By Matt Fotia (@fotiamatt)
What a weekend of football with another thriller at the Kennel, the Bombers knocking off the Doves, Mount Evelyn roaring home and Powelltown locking away finals football with another massive win on their home deck.
Check out the Footy Review to see why small grounds rule and big grounds drool, how innovation won the day and how Doveton might’ve thrown away the double chance.
On Thursday afternoon the AFL Outer East announced the finals venues for the respective 2019 senior finals series. As expected the marquee fixtures for the year were placed at some of the bigger grounds in the competition, and with good reason.
Pakenham, Woori Yallock and Yarra Glen have all the key ingredients. Plenty of parking space, ample room for spectators, barbecues and alike, as well as plenty of room and access for the appropriate media outlets. Oh and of course they’re big surfaces, with an even coverage of carpet like grass.
However lets for a moment take high scores as the only prerequisite for picking a finals venue. If that were the case it would be small grounds all the way.
Big grounds allow the use of methodical systems, teams setting up behind the ball and on some occasions games are played like chess, with each team analysing each and every move, trying to break down their opponents strategy.
Smaller grounds give us more one on one contests, chaotic passages of play, high scores and genuine excitement!
To prove my point I’ve taken a look at three of the smaller grounds in the competition, Wandin, Belgrave and Powelltown and looked at their attributes.
First off the Kennel.
It’s hosted two all time classics this year against Berwick and Narre Warren, with it’s patchy grass, wide wings, short ‘fifty’ metre arcs and slight slope creating some thrilling action.
Add in the vocal support and this ground just oozes high scoring games.
In the eight games played at Wandin this season there has been a total of 1810 points scored at an average of 226.25 points per game. On four occasions both sides have kicked over 100 points and on all bar one occasion both sides managed to score over 80 points.
The charismatic, big bag loving forwards are also big fans of the doghouse.
There’s been 14 hauls of five goals or more kicked down at Clegg Road in 2019. Wandin skipper Justin Van Unen has four of them, with six against Upwey-Tecoma and Olinda Ferny Creek, five against Healesville and seven against Narre Warren at the weekend.
Daniel Gorringe has the best individual haul, with nine against Healesville.
Next off the rank – Belgrave.
The Magpie nest has had 1100 points in six games this season at an average of 183.33 points per game. Only three times has a side managed less than 75 points and in their last game against Officer there was a massive 248 points scored.
Unlike Wandin, Belgrave hasn’t been the best hunting ground for those goal hungry poachers.
There have been seven four goal efforts so far this season, but only twice has someone collected a handful (5) of goals, with Joshua Richmond and Elliot Avis the culprits. Both times the Magpies were on the losing side.
Finally there’s little old Powelltown.
The Demons play with a saw mill in the background and in recent weeks a mud pit in the middle. But this lack of firm footing hasn’t stopped the goals one iota. In eight games this season the Timber Yard has seen 1406 points at an average of 175.75 per game.
There have been over 100 points kicked on six occasions, with the Demons getting over the 120 mark on four occasions (121, 142, 168, 121). They also managed 118 against Kinglake last weekend and 105 against Yarra Junction in round one.
There’s been six bags of five or more with James Rohan and Dean Roy kicking five of those bags, Jack Garthwaite got the other one with five against Alexandra earlier in the season.
In total that’s 4.316 points at 196.18 a game across the three venues, with 22 individual bags of five goals or more – a best of nine – 11 games where both sides have scored over 80 points and 19 scores of 100.
So whilst big grounds have a lot of advantages over their smaller sisters they’ll never be able to match the end to end, high scoring drama that small grounds create.
So that’s why small grounds rule and big grounds drool.
2. Innovation wins the day
Following on from the beauty of small grounds, lets talk about that match on the weekend.
Narre Warren travelled out to Wandin, the last side from the South East to enter the cauldron that is the Kennel.
So far none of their friends from down the highway had managed to escape alive, with Berwick, Beaconsfield and Cranbourne all going down in enthralling battles with the Dogs.
The Magpies looked set to buck the trend with aplomb however, kicking the opening three goals in a canter to lead by 22 points at the first break, as Michael Collins and Trent Cody did as they liked.
Despite controlling the game on the scoreboard the flow of the game was like most games Wandin had hosted this season.
There was no flow, just violent thrusts of momentum with both sides enjoying periods where they dominated the clearances and had inside fifty after inside fifty.
Justin Van Unen set the goal kicking trend for the afternoon late in the first half. The mercurial full forward nailed two freakish goals (for the regular punter) from the clubroom pocket to finish off the second quarter, bringing the margin back to 21 points.
At the time they looked set to be the goals of the day.
His side had grabbed the momentum and they ran with it.
Surging forwards throughout the third quarter they left the Magpies in their wake, unable to lay a hand on the rabid Dogs who were physical, making the small ground even smaller with their ferocious hunt on the ball.
They kicked 10 goals to three as the darkness began to set in with David Barton kicking two classy majors, Clinton Johnston curling one in from around 30 metres out and the unusually quiet Brendan Foley one-upping his skipper with a wonderful check-side from the pocket.
Surely that one would be goal of the day.
Suddenly 18 points down the Magpies rose in the final quarter as the game tightened.
Patrick Hodgett kicked two goals to maintain the Dogs lead but Narre Warren were relentless and were beginning to play a chaotic brand themselves. Away went the precise handballs and in came the long kicks forward.
Live-wire Tom Toner found the big sticks for the third time, veteran Colin McNamara held his nerve and clever wingman Tom Miller hit the scoresheet as both sides edged towards the 20 goal mark.
Suddenly Narre Warren couldn’t kick straight. Behind after behind went through, rushed or otherwise. Six points became five, five became four.
When Daniel Jackson wrenched the ball from the pack and hooked one over his shoulder, he would’ve been sure he’d kicked his seventh and the match winner, but it wasn’t to be as Joshua James stuck out a desperate boot to rush a behind.
One point the margin.
The resulting kick in found its way to Brad Scalzo, who went to the top of the square, where the ever-present Tom Hinds spoiled once again, sending the ball upwards. Upon its descent Peter Gentile seemed destined to get first hands to the footy, but he would no doubt be tackled immediately such was the pressure from Wandin.
But the number five had different ideas. Gentile planted his left leg and swung his right boot through the ball, sending it through the big sticks. He’d swapped oval ball for round ball.
That was goal of the day.
With one foul swipe of his leg, Gentile had not only won the game for the Magpies, he’d kept Olinda Ferny Creek’s season alive and had helped Cranbourne’s chances of finals football.
As a junior he would’ve been criticised for even thinking about it. Grab the ball with your hands would’ve been the instruction.
But not today.
Today innovation won the day.
3. Bombers blow it up
Whilst all of that was going on, Emerald were casually blowing the race for third spot on the Division One Ladder wide open, as the baby bombers got the jump on Doveton before hanging on to win by 12 points in a massive win for the club, giving Jame Marshall and his men something to build off heading into 2020.
The Doves still remain a game clear of Mount Evelyn, who came from behind to knock off Officer in another classic and are now no certainty to be third come the completion of the home and away season.
They take on the top two sides in Monbulk and Pakenham over the next fortnight before travelling out to Warburton Millgrove to finish the season. An easy win on paper, but as Mount Evelyn can attest too, the Burras are a different proposition on their home patch.
Both Mount Evelyn and Officer have stronger percentages than the Doves and both have easier finishes to the season, taking on just one of the other top five sides to finish the season.
The Roos would have to knock off Pakenham to have any real hope of grabbing third spot, but stranger things have happened. Meanwhile Mount Evelyn have been close to Monbulk on two occasions, and will be hoping third time is the charm.
With the nature of the Division One top five – especially from third to fifth – being that anyone can beat anyone, the double chance is even more important and thus so is the Bombers big win this weekend.