The closest survival in recent history

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From here, all the focus will be on the remaining four teams left to fight out for the 2023 William Buck Premier Men’s premiership.

Before that, the Old Melburnians are the toast of the weekend having fought and scrapped their way to a 61 point win over the Caulfield Grammarians

The result, whilst expected, was enough for Paul Satterley’s men to continue on in William Buck Premier in 2024. 

Going into the match OM’s needed to win and make up 4% on Old Haileybury. The sum of 60 points was the margin. To win by 61 means they fulfilled their side of the ledger. 

Old Haileybury losing to St Kevin’s was the next box that needed to be ticked, and the percentage hit the Bloods felt was enough for OM’s to retain their spot. A St Kevin’s victory of 50 points was enough. 

The gap of 1.62% between the two sides is the closest finish in the relegation battle for over a decade. 

Old Haileybury will feel devastated to be going back down to Premier B after the return to William Buck Premier this year. 2023 proved to be a fruitful one for Daniel Ward’s men, he demanded respect, and rightfully earned it from the opening round of the year. 

Players like Josh Gasparini, Brodie Steele, Lachie Treverton have had brilliant individual years. Hugo Nosiara and Andreas Stefanakis are exciting young prospects. And then of course, there’s the Seccull boys; Rayner, Durras and Brede. The heart and soul of the Bloods. 

The growth, experience and learning the Bloods will take from 2023 will hold them in good stead, and will go into 2024 in Premier B as rightful favourites to bounce back to the VAFA’s top flight. 

Old Melburnians have had the year from hell. Five straight losses to start the year, they were on the backfoot early. A staggering 14 consecutive first quarters lost. Players injured left, right and centre. They finished with 54 players used throughout the year, the most of any side. 

In Jackson Paine’s first year as skipper, he didn’t die wondering and left nothing in the tank. Ben Harding, the #1 possession player in the game will be hungrier than ever to write the wrongs of 2023 in 2024. 

Caulfield Grammarian’s fate was sealed earlier on in 2023. A one-win season in Bluey McKenna’s inaugural season. It might take a bit of time for the Fields, the strength of the under 19 program is on show, short term pain for long term gain is the vision for the club. 

The Fields have had makeshift teams, particularly in the back half of the season. Bluey is a proud footballer, and coach. And the club’s willingness to front up every week, and fight to the best of their ability will leave him feeling the ultimate pride as they lead into the 2024 pre-season. 

The middle of the table battle between the Old Xaverians and Old Brighton has seen the Xav’s send off James Byrne on a high-note with a 28 point win. 

The whispers are starting to get louder around Dan Hannebery as the next coach of the club. This column is of the opinion that Hanners has one more year left in him on the park, and could be influential in a playing jumper in 2024 if the red and black mafia want to climb back into the top four where they believe they belong. 

Whilst the OM’s used the most players for the season, the Old Xaverians may have used the most players in a single season in the clubs history. 51 players pulled on the jumper in 2023, unheard of when it comes to this famous club. 

Jed Feneley is the only player to play every game this year. The best and fairest count will be an entertaining night. Does Dan Robinson walk away with the most votes? Could Marcus Stavrou win it from 12 games? And then of course there’s Charlie MacIsaac, another five goal haul yesterday.

With Footscray still alive in the VFL finals, MacIsaac’s season might not be completely over. 

Likewise at Old Brighton, Dan Donati rolled through a lengthy playing list throughout the year. Tom Fisher, the only player to be a constant each weekend. Young gun Max Benier finished the year on a high, it may be his best performance in the senior side that will hold him in good stead leading into the pre-season. 

The top four went to work cementing their spots ahead of the finals next weekend. Collegians are the minor premiers. We already knew that, but cemented to the top after beating Old Scotch in a highly skilled, fast paced game of footy at the Harry Trott Oval. 

Watching on from the sidelines was Sam Hibbins (captain), Dave Mirra (leading goalkicker), Dylan Thomas. All three are set to return next week. Replacements ready after Will Mayhood (concussion) and Ben Howard (shoulder) finished the game on the bench. 

The game itself was played in a finals-like atmosphere. A perfect spring Saturday. The speed on the footy. Aiden Franetic in game 100 pushing the Cardinals forward, Kenny Ong doing the same for the Lions. 

Matt Warren put in his best performance as he marshalled the defenders to keep locked on Tyler Sellers and James Tarrant. Luke McCleary provided the Lions with plenty of run across half-back, and they were conscious of changing angles to unsettle the Scotch defence. 

The Cardinals, while disappointed to lose the game and find themselves finishing third, will be buoyed by the way they faced off against the benchmark of the competition. Gettable chances in front of goal proved to be costly, they did get within five points through the third term before a Teigan Otter goal on the three quarter time siren broke their hearts. 

Casey being bundled out of the VFL finals paves the way for Ryan Valentine to be available next weekend against St Kevin’s. A three pronged attack. It will be the first time St Kevin’s will have to combat the trio in the same side. 

University Blues enter the finals with a double chance after securing second spot with a 20 point win over the rivals University Blacks

For much of the afternoon the game was played on the terms of the Blacks, at one point the margin beyond 25 points. An inspiring third term, led by Tom Young (five goals) and Tom Cutler (four goals) brought the Blues back into the game, and then carried the momentum through the final term to take the four points. 

Blacks farewelled a champion yesterday, Josh Steadman. He deserves to be rightfully applauded for the time, energy, and effort he has put into his career, the Uni Blacks and the VAFA. 

Making his debut in 2012, he went onto play 133 senior games, over 180 in total. Captain for five seasons, and a two-time Big V representative. While he wasn’t able to achieve the ultimate senior premiership, he has been largely seen as the competitions #1 ruckman whether Blacks be in Premier B or William Buck Premier. 

He will leave a lasting legacy at the club, and a hole that will be tough to fill. All of us at VAFA Media congratulate Steadman on a terrific career. 

Uni Blues have finished second. The one team that’s largely gone under the radar when it comes to the top four. The plethora of talent in the team, it’s a spot they should be in, and a double chance vindicates that. 

Collegians await them, they were embarrassed in the most recent outing against the Lions. Expect a much stronger showing next weekend. 

St Kevin’s are in the finals. That’s a statement of fact that sends shudders up the spine of every opposition club. 

Between 2011 – 2014, SKOB were regulars in the Premier B finals series. Unable to breakthrough for that elusive win. Once they did, they won the flag in 2015. 

And haven’t looked back. 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022. Each time they’ve made the finals, they’ve reached the big dance. A record of three wins, and one loss. 

20 players from the 2022 premiership took to the field yesterday. Lachie Farrugia and Conor Ross, the only two that aren’t there this year. 

Josh Wallis (2017 premiership player), and Mitch Wallis have been significant inclusions in 2023, two guys who have more than enough “big-game experience”. Robert Larcher, has been a regular on Plugger Lynch’s whiteboard in his debut senior season, he has shown class beyond his years and won’t be overawed on the big stage.

For every experienced player in the St Kevin’s line-up, the Cardinals will be back in William Buck Premier finals for the first time since 2014. They’re on the hunt for their first A-Section trophy since 1978, the history right now is irrelevant for Mark Gnatt, it’s all about these four quarters, and the future.