By Matt Fotia
Handling the big moments is what makes good players great. The ability to take a deep breath, block out the crowd, ignore the context around and refocus on your chosen skill.
On Sunday afternoon, around 4:45pm, in the right forward pocket at Woori Yallock, Doveton Captain Matthew Stapleton went from being a good Dove, to being one of the greats.
With Mount Evelyn and Monbulk fans hanging over the fence, having wandered over after the Rovers thrilling A Grade victory, cheering him on, Stapleton calmly trotted in and speared through the Doves ninth goal of the day.
It was crucial at the time and was even more crucial when the siren went, as Doveton ran out just six point winners over Pakenham, 9.7(61) to 8.7(55) to complete their dream run.
Whilst almost everyone else at Woori Yallock had their mind firmly fixed on the action in front of them as Stapleton lined up, the Doves skipper took a moment to drift off and channel a previous Premiership hero.
“To be honest, I thought about last years AFL Grand Final and Dom Sheed taking a similar shot – that was honestly what was going through my head,”
“The crowd was cheering me on to put it through, so I just punched her in and she went through the big ones.”
— Nick Creely (@NCreely) September 22, 2019
The nerves of steel the Stapleton showed in the dying stages weren’t on display for the entire afternoon, as both sides looked jumpy and cautious to start the 2019 Division One decider, both looking for their first taste of premiership success in over a decade.
Kicking with the wind, Doveton were unable to fully take advantage, kicking long and high down the line, which played right into the hands of the Pakenham marking defenders, in particular Dermie Yawney who started the match in spectacular fashion, leaping over tall buildings to take countless intercept marks in the first quarter.
Lachlan Batten steadied the ship with purposeful set shot after some poor Pakenham tracking and the recalled Adam Alberni got one for the Lions against the run with a creative right foot snap.
With tensions still high, the game still lacked the run, dash and daring that both sides have showed throughout the season, almost as if they were reluctant to make a mistake that may lead to their sides downfall.
It needed something to get it started, to open it up, break the run of constant stoppages and the Lions found that something when the aforementioned Yawney bit the bullet, and swung a long range cross field ball from his right back pocket to far centre wing, a move which ended with a Joel Sarlo major.
From there Pakenham threatened to punish Doveton for their sloppiness in front of goal. Halfway through the second the Doves were 1.6, with a couple missing the lot. Their ball movement lacked their usual pace and incisiveness. They needed a spark.
Step forward, Lachlan Batten.
Following a much needed Tyson Bellinger goal, the Doveton number one showed his class, getting his second for the day after a Michael Sikora mis-kick landed in his vicinity. Almost immediately after he marked at full stretch, the ball almost past him from a scuffed Mitchell Pierce shot at goal and delivered once again.
Batten is a power player. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in speed, explosiveness, strength and most importantly for Doveton on Sunday, goal sense. Whilst others around him blazed away, Batten seemed calm and collected, measuring almost everything he did to the nth degree.
He had three of their five majors at half time, and made it four of six to start the third quarter after Jeconiah Peni had a moment he’d rather forget.
After out-marking his opponent superbly on centre wing, Peni looked to switch lanes and went in board, but was only able to find Stapleton, who was beginning to grow into the game. The Doveton skipper threw precision out the window and went for distance, sending a long floating ball towards the Doveton goal.
As the ball began its descent it seemed destined for the arms of a Pakenham defender, with Chris Cardona and Jordan Stewart closing in. Eyes only for the football the pair collided and it spilt free to the one man Pakenham truly feared – Batten.
Once again his composure came to the fore as he steadied, snapped and goaled.
With his confidence peaking, Batten was willing to take anything on, and more often than not it would go to plan.
Post his opportunistic snap, the Lions began to control the game and were closing in on the Doves. It seemed as if having nothing to lose had released the shackles and Pakenham were starting to motor.
Darcy Hope goaled, so did Jake Thompson and all of a sudden they were back in drivers seat.
But yet again Batten was there to put a stop to things. As another speculative forward fifty entry went over his head into the forward pocket, Batten turned and ran, desperate to gather it before it became dead.
As he got closer it seemed unlikely he would be able to take possession and be able to fire a shot without being taken over the line himself.
Instead he decided to try his luck and swung a boot at the ball and made sweet connection, but rather than floating through post high, it swung back towards centre half forward and fell into the lap of Stapleton, and with the skipper’s cool head, the Doves lead by three points at the final turn.
The Lions found some luck of their own to start proceedings in the last, as a panicked Theisz mongrel punt floated over Jake Basa, who had placed himself perfectly behind the ball, to land in Jordan Stewart’s hands, who drilled a ball to Dermie Yawney, who had been swung forward, before he found Darcy Hope on the lead, who kicked truly.
From there Pakenham controlled the territory, but not the scoreboard. Doveton got back in front via a Sean Kelleher mark and goal, before Stapleton made the most of Jake Barclay’s hurried clearance into row Z.
But the Lions came and came again. Set shots were missed, the margin closed to six – one straight kick and with their final roll of the dice the Lions went with their trademark play.
Intercept mark on the wing, and a centring ball, which found Jordan Stewart.
Stewart showed enormous composure of his own to steady and lower his eyes, ignoring the temptation to go long in hope. He spotted two Lions on their own at half forward and went low, but overshot the kick.
Tristan Warkuss (with his double ponytails flapping in the wind) gathered the crumb and fired a handball to Tyson Bellinger, who instinctively attempted to find his right foot and in doing so is meet by two Lions tacklers and the ball spills free again, this time to Matthew Boyd.
Boyd, who had kept his trademark steady head all day, feeds a handball at almost ankle height through the oncoming white jumpers and Doves were clear of the danger.
Moments later, they weren’t just clear of the danger, they were Premiers.
President and inside midfielder Aaron Henwood, who suffered a suspected broken hand, described the game as one of the toughest he’s played in.
“It was a bloody good game, they came hard in the last,”
“It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played in,”
“It would’ve been nice if we were ten goals up at three quarter time, but at the end of the day you’ve just got win however you win it and the boys just toughed it out.”
The Doves have enjoyed their brief respite from battling the big four form the South East, but Henwood believes his club are set for a better run in 2020, with the momentum of a premiership driving them forward.
“We’ll be going up with some momentum and that makes a massive difference, we were a bit stale a couple of years ago,”
“We’ve knocked the house down, rebuilt it, moved to a new location (AFL Outer East) and it feels like a fresh start for the club,”
“Onwards and upwards.”