By Matt Fotia
Two home and away seasons completed, week one of finals done and the race for fifth in the Premier Division remains alive – just. It’s the Football Review.
1. Cometh the Moment
Powelltown are through to the second week of the Division Two Finals Series after they overcame a strong Gembrook-Cockatoo outfit to run out 26 point winners at Yarra Junction on the weekend.
The Brookers had the better of the first half, with Michael Firrito looking ominous despite having hamstring troubles. The boys in Green and White were moving the ball with more speed and much more venom, whilst Powelltown were reliant on the run and carry of Rhys Johnson and the efficiency of Dean Roy down forward.
Making things worse was an injury to skipper and lion hearted ruckman Ben Wratten who dislocated his troublesome knee.
With Gembrook in front by 16 points midway through the third quarter and threatening to take the game away from Powelltown three men stood up when their team needed them.
First of all it was Jason Walker.
The bulky number 54 was tasked with rucking the final three quarters more or less on his own, against one of the best ruckman of 2019 – Colin Bastow.
Walker not only performed admirably, he owned the battle, using his body to perfection nudging the Gembrook number 44 under the ball and on more than one occasion taking the ball directly out of the ruck.
He managed one goal and a number of crucial clearances via this method. Considering he wouldn’t have expected a starring role in the ruck at the start of the day, Walker’s effort is even more impressive.
Secondly Josh Johnson.
Johnson was one of Powelltown’s marquee signings over the off-season, with his skill by hand and foot something the Demons had lacked in 2018. He’s played 14 games this season and has only been in the best players on three occasion with just three goals to his name as well.
Like Walker, with Gembrook on the verge of blowing the game open, Johnson came to life, finding the football and producing some vital and incisive disposals to cut open the Brooker’s defence. Spinning in and out of traffic, in full flow you could understand the excitement the Towners had when he put pen to paper in the summer.
Named best on ground for the first time this season, it’s a perfect case of better late than never.
Finally Jack Garthwaite, a player who seems ready made for finals. The high marking defender was crucial in the first half as he and his other backmen ensured that Gembrook-Cockatoo weren’t in front by more at the main change by drifting off his opponent to mark in front of Firrito or Gembrook-Cockatoo’s young gun Josh Tilly.
Then, in the third quarter as his side began to wrestle back the momentum Garthwaite was flung forward in attempt to make the most of the Demon’s period of dominance.
And make the most of it he did. The number 16 kicked four goals in the second half with the Brookers helpless, unable to find a match up mobile enough, strong enough or tall enough to go with one of the best players in competition, let alone the division.
Powelltown are now officially a big chance of premiership glory. They’ve beaten all bar one side left in the running and are riding a massive wave of momentum.
Plus, they’ve got some big name players who live by the phrase – Cometh the moment, Cometh the man.
2. Heroic Healesville
They didn’t win on the weekend Healesville, but they showed exactly why they’re one of the more well respected clubs in local football circles.
Fresh off of an almost 200 point loss, just one weekend away from the end of what has been one of, if not the toughest season in their recent history the Bloods could’ve been excused for rolling over, eyeing off the final siren with eager anticipation, ready to start an off-season period where the only football they have to worry about is the big leagues – should their side still be alive.
But roll over they did not, the Bloods came from over five goals down on two seperate occasions to fall just two points short of their familiar rivals.
At quarter time Wandin had kicked seven goals four, with skipper Justin Van Unen looking ominous – he went on to kick nine goals to be fair – and another big loss looming.
But they willed themselves back into the contest to be just two kicks behind at half time, taking advantage of the wind, like many sides did on Saturday.
Yet again they found themselves well behind, this time 33 points down as one more quarter of football remained in 2019.
And once again they came. Edging closer, Wandin beginning to tense up and the possibility of an unlikely win becoming stronger and stronger. Alas it wasn’t to be.
Alex Fraraccio kicked three majors, whilst Simon Gordon, Max Donegan and Jason Savage managed two. Skipper Nic Mende and Joe Roe-Duggan were their best two.
2019 is now done and dusted for Healesville and they are no doubt happy to see the back of it. But there are positives.
They’ve found some younger players who have in turn been given exposure to some top football. Their junior program is strong, their women look likely to bring home a premiership – adding to their veterans flag – and they grabbed a second girls premiership on Sunday.
Right now the club is hurting, but their spirit is alive and well and the future of the whole club looks bright.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Five Different Flavours
Division One is finally done. 16 rounds, a couple of split ones and a top five thats been more or less decided for two months. But now we’re ready for the big time, as the sun comes out (hopefully), the crowds increase and the footy intensifies.
Let’s take a look at each of the top five and their biggest weapon as excitement builds.
Officer finished up in fifth spot as they were unable to overcome Pakenham for the third time this season. The Roos won’t be too fussed though as Doveton’s win over Warburton Millgrove meant they were always going to play Mount Evelyn this weekend.
They’ve finished the season as the number one ranked offence, scoring 1480 points, 120 more than second ranked Pakenham.
They’ve got a number of players capable of kicking multiple goals with skipper Matthew Clarke leading the way with 36 for the year. Will Hanson has 31, Brent Moloney 27 and veteran Ben Tivendale has 21.
If Officer can get off the leash early they have enough firepower to knock off anyone and are magnificent to watch in full flight.
Their opponents this weekend, Mount Evelyn, operate on a surge mentality. They apply pressure in numbers, run in waves and crumb off of big man Robert Hartfield with a deadly speed. They can also hit in a flash, scoring heavily in a short space of time.
This was most recently highlighted when they booted 10.6 to Officer’s 3.5 a few weeks in the second half, they came from behind to win by a couple of goals.
Doveton finished a game clear of the Rovers in third place and will face Monbulk, a side they beat handily last time they played each other.
The Doves have a strong midfield core which include premiership Bulldog Matthew Boyd, club president Aaron Henwood, captain Matthew Stapleton and classy operator Lachy Batten. If ruckman Michael Sikora can get back in time for the finals these four and others will get first access to the football.
If they use it well they give powerful mid sized forward James Gascard an opportunity to exploit his abilities one on one.
Monbulk were the early front runners in the division before having a flat spot at the beginning of August, but a big win over Belgrave and a gritty victory against Mount Evelyn sees them enter the finals brimming with confidence.
The Hawks are a system based side under Andrew Williams.
They set up very well behind the ball and have freedom to pick off opposition kicks high up the ground. The cover space well, close in and then pounce, making teams feel claustrophobic. This was best implemented when they knocked off Pakenham in round five, destroying the Lions.
If a soldier goes down, they don’t panic. They just replace him with another one.
The Lions finished a comfortable 10 percentage points ahead of the Hawks and are a complete unit. They have star players, but also a core group who can play in any number of roles around the ground making them hard to match up on.
They love to keep the ball and they do so with some elite skills. On bigger grounds these skills are primed to come out on show as they ping the ball around like a European football team, not a south east Aussie rules side.
The top five has been set for a while, but the premiership is still anyone’s for the taking.