Lions roar to the 2023 Premiership

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COLLEGIANS have claimed the 2023 William Buck Premier Men’s title in convincing fashion beating modern day rivals St Kevin’s by 85 points.

The most dominant side throughout the home and away season put together their best performance of the year on the most important day in the VAFA’s calendar.

The Lions were almost asked to go the long way through September, snatching the second semi-final in the dying moments from University Blues to book the first spot in this years Grand Final. The scenario based training to come from behind was timely from coach Jared Rivers leading into September. The game itself, a big enough wake-up call for Collegians across the past fortnight to reflect on how close the feeling of losing is.

Spurred on by heartache from 2014, 2017 and 2018 Grand Final losses. There was a glint in captain Sam Hibbins’ eyes throughout this week, desperate to make amends and add his name to the history of Collegians, following in his footsteps of his father, and grandfather. Legends not only of Collegians, but the VAFA.

He won the toss and elected to use the aide of the Elsternwick Park breeze. It took 10 minutes for Dave Mirra to open the scoring, when he did kick the first of his five for the day the Lions had five shots on the board, St Kevin’s had barely gone into their forward end of the ground.

Lachie Ferguson, the only player in the Collegians line-up previous to yesterday has an A-section premiership medallion. Part of the last team to win the flag in 2012, he ripped the game away from St Kevin’s and put a dagger straight through their heart with three goals in a 10 minute burst to conclude the opening term. Everything he touched turned to Collegians gold at his scintillating best.

Ferguson would go onto claim the Jock Nelson Medal in a best on ground performance, all set up by his incredible nouse around goal, his attitude towards the contest and having a hand in bringing other forwards into the game.

A 37-point quarter time lead left St Kevin’s coach Anthony Lynch with some headaches at quarter time. However, with the breeze favouring the scoreboard end SKOB was able to open the second term with a Sam Tucker goal in the opening minute, followed up by Paddy “Sam” Kerr’s out of mid-air heroics to bring the margin back to four goals.

For every question the reining premiers asked of its challenger, the Lions were able to answer. Two minutes after Kerr kicked his first, Ferguson added his fourth. When Kerr kicked his second, Ed Greene let out a hearty roar in front of the faithful within 90 seconds, and as Ben Mansfield brought St Kevin’s under four goals, Campbell Walker bang on half time pushed the margin back out in the Lions favour to 28 points.

From the Mansfield goal at the 20-minute mark of the second term, until Shaun Kennedy kicked St Kevin’s sixth goal at the 25 minute mark of the final quarter. St Kevin’s players, coaches and fans had front row seats to the Lions onslaught. An incredible 10 goals in a row to seal one of the clubs most famous victories.

After opening the day with the first goal, Dave Mirra took ownership of the third quarter with three more goals. Midfielders Kenny Ong and Viv Michie also hit the scoreboard. And at three quarter time, with the margin at 73 points, Collegians were 30 minutes away from claiming their 18th A-section premiership in style, in front of a big crowd at Elsternwick Park.

Handsome Dipper, Josh Heriot, too professional to call it a foregone conclusion. He enjoyed every kick, mark and handball the last quarter had to offer. As did the fans around the grounds as Collegians put to bed the heartbreaking losses of 2017 and 2018 to St Kevin’s, the semi-final losses of 2019 and 2022. Four years of pain washed away in 120 minutes of football.

At their clinical best, as they have been all season long. Led by the calmest coach in the competition Jared Rivers. This side has taken it all before them in 2023.

You cannot discount the rare air that St Kevin’s sits in. Despite the loss, the club has reached five consecutive William Buck Premier Grand Finals. A feat that’s only been achieved by three other clubs prior to them. The history was against SKOB, they’re now the fourth side to reach the Grand Final from fourth since 2014, and fallen short.

Injuries to Tom Jok, and Phil Edgar through the finals proved costly. Finding a way to advance through adversity in the Preliminary Final was an exceptional effort. Against the Lions on Grand Final day, trailing by 37 points at quarter time, a bridge too far.

Sam Critchley fought valiantly down in defence, Cam Hodges willed himself to every contest. Plugger Lynch is a proud coach, he will naturally be disappointed with the result, but his team left no stone unturned in search of this years title.

Collegians go into 2024 as the red-hot favourites to back up what they have done this year. They’ll have to do so without Lachie Ferguson, Dave Mirra and Al Fahie. Three heart and soul players of the Lions announced immediately after the game to VAFA Media, and the playing group this year was their swan song.

What a way to finish. With the club in the strongest position it’s ever been in.

WATCH THE GRAND FINAL FULL MATCH REPLAY >

COLLEGIANS     6.7-43    9.8-62    16.13-109    19.16-130
ST KEVIN’S      1.0-6    5.4-34    5.6-36    6.9-45

GOALS
Collegians: L. Ferguson 5, D. Mirra 5, E. Greene 2, V. Michie 2, K. Ong, J. Watson, C. Walker, J. Bazzani, W. Pocknee.
St Kevin’s: P. Kerr 2, S. Tucker, B. Mansfield, C. Hodges, S. Kennedy.

BEST
Collegians:
 L. Ferguson, D. Mirra, S. Beilby, C. Cassidy, S. Hibbins, V. Michie
St Kevin’s: C. Hodges, S. Critchley, S. Tucker, A. Richards