By Matt Fotia
Perhaps the two clubs that have benefited the most from the new found AFL Outer East, Doveton and Pakenham, are set for another duel – this time for some silverware – as both sides meet in the Division One Grand Final at Woori Yallock this Sunday, with big crowds in tow.
Doveton, who finished in third spot on the ladder just one game ahead of Mount Evelyn, took the quickest route they could to the Grand Final, knocking off Monbulk in the Qualifying Final at Beaconsfield before stunning the Lions at Woori Yallock in the Second Semi Final, as heavy rain fell.
Football Manager Martin Stillman oversaw the Doves training session on the weekend before heading out to Holm Park to find out which side his men would face in the big dance.
“We had a training session on the weekend which was followed by the traditional bacon and egg rolls with Orange Juice,”
“We’ve got a squad of 30, who have had a lighter week on the track, trying to maximise the benefit of the week off playing,”
“There was a lot of supporters down there and we were all out of there by 11am after a 9am start,”
“The coaches all went down to watch the Preliminary Final, but it was optional for the players – some players get a lot out of watching the opposition, others prefer to spend time with family and not think about the game.”
A Grand Final berth looked a long way off back in Round 13 when the Doves went down to Emerald, who finished the season in sixth place, five games behind the men in Green and Black.
But Daniel Charles’ men bounced back the following week, comfortably beating Monbulk. It signalled the start of some red hot form from the Doves, who have since gone on to defeat the Hawks again, this time after giving up a five goal head-start, and the minor premiers Pakenham.
Stillman says a number of factors have played a part in the Doves late season resurgence, but the main contributor was the continuity they’ve finally been able to achieve.
“I think over a period of time we had a team that kept changing, so there was no continuity on and off the field,”
“As the list started getting back towards the latter part of the season having a consistent 22 on the park really helped us start to play some good football,”
“It was a combination of factors that have led to us playing our best football at the right time of year though, which is advantageous.”
The Doves are on track to perform the ultimate rags to riches story, having finished the final ever SEFNL season in last position – winless. Despite the low ebb they’ve recovered from in 2019, the Doves list still has plenty of big game experience.
“There’s a lot of players that have played VFL football, Eastern Football League Division One football, TAC Cup or Nab League, so every player has a varying amount of experience,”
“Some players have played 200 plus senior games, others are playing their third senior game, so there’s a variety and each player deals with the pressures individually,”
“We spoke with the players about not thinking about the game too much and too early, but I think we’re confident in terms of the players experience.”
Doveton’s fan base is a strong one and it is expected that a large majority of the town will be making the trip up the Warburton Highway to Woori Yallock for the second time in a fortnight, as they prepare for the possibility of a premiership.
“We’ve sold out of club apparel and there’s a number of buses being organised to and from Woori Yallock,”
“The supporters have really gotten behind this playing group and that’s been evident over the past three to four weeks, with past players and supporters at training,”
“There’s a lot of history, it’s a very proud club and playing in the Grand Final means so much to so many people.”
For Pakenham, last week wasn’t a light one, as the Lions prepared for a Preliminary Final showdown with Monbulk, a clash no one would’ve anticipated at the end of the home and away season, with both sides finishing with just two losses over the course of the regular season.
The Lions were able to get the hop on the Hawks, before holding on to their lead with a certain level of composure, as they booked their spot in the decider, albeit a week later then they had originally decided.
Coach Ash Green says his side knew they needed to be on their game from the start, such is their respect for a Monbulk side that led the Division for the vast majority of 2019.
“Sides that get the good start usually go on to have a good game and we know Monbulk are a class act, and fortunately we were able to get that jump,”
“It was pleasing for the boys because they’ve worked hard throughout the year.”
The Lions kicked five of the first six goals in Sunday’s Preliminary Final with surprise forward target Liam Tyrrell booting the first three for the match, and four majors in the first 15 minutes.
Green says the ability for his side to throw players in any position has been a strength of theirs all season.
“We’ve been fortunate that we can throw multiple players into multiple positions and in the last couple of years Liam has been an undersized ruckman and he’s played down back this year and done it really well,”
“But I think with the match ups on the weekend we were able to throw him down there and it worked in the first quarter – it’s really pleasing because he’s really good kid and he’s worked really hard at his game this year and got the rewards.”
Whilst Pakenham haven’t come from the lows that this weekends opponents have, they are one of the clubs who have been very pleased with their new place in the structure. The knowledge that they would be playing against new clubs and would be given respite in terms of trips to Kalora Park and Edwin Flack Reserve meant the Lions were able to not only retain their young list from 2018, but also add to it.
“We really didn’t know about the opposition sides, didn’t know about the grounds and for ourselves and Doveton we’ve struggled in the last couple of years, so the change has helped us retain players and recruit,”
“We’ve been impressed with the standard of football, almost all sides have beaten a side above them on the ladder and this weekend two proud clubs meet up in the decider.”
That proud club taught the Lions a lesson in wet weather football two weeks ago and Green is first to admit that.
But he can also see the benefit of getting extra finals experience into his young side.
“They (Doveton) wanted it more,”
“They hit us pretty hard, we made some skill errors and they took their chances on the scoreboard and we didn’t,”
“At the end of the day you’ve got to get it through the goals, but we re-assessed and have bounced back,”
“Off the top of my head only James Harrison has played in a premiership (at Berwick) and most of the other guys haven’t had that much success,”
“And look that can work against you, but after the last two games they’ll now understand it (finals) a bit better.”
Green, like Stillman, is also expecting a large – vocal – crowd to descend upon Woori Yallock as both clubs desperately await a trophy for the cabinet.
“It’s great to get people out there (Woori Yallock), you know people that have been involved in both cubs for many years, so it’ll be very vocal and all that sort of stuff,”
“It’ll be a red hot game.”
Leo Groenewegen – AFL Outer East Commissioner / Commentator / Gembrook-Cockatoo Great and Ex North Melbourne Player
Pakenham by 12 points
The Lions have been a class side all year, who should rise to the occasion.
BOG – Jake Barclay (Pakenham)
Matthew Fotia – AFL Outer East Media Manager / Commentator
Pakenham by 24 points
The Lions will have learnt from their mistakes a fortnight ago, and the weather forecast (at time of tipping) reads well for their brand of football. However, no matter who wins, it’ll be a great football story.
BOG – Zac Stewart (Pakenham)
MR X – Mysterious Figure
Doveton by 8 points
The Doves are on a roll and their maturity will come to the fore.
BOG – Lachlan Batten (Doveton)