoned teams such as NOBs and Peninsula. But there were positive signs in last week’s defeat against the visiting Pirates, particularly in the first half. The Pirates were given a scare early, but away after half-time to record a comfortable 87-point win, spearheaded by Shaun Payze (6 goals) and Stefan Barbour (5). The fate of Williamstown’s season probably rests in its next three matches, when it plays Glen Eira, Ormond, and St John’s. At the half-way point, we will all know if Willy is destined for the drop, or whether something can be salvaged from the wreck. 
Old Mentonians celebrated skipper Brad Norton’s 100th game in style, knocking over Whitefriars by five goals at Mordialloc. Coincidentally, it was also Friars skipper Michael Mirabella’s ton. A couple of Panther majors late in the first term gave the hosts a buffer which the Friars were never quite able to overcome. Mentonians, with Warwick Stone dominating the ruck, and defenders Ben Johns and Eliot Macquire on top, extended their lead to an imposing 47 points at three-quarter time and it was virtually game over. Best for the visitors, who battled on until the end, were Emille Abdallah, Dan Hogan and debutant Damien Loh. A disappointing second-half fade out meant Ormond could not build on the previous week’s heroics. Eight points to the good at half-time, the Unicorns made it two in a row, finishing the game full of running with a seven-goal to three second half. Best for the Monders were Matt Oaten and Boyd Upstill, whilst for MHSOB it was Luke Campbell and Will Taft. The Unicorns have now moved up to sixth place, and look set to cause some headaches for top teams.

26.5.12
PIRATES KEEP ON PLUNDERING ONIt is all beginning to fall into place very nicely for Peninsula Old Boys. The Pirates, unbeaten through the first five rounds, are demonstrating a ruthless streak that was missing for much of last season. (Four of their victories have been by 75 points or greater). Instructively, it is not just down on the Peninsula where they are inflicting defeat on their hapless opponents. These Pirates don’t mind travelling, and following their pitiless dismissal of Glen Eira last week, they are rightly beginning to believe that 2012 could be their year. And who would argue? After a fairly even first term, the Pirates piled on seven in the second quarter to effectively extinguish whatever hopes the visiting Saints may have harboured of causing a boilover. Although Glen Eira outscored their hosts in the third, Peninsula were really just going through the motions after half-time and recorded a comfortable 75-point win. Their free-wheeling style of play resulted in an amazing spread of thirteen different goal-kickers. This statistic is just another reason why the Pirates are now firm premiership fancies. Obviously stung by their surprise loss the previous week, Ormond caused an upset of their own by downing Whitefriars on their own patch at Friar Park. The Friars were left to rue a slow start, in which they conceded eight first term goals, six of which were amazingly booted by Dwain Bailey. All of a sudden, Ormond were the best part of eight goals up at the main break. However, Whitefriars were not going to go down without a fight, and fight back they did, with six in the third to be only 20 points down at the last break. The final quarter was a hum-dinger, with Friars scoring the first three goals to make it a two-point game, but the Monders hung on grimly to reinvigorate their season with a thrilling five-point win. Best for Ormond were defender Boyd Upstill and Wayne Cove, whilst for the Friars it was big man Jean Daou and little man Emille Abdallah who led the way. North Old Boys-St Patrick’s scored an important win over fellow finals aspirants Old Mentonians in an entertaining match at Gillon. NOBs snatched the lead just prior to three-quarter time and were never headed from that point on, despite kicking a wasteful 3-6 in the final term. Tim Brady and Matt Keown were best for NOBs, whilst flanker Jack Janssen and defender Nick Imlach were amongst the Panthers’ better performers on the day. This win by NOBSPC elevates them to second place, and they are now a realistic threat for the double-chance. There are not too many better places to be watching footy on a fine Saturday afternoon than by the Yarra at the Woodfull-Miller Oval. With the Melbourne High School peering over the ground imperiously, I was fortunate enough to take in these most pleasing of surroundings as MHSOB notched up their second win of the season by defeating the winless Williamstown. (The half-time tea and scones were also well received!) The Unicorns got off to a flyer, with the first six goals, and that early break was to prove decisive, even though the CYs managed to pull themselves back into the contest. The visitors clawed their way to within nine points just before half-time, but two buzzer-beating goals gave the Unicorns a more comfortable buffer, which they maintained for the rest of the match.        After the previous week’s heroics, St. John’s came crashing back to earth with a thud at Como Park.  Centre half-forward Callum Wood was in excellent form with seven goals, and was ably assisted by Paul Ellis with 4. Old Geelong showed no mercy, and gained some valuable percentage in a 93-point thrashing of the young JOCs. Preview: With their tails up, the Monders will be looking to build on last week’s win when they host the Unicorns today, and I see no reason why they cannot make it two on the trot. Despite their occasional troubles on the road, NOBSPC should not have too many difficulties in accounting for St John’s at Doveton, whilst Old Geelong will be too strong for Glen Eira. The match of the day sees Whitefriars travelling to Mordialloc to face Old Mentonians. Both of these teams will be looking to return to the winners’ list, but I think the Panthers may just hold an edge at home. The Pirates are in marauding form, and will be looking to inflict even more pain on their bitter cross-bay rivals Williamstown CYMS at the Fearon. Smokie says: With the Pirates out in front early, the jockeying for an all-important top-two position has already begun in earnest. I can’t help thinking that last week’s narrow defeat will prove very costly for Whitefriars in terms of the double-chance. 
19.5.12 
Monders rocked by JOCs
Three big losses. Their smallest losing margin, a not-insubstantial 66 points. A number of injured senior players severely testing the club’s depth. This was the scenario facing St John’s Old Collegians as they travelled to Gunn Reserve to take on an unlucky Ormond team that had been proving competitive, and should possibly have been sitting 2-1. All the sages knew how this would finish up. But how wrong we all were! With a team boasting twelve players aged 21 and under, the youthful JOCs started poorly, allowing Ormond to post the first three goals. JOCs went to the first break 20 points down. However, from that point on, the visitors slowly clawed their way back into the match and by the final break the scores were all tied up. The message from coach Matt Jones was simple: concentrate on the basics, and back yourselves. And that is exactly what the boys from Dandenong did, hanging tough in the final minutes of a see-sawing final quarter to post a memorable victory by the slimmest of margins. Their season has officially commenced. Best for JOCs were Rohan Scott, Liam O’Connor in defence, and Keith Ash. The middle and lower reaches of the ladder will be a tight tussle this season, and although we are only four rounds in, this loss could well be examined very closely when post-mortems are being conducted in September. 
The Friars also had their share of injured players, but made light of this inconvenience by hitting the ground running at Como. A six-goal first term (with a brace from debutant Jeremy Chun) was the launching pad for a solid 46-point win over Old Geelong. Tom Pollett and Daniel Hogan ran the ball well through the midfield, with skipper Michael Mirabella and Jean Daou dominating in the air. The OGs were genuinely disappointed with their lack of intensity all over the ground, and when they did threaten to work their way back into the contest poor field-kicking and wayward shooting for goal hurt them badly. Most of the Oggers’ best were defenders, including Tom Burchell and Alex Herd, who withstood a heap of inside-50s from the Friars. 
Williamstown is yet another club already decimated by injury. Such was its plight at the Fearon last Saturday that by half-time they had no interchange players, and by the final siren only had 16 players out on the park. In a lacklustre affair, the CYs were never in the hunt against NOBs, who had too much quality all over the park, with Adam Oakley and Matt Keown continuing their outstanding form, with support from Tim Brady. For Williamstown, youngsters Jake McKenzie and Luke McDonald battled manfully. Peninsula continued its unbeaten start to the year with a 78-point thrashing of MHSOB on the road. The Pirates jumped the Unicorns in the first quarter piling on 7 goals to 1 and never looked back. The second and third quarters saw the intensity of Melbourne High lift up a notch; however they were unable to convert, thanks to rock solid defence from the POB back six. Gary Carr was a stand-out again playing across half back, whilst young Rob ‘Pebbles’ Bamberry continues to impress as a running defender/midfielder with excellent poise and pace. All of a sudden, the Unicorns have been drawn into the relegation battle and will be looking to improve on last week’s 4-goal shocker. 
In blustery conditions, the Panthers posted another impressive victory, setting up the four points early in the match against Glen Eira when they skipped out to a four-goal lead into the wind. Warwick Stone was a tower of strength in the ruck, but the highlight of the day was the return to the team of club legend Justin Costello, who played his 200th game two years after suffering a serious neck injury. 
Preview: An important four points up for grabs at the High School, but I think MHSOB might just break out of their funk to record a four-goal win over the struggling Williamstown. It will only be a matter of by how much when the Pirates host the Saints down at Mt Eliza. And I reckon it could be as much as 80 points! The Friars will also be comfortable victors: possibly by as many as 50 points over the Monders. Old Geelong should bounce back to beat the improved JOCs in the close one at Como.The big match is at Gillon, where NOB-SP host Old Mentonians. Having seen both teams in action this season, the Panthers have impressed me more, and should win by 10 points. 
Smokie says: It was a wonderful gesture by Glen Eira president Simon Neeson to present the match ball to Mentonian miracle man Justin Costello at the conclusion of the Saints-Panthers clash. Well done, “Doc”! 
12.5.12 
And then there was one. 
In the blink of an eye, there is but one undefeated team. The unconquered Pirates are alone at the top of the ladder after defeating the previously unbeaten Whitefriars. With the intermittent rain making for slippery conditions, it was a close low-scoring tussle at Friar Park, particularly for the first three quarters. And when the Friars booted the first two goals of the final term to draw within three points, it was well and truly “game on”. However, Peninsula seemed to have the answers all day long and they duly banged on four unanswered goals to draw away with a 34-point win. Gary Carr was a rock in defence for the Pirates, while Paul Celotti was excellent for Whitefriars. As well as savouring the hard-fought win, Peninsula president Phil Coghlan was celebrating the fact that he had six sons turn out for the Pirates last Saturday: James, Tom and Will in the ones, Luke and Eddie in the twos, and Andy in the 19s! It was a tough game of footy at Keysborough, where the Panthers played host to the first tie of the season against Ormond. Defences ruled in the heavy conditions. It was goal-for-goal, but those goals were at an absolute premium; indicative of this was that both teams scored only a point each in the second quarter! In what could have been a fitting finale to his 150th game, a mere three seconds before the siren Ormond’s Shane Metz had a shot at goal which would have secured victory. But it narrowly missed and the match ended in a stalemate. Best for the Old Mentonians were Cam Duncan, Zach Nelson, Tim Wigney and Sam Johnson, whilst Ormond’s stand-outs were Boyd Upstill, Luke Duthie and Richard Keane. After a tight first half, Glen Eira’s seven-goal third term ended St Johns hopes of breaking its duck. The Saints pulled away from their arch-rivals to record a big win, their first for 2012. Best for the Saints were Andy Spink, Justin Mills and Tom Paterson. St John’s were in the game early, but tired badly in the second half: best for JOCs were Glenn Costas, Liam Mara and 17 year-old Josh Green. Back on the familiar surrounds of Gillon Oval, North Old Boys-St Patricks looked a completely different team against MHSOB, booting seven first-term majors to put the previous week’s horror show behind them. For NOBs, big Todd Patterson (6 goals) finally got amongst them, whilst Sam O’Connor was a deserving winner of the “Past Players Mark Sheales Award”. The Unicorns were never in it, possibly thinking too much about that night’s annual “Mr. Unicorn” festivities. It’s been some years since Old Geelong tasted success at Williamstown, but they will be more than satisfied to run out convincing 58-point winners over a CYs team who are struggling to fire a shot at present. OGs best players were Angus Macdonald and Paul Ellis whilst Willy’s better players were Daniel Calman-Orr and Benny Gray. Preview: In what is quite possibly the match-of-the-round, Old Geelong host Whitefriars at Como in a contest which promises to be both entertaining and a test of just where the Oggers are at. The OGs looked much improved, but I am expecting the Friars to bounce back from the disappointment of their defeat last week and win by 14 points. Ormond should also be on the winning side of the ledger when they play host to St John’s. A win may not be too far away for the JOCs but it will not be this week; the Monders to be 30 points too good. When Williamstown and North Old Boys-St Patrick’s last met at the Fearon, the result was a draw. I reckon the Towners would settle for a measly two points at this stage of proceedings, but NOBs will not be giving any ground to their struggling opponents here, and will win by 15 points. Peninsula, who are at home only twice in the first six, are on the road again; but the Pirates form is such that they should have little trouble dispensing of MHSOB by 40 points. Apart from their round-one shocker, Glen Eira have been competitive, but the Saints will be no match for the new-look Panthers. I’m tipping Old Mentonians by 25 points. Smokie says: Many correspondents are reporting that visiting clubs have been quite keen to partake in after-match socialising. As one who does not need an excuse for a chat by the bar after the final siren, I hope this spirit continues on throughout the season. 
The bigger and stronger bodies of North Old Boys – St Patrick’s proved the difference against the younger St John’s team at Doveton. The aerial power of forwards Matt Keown (7 goals) and Scott Sleep (5) was more than a handful for JOCs defenders, and the NOBs had put the issue beyond doubt by half-time, leading by 9 goals; it was a margin they maintained throughout the second half. Best for JOCs were Rhys Dyker and Ryan Thomas. 
Forward Paul Ellis (9 goals) kicked his second consecutive bag in Old Geelong’s destruction of Glen Eira. The Saints had no answer to the more skilful Oggers who, when they win, are winning big. 
Preview: There are actually two matches of the day today, the results of which will give us a little more insight into the make-up of the final four. Whitefriars have had only one win in the past month, and so will be looking to prove they are contenders rather than pretenders when they host NOB-SP. I am expecting a return to form for the Friars at home. The second big match takes place at Como, where Old Geelong will be eager to prove their finals bona fides against a top team. I reckon the Oggers may well be fired up for this encounter, and so I am tipping them to cause a minor upset over the Panthers. 
At the other end of the table, an interesting contest looms between Glen Eira and Williamstown. I expect the Saints, at home, to overcome the CYs in a match which has huge relegation ramifications. Down the coast, Peninsula should continue on its merry way against the inconsistent Ormond, whilst the Unicorns will make it three in a row in accounting for St John’s. Smokie says: As an old forward, it warms my heart to see big bags of goals still being kicked by the spearheads in this competition!
WHAT’S WRONG WITH WILLY?