By Matt Fotia
Last weekend gave us perfect conditions for football and this weekend gave us anything but, as players braved chilly winds, persistent bands of rain, dark clouds, sheets of hail and – on occasion – glaring sunshine, as the story of AFL Outer East Division One and Two season continued to be told.
It’s the Football Review.
Kinglake all but confirmed its spot in the Division Two top three on the weekend as the Lakers finished 28 point victors over Yarra Glen on the RiverPigs home deck, winning 15.13(103) to 10.15(75), with playing coach Andrew Fairchild booting six majors.
But it wasn’t all the Lakers way. During the second quarter they clung on for dear life as Yarra Glen upped their tackle pressure, caused multiple turnovers, dominated possession and had 20 inside fifties to just four.
The RiverPigs won the quarter by 17 points, but would’ve gone into the sheds at halftime aggrieved at the regularity at which Jayden Butterworth and co were able to intercept their forward forays and their own inability to capitalise on said dominance.
But the Yarra Glen forward set up played right into the Lakers hands.
Jayden Schille and Adam Moate took turns as the focal point for the men in Red and Black and whilst both men are dangerous attackers in their own right, high and/or contested marking is not their forte.
Tim Ekers popped up in the last quarter to kick three majors and showcase his ability as a forward threat but he too lacks the physical dimensions to play as the number one forward. Plus his clearance work is pretty important up the ground too.
The RiverPigs leading goal kicker for the season is Jiemba Smith, who has 27 goals and when he lines up they look much more dangerous going forward. He provides them a get out of jail option when sides are set up well behind the ball and he also allows players like Schille, Moate and Ekers to take the lesser defenders.
All three of the sides above Yarra Glen have these marking targets.
Yarra Junction have David Johnson and Tyson Wheeler, Seville have a plethora in O’Keefe, Rattray, Fraser and Neal, whilst Kinglake have the aforementioned Fairchild, Chris Horman and the impressive Aron Burns.
If Smith is set to miss a substantial amount of football then Yarra Glen need to find a replacement marking target. Nathan McCulloch showed promise when thrown down forward but seems a much more natural defender, preferring to be led to the ball. Joshua Clare jumps well at the football and could be the man to fill the void Jiemba has left, but is of slight build.
Whoever it may be, the RiverPigs need to find themselves a big, strong marking target and they need to find him quick.
2. Daimon’s Dream
Mount Evelyn proved once again how good a side they can be at home, knocking off Pakenham by four points, thanks to some accurate goal kicking, 8.3(51) to 6.11(47).
The win sees the Rovers maintain fourth position on the Division One ladder as they head into a big fortnight which sees them take on third placed Doveton and fifth placed Officer.
Daimon Kift booted two majors and was named the fourth best Rover on the weekend to continue an incredible season.
The Mount Evelyn number 12 has kicked 16 goals for the season to be Mount Evelyn’s second leading goal kicker in 2019. He has hit the scoresheet in eight of his 11 appearances this season with a best of six majors in Mount Evelyn’s big win over Belgrave.
More notably Kift has been named in the best players every single week. He’s been named best on ground twice, against Monbulk in their round two classic and the next week against Emerald. He was second best on ground in their round six lost to Officer.
Kift is one of the more versatile players in the competition, let alone the Rovers 22, with an ability to play as a marking forward, both lead up and stay at home, play as an inside midfielder, looking to bust tackles and win contested ball, as well as being one of the more reliable and cutting edge ball users for Mount Evelyn.
It’s been a somewhat topsy turvy season for the Rovers but Kift is someone that both Mark Fisher and the rest of the Mount Evelyn side can depend on – rain, hail or shine.
3. The Final Frontier
For a large chunk of the last quarter it seemed that Powelltown would be the side most likely to pinch the final spot in the Division Two top five, as the Towners held Gembrook-Cockatoo at an arms length, before the men in Green scrounged a late goal to finish three point winners, 8.7(55) to 7.10(52).
They have some steady heads (Bastow and Firrito) and some poor Powelltown goal kicking – Powelltown kicked 2.5 to 1.1 in the last quarter – to thank, but they got there in the end and now seem destined for some more finals action.
The Brookers are now a healthy chunk of percentage ahead of Alexandra and a game clear of Powelltown on the ladder, and will be hoping for an Alexandra victory next weekend when their two closest rivals do battle.
A win for the Rebels should rule Powelltown out of the running and with the Rebels taking on the top four sides in the final four weeks of the season, they too would be hard pressed to leapfrog the Brookers into the five.
Brad Coller’s men will now be looking to cross their final frontier – knocking off one of the top four – along with their quest for the complete performance.
They have two opportunities to do so before the finals series begins, when they travel to Seville in round 16 and host their likely elimination final opponents Yarra Glen in round 18.
Whilst it is of course not a prerequisite of a successful finals series to have defeated at least one of your fellow finalists, it would help Brad Coller to convince his troops that they can compete with the sides above them, if they can snare a win in at least one of those two fixtures.
Gembrook-Cockatoo have showed that they have the ability to match it with the top four at times throughout the season, but a victory gives the ‘theory’ validation – and let’s be honest – it would be better for the Brookers to head into a (likely) finals series with that sense of validation than not.