By Brenton Mann – @BrentyMann
Northern Blues leapt into this year’s finals series on the back of their gritty 16-point win over Monash. The win puts the Blues in an ideal position to one; obtain their third straight promotion and two, their third premiership in as many years. Monash once again avoided the relegation zone and finished the year a lot better than it started. Northern’s finals eligibility was aided by Eltham’s inability to land a knockout-blow against premiership favourites Ivanhoe. The Turtles simply had to win to make finals and unfortunately kicked themselves out of contention with 13.24 (102) to 20.11 (131). St John’s gained a much needed confidence boost with a commanding 96-point win over the relegated Elsternwick. The JOCs’ performance against Ivanhoe the week previous was extremely underwhelming but were back to their attacking best in the final term against the Wicks. After an up-and-down year, Elsternwick is destined for Division 3 in 2016 after a disappointing final month of the season. Melbourne High won the battle of the mid-table with a hard-fought 18-point win over Richmond Central. The crowd at Kevin Bartlett Reserve was treated to shoot-out between Melbourne High’s “Panda” Hawking and Snakes’ spearhead Jake Munro who bagged six apiece. Both sides will retain their spot in Division 2 in 2015 in what’s been a year of consolidation for both. Old Paradians will enter this year’s final series in supreme form after their 13-goal dismantling of cellar-dwellers South Melbourne. Raiders’ forwards Dave Boundy and Michael Bellizia slotted six majors apiece. South Districts were simply ran out of steam after an improved month of football but will find themselves in Division 3 next season.
The final that many have waited for plays out from two o’clock this Saturday at the aptly named “Snakepit” at St Bernard’s College between Ivanhoe and St John’s. Ivanhoe has been the form side of 2015 and has taken all before it. The Hoes have only dropped games to Northern Blues and Melbourne High, and have beaten St John’s handsomely in both their encounters this year. Their latest was over by quarter-time when Ivanhoe systematically picked apart St Johns’ game plan and left them all at sea. It was a game of structure, Ivanhoe had it and St John’s crumbled under serious finals like pressure. The JOCs possess the talent, but in finals, talent can only get you so far. Ivanhoe’s ability to generate scores from defensive 50 and superior ball movement has the Hoes ideally placed to take out the ultimate prize. Finals footy however, is won and lost at the coalface. St John’s has the edge around the ball with players such as Carson Strobel, Anthony Brannan, Nathan Chalk and Cory Ely who will hold the key. To secure victory, St John’s must not only win the ball but control it and lock it in their forward-half for as long as possible. St John’s will no doubt send key-back Liam O’Connor to the in-form Mitch Lovell, who is coming off a bag of 13. Reuben Blackmoore-Moore looms as a danger as well, while the trio of Rohan Scott, Tim Edwards and Aaron Thornton must gel for St John’s. Ivanhoe’s imperious use of the ball is its strength and should see it move straight into a preliminary final.
VAFA glamour side Northern Blues head into this year’s finals series with an unblemished finals record and the wares to gain a third successive promotion. Old Paradians however stand in their way and also hold onto the said tools to obtain victory. Big-game players such as Dave Boundy, Michael Bellizia and James Kandilakis loom as keys for the Raiders and will be of high priority for the Blues coaching staff. For the Blues, renowned finals performer, midfielder Damon Marcon has been prolific in recent weeks and generally hits the scoreboard. Team of the year centre-half back Reed Jepson is impassable and provides plenty of rebound with Lachlan Redmond dominant inside-50. Northern has beaten the three other sides in the top-four and only as recent as two weeks ago, knocked-off the Raiders at Garvey Oval. The Raiders will no doubt look to nullify Northern’s rebound off half-back and their ability to move the ball laterally and run in waves. Paradians both a tempo game with time in possession a key stat. They will look to control the pace of the game, and methodically dismantle Northern’s frenetic attacking style. Northern hold the edge slightly after its recent win over the Raiders, while Highgate Reserve will still hold demons for Parade after their swift finals exit last year.
Old Paradians vs Northern Blues
Ivanhoe vs St John’s