William Buck Premier: Great Expectations

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By Andrew Leonard – @Lennytalk

Congratulations to Old Trinity who have made their first ever Premier Grand Final. We have come to expect a few things in William Buck Premier in 2015. Old Trinity storming home is one. If you haven’t hung out the back of the Old Trinity huddle at three quarter time when they are facing a deficit – you might have one more chance this year – witnessing the belief and energy amongst the group would galvanise even the most pessimistic supporter. They did it again last Sunday in their come from behind win against St Bernards. St Bernard’s had a truckload of chances, probably should have won but in the end they lost their third straight final of the Anthony Rock era.

At Sportscover Arena, Uni Blues ended the De La Salle fairytale run by 22 points. Outmuscled at the contest and out gunned both in attack and defence by Jack Watts, De La suffered their first loss since May, but lost few admirers in the process. De La Salle never gave in, however the extra cog the Blues midfield had was telling and the previously mentioned Watts took the game away from De La Salle in the third quarter with four goals. Watts then prevented multiple De La attacks from ending up in goals in the final quarter too.

The wind was a factor in both semi-finals, so we can put a line through the fact that it is only ever windy at Sportscover Arena. At quarter-time at Highgate, St Bernards had managed just 0.6 having had first use of the breeze. As the siren sounded Old Trinity players didn’t mask their delight at holding the Snowdogs goalless. The chances for St Bernards were not all guilt edged, but nevertheless, some of them should have been kicked. There was nothing in it at half time, as St Bernards kicked a vital goal into the breeze to trail by a point at the main break. It would be the only goal kicked to that end as Old Trinity was kept scoreless in the third quarter. Shaun Clarke was dominating the ruck contests and Tom Sullivan’s purple patch continued. Finally the forward entries for St Bernards were converted, although a return of 4.9 was still wasteful.

Old Trinity, crucially kicked early goals in the last quarter as the Howells, Hunts and Gabe Hamilton ran and carried like there was no tomorrow. Harry Tinney moved forward and provided an option and with less than ten minutes to go Old Trinity’s final wave came. What could St Bernard’s have done? Put 18 men behind the ball? We will never know, but Old Trinity’s ability to haul in a deficit is breathtaking. St Bernard’s will rightly be shattered. Their last two finals have netted scores of 5.18 and 5.22. Wind has played a part, but the opposition was not as wasteful on both occasions. It was highlighted early in the year, but St Bernard’s might want to call on former favourite son, Matthew Lloyd to ensure they are on target this week.

At Sportscover Arena, goals were easier to find, and luckily both sides didn’t waste their chances. So often wind affected finals at Sportscover, are decided by one side missing out on their use of the prevailing breeze. This wasn’t the case. Blues jumped out, De La Salle responded to be within range at half time. Crucially though, De La Salle seemed to change tack late in the second quarter. Down a man with David Lowe off after a report, De La spent five minutes chipping the ball around rather than rushing the ball forward. Perhaps avoiding Watts who seemed to have glue on his hands was the goal, but it was strange considering they could have pushed to take the lead.

Blues had four goals in the first eight minutes of the third and managed seven for the quarter. It was a telling blow. Despite the best efforts of Sam Williams, Matthew Fieldsend and Tim Kovess, De La just couldn’t kick enough goals. Trailing by 46 points at the final change, De La closed to within 16 points, but Blues steadied. Marshall Rippon seemed to be everywhere and when he tired, Ross Young, Jeremy Mugavin and Pete Summers picked up the slack. De La Salle will go into summer with plenty of confidence and hopefully Xavier Murphy and Antony Forato decide to don the blue and gold again next year too.

Preliminary Final Preview

The tendency is to jump on the side that won their final over the side that lost and has a double chance. That is often the case in the top league, but the VAFA is littered with examples of teams exiting in straight sets. St Bernard’s know all about this after last year and they will be hell-bent on not letting it happen again. Blues fell short against the Snowdogs in both matches this year by five points so there is little between the sides. In both matches, Blues were on their last legs in terms of injuries, carrying a depleted bench to the final siren. Blues were very impressive last week and their midfield is equal, if not superior, to St Bernards. The Snowdogs certainly have a few more options than De La did should Jack Watts catch fire again. Conversely at the defensive end is probably where Blues are light on when faced with the tall St Bernard’s forward line. The skipper, Hugh Vickers-Willis has lifted his game in the past month, but he and his defensive cohort will need their mids to apply enough pressure to ensure the ball is not coming in lace out.

This St Bernard’s side is too good to lose a fourth straight final in two years, but despite the story on paper, Uni Blues have had my attention all year. Blues to win through to take on Old Trinity by 17 points.

Tip

St Bernards v University Blues