Michael Shillito's Grand Final Review

Article and Photos by Michael Shillito

Grand Final Day had come around, the climax of a marathon season. In Premier Division, the combatants would be Manly and Pennant Hills. The same two teams had fought out last year’s decider, with Manly taking out the premiership.
Throughout this year’s home and away season, Manly had led the way. Only dropping one game, and with a massive percentage, they swept all before them. But Pennant Hills weren’t all that far behind; only losing their two games against Manly. And in the Second Semi-Final, Pennant Hills got an early jump in wet conditions, and Manly only just fell over the line.

Saturday saw Blacktown International Sportspark bathed in sunshine, the ground looking a treat. There was a breeze, slightly favouring the railway end, but there was nothing in the conditions that would detract from the game.
It wasn’t the conditions that made the first quarter so low scoring. Instead, it was the extremely physical opening. No quarter was asked or given, as both sides ferociously bumped each other. Loose men were hard to find, easy possessions even harder. And when either side dared to venture into their forward 50, opposition defenders were there to clear the ball out of the danger zone.
Three minutes into the game, each side had a behind. But only one more point would be scored in the next 20 minutes of relentlessly close-checking football. The clock was deep in time-on before the deadlock would finally be broken. When it came, it came unexpectedly; with Tim Pyle deviating from the game plan that both sides had employed to bomb it long to open space not far from goal. And Manly captain Tyrone Armitage won the race to the ball, and from there it was a simple task to run to goal and put the ball through.
So it was first blood to the Giants, but it had taken most of the quarter to get the goal. And there wasn’t time for another, but only just; as Lachlan Kilpatrick was running towards goal when the siren sounded.

Giants by seven points at quarter time. But the second quarter would see them burst out of the blocks and establish a match-winning lead.
Armitage, the goal-scorer in the first term, was instrumental in getting the lead extended as he showed plenty of pace to run inside 50, have a bounce before firing a handball; the ball then finding its way to a running Jack Parker, who fired the ball from the pocket in front of the scoreboard and slammed it through.
Back in the centre, the Giants got the break and the ball was shot down to Lachlan Kilpatrick on the lead. A chest mark within range, stepping back and comfortably kicking truly.
Five minutes later, from a boundary throw-in, Brayden Fowler sharked the ball and snapped over his shoulder. 26 point lead to the Giants, and their legion of fans, whose numbers appeared to be swelling further with each passing minute, were becoming more vocal.
Pennant Hills must have been feeling that the world was conspiring against them. Clearing the ball out of defence, the wind picked up across the field as Aaron Crisfield kicked and the ball sailed out on the full. And when Kilpatrick’s kick looked set to also sail out, the wind died down to keep the ball in play. The bounce just wasn’t running the Demons’ way but was going with the Giants. And a lightning snap at goal by James Brain added further to the Demons’ misery.
The Demons had been unable to manage a goal as the clock approached time-on in the second term. But when the goal came, it came with a touch of comedy. Matt Carey had a downfield free 25 metres from goal but a shocking kick failed to register a goal. But then some push and shove broke out, nothing too serious; but a free kick was picked out and Carey had another shot. And this time he put it through.
But it would be the Demons’ only goal of the first half, and the Giants were leading by 26 points at half time. The sun was setting, and the lights had taken over by the time the Giants emerged from the rooms through a guard of honour that stretched all the way into the centre square.

As the third term got under way, the Giants sitting on a comfortable lead, the game threatened to drift away from the Demons. They desperately needed a lifeline, and it came at the ten minute mark as Sam Zikman stood tall in a one-out marking contest to grab the ball 25 metres from home. Standing and delivering, Zikman kicked the goal to cut the margin to 20 points.
But the Demons could get no closer. They had their chances, but were unable to make anything of them. At the other end, the Giants were unable to score a goal for the quarter. With a 21-point margin at the last change, a Demon win wasn’t impossible; but when they had only managed two goals in three quarters, it was hard to imagine where four goals in the final term would come from.
The Demon forward line, effective for so much of the season, struggled to find any coherency when it was needed; and with Manly’s defence being rock-solid all day, the Demons never looked a chance to reel in the deficit. Even when the Pennant Hills midfield had their stronger passages of play during the third term, the Demons could only manage a solitary goal.
The Manly crowd had moved into the grandstand by the time the last quarter started, and the roar they made throughout the final term would have to be closest to the loudest for many years in Sydney footy. And they had plenty to scream about during the final term, a quarter which was played out almost entirely on the Giants’ forward line.
A free kick for a push-out in the opening minutes of the final term saw Thomas Thurgarland kick the goal that put the outcome of the game beyond doubt. Daniel Dickerson got himself on the scoreboard, and Thurgarland kicked his second in the dying minutes. And there were numerous more opportunities for the Giants, with ten behinds being registered in the final term. Not that it mattered, as the game was safely won.

The siren sounded, and Manly’s near-perfect season was complete.
In the moments immediately after the siren, scenes of jubilation ring out over the ground. Players, coaches, volunteers and supporters embrace. A mission that starts in pre-season, and is played out over several months, comes to fruition. A massive circle of humanity forms and the team song is triumphantly sung.
At the same time, the other club’s players slump to the ground. It’s an empty feeling, to have come so close; and yet the ultimate prize does not come. And much as everyone tries, there is no consolation.
The ecstacy and the agony. Just metres away from each other in physical terms, yet a galaxy away in emotional terms. Such is the stakes of football’s highest prize on the game’s greatest day.

The final margin was 46 points. Anthony Robertson was awarded the Rod Podbury Medal as best on ground; while James Brain and Thomas Thurgarland were also influential in the outcome. Damien Dell’Aquila, Tom Angel and Ranga Ediriwickrama had worked tirelessly all evening for the Demons.

But this was Manly’s night. In just their second season in Premier Division, they’ve already won back to back premierships; after having won back to back titles in Division One before promotion.
Four flags in a row is already a dynasty. And with a playing list that’s still quite young, if the Giants can keep the bulk of the squad intact, it’ll take something special to knock them off their lofty perch.

Manly-Warringah 1.2 5.6 5.10 8.20 (68)
Pennant Hills 0.1 1.4 2.7 2.10 (22)
Goals : Manly –
T Thurgarland 2, L Kilpatrick, J Brain, J Parker, B Fowler, D Dickerson, T Armitage. Pennant Hills – S Zikman, M Carey.
Best : Manly – A Robertson, J Brain, T Thurgarland, D Stroud, C Johnston, A Buncle. Pennant Hills – D Dell’Aquila, T Angel, R Ediriwickrama, M Carey, B Urwin, S Widmer.
At Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 20th September 2014.

Division One
Balmain took on UTS in the Division One Grand Final, and it was Balmain who emerged with the spoils, taking out the title by 16 points.
A tightly-contested first quarter saw just one goal apiece, with scores tied up at quarter time. But the Tigers took control of the contest in the second term and established what would be a match-winning break with three unanswered goals to take a 22-point lead into half time.
The game opened up in the third quarter, which became a display of free-flowing and entertaining football. The scoreboard was ticking over with regularity as the Tigers attacked hard in their quest to put an insurmountable lead on the board and the Bats battled hard to keep themselves in the contest. With five goals to four, the Tigers had stretched their lead to 34 points at the last change.
An early goal in the last quarter put the game beyond doubt. But the Tigers were visibly tiring in the final term, while the Bats were full of running. The Bats would kick four goals in the final term, playing their best football in the last quarter; but the Balmain lead was too much for UTS to run down.
Brad Plug was presented with the best on ground medal, while Chris Bolt and Aaron Cottrell also picked up plenty of the ball for the Tigers. UTS were well served on the day by the efforts of Liam Flanagan, Lucas Harry and Lachlan Lamont.
There were emotional scenes on the field after the game. After a turbulent 2013 season has seen Balmain relegated from Premier Division, the club reverted to their traditional Tigers name and colours as a Division One club. The work that was done to take the club in a new direction has been rewarded with premiership glory.
Balmain 1.3 4.8 9.13 10.15 (75)
University of Technology 1.3 1.4 5.4 9.5 (59)
Goals : Balmain –
A Cottrell 3, B Plug 3, T Martin 2, C Bolt, B Plug. UTS – L Lamont 2, N Haslam 2, T Nixon 2, M Rigby 2, T Cole.
Best : Balmain – B Plug, C Bolt, A Cottrell, T Martin, E Woodend, J Fretwell. UTS – L Flanagan, L Harry, L Lamont, L Heffernan, N Haslam, M Rigby.
At Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 20th September 2014.

Under 19s Division One
St George took out the Under 19s Division One premiership in style, 47 points too good for North Shore; reversing the result of the Second Semi-Final.
It was tight and tough early, plenty of feeling in a physical and low-scoring opening term in which the teams were each kept to one goal; and the Dragons leading by a point at quarter time.
Two early goals in the second term saw the Bombers threaten to build up a handy lead. But the Dragon defenders quickly regrouped to lock the Bomber forwards out of the contest. And at the other end, St George scoring chances began to open up. Five unanswered goals to end the second term saw the Dragons snatch back the lead and hold a 21-point advantage at the long break.
The tide had turned, and the Bombers were swimming uphill to try to get back into the contest. And they were unable to make any inroads into the deficit during a low-scoring third term in which each side would only manage a single goal; and the 21-point margin remained intact at three quarter time.
The last quarter was one-way traffic. The Dragons were counting down to victory, and started their celebrations early with four unanswered goals in the final term to stretch out the final margin to 47 points.
Timothy Tegg was awarded the best on ground medal for St George; and he was well-supported by a five-goal haul from Riley Waters and the efforts of Dylan Sanderson. Zac Fyffe, Angus Quail and Michael Goode worked tirelessly all day for the Bombers.
St George 1.3 6.5 7.8 11.11 (77)
North Shore 1.2 3.2 4.5 4.6 (30)
Goals : St George –
R Waters 5, D Sanderson 3, K Anu, S McGrillen, J Stek. North Shore – J Monk 2, M Varjavandi, C Silvester.
Best : St George – T Tegg, R Waters, N Swanson, K Anu, S McGrillen, D Sanderson. North Shore – Z Fyffe, A Quail, M Goode, M Varjavandi, R Hebron, J Monk.
At Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 20th September 2014.

Under 19s Division Two
Western Suburbs took out the Under 19s Division Two Grand Final, defeating Moorebank by 24 points in a Magpies Derby in the early game at Blacktown on Saturday morning.
Wests lost captain Brad Polley to a leg injury in the opening minutes, but would make the early front-running with a run of four goals to one in the first quarter to lead by 22 points at quarter time.
But in the second quarter, Moorebank lifted and put Wests under plenty of pressure around the ground. And the scoreboard would give the team from the south-west reward for effort as a run of five goals to one in the second quarter would turn the deficit into a shock three-point lead at the long break.
But in the premiership quarter, it was Wests who would stand and deliver. Three unanswered goals for the quarter saw Wests regain the lead and take a 17-point margin to the last change. The tide had turned, and the run of play was running Wests’ way. And there would be no way for Moorebank to regain the initiative in the final term; as Wests kicked two goals to one to extend the final margin to 24 points.
Wests had been easily the best side all year, but suffered a setback when they were stripped of their win in the Second Semi-Final. But the final two weeks saw them put that result behind them to easily win the Preliminary Final and Grand Final and ensure they take out the premiership.
Thomas Kannan took out the best on ground medal for Wests, while Liam Travers and Daniel Tilio were also prominent. Brock Westwood, James Bowman and Ryan Payne were Moorebank’s best.
Western Suburbs 4.5 5.6 8.9 10.11 (71)
Moorebank 1.1 6.3 6.4 7.5 (47)
Goals : Wests –
L Travers 2, B Zoppo 2, T Amanatidis 2, A Connelly, A Bah, C McEvoy-Gray, D Kannan. Moorebank – B Jones 2, M Faulkner, T Narayan, R Davies, B Wicken, J Bryant.
Best : Wests – T Kannan, L Travers, D Tilio, D Kannan, B Zoppo, T Amanatidis. Moorebank – B Westwood, J Bowman, R Payne, D Villaneuva, B Andrew, B Jones.
At Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 20th September 2014.

The premiership flags have been given out, and the curtain is lowered on another season. And the game that occupies so much of our time and thoughts is done and dusted for another year.
To the winners go the spoils. To Manly, the taste of victory is sweet after a season of dominance that has been capped off with back to back premierships. Congratulations to Manly for their win, and commiserations to Pennant Hills who fought hard but for the second year in a row were unable to pull off Sydney footy’s biggest prize on the big stage.
At the end of the season, there’s plenty of people to thank. Particularly all of you who read this column, and who post on the message board. Also to all the players, umpires and officials who take to the field every week to give me something to write about.
Thanks also to Matt Graham and his team at AFL Sydney, for their work in making the competition happen. Thanks also the volunteers who do so much at every club to ensure the clubs continue to function and the games keep happening.
And most of all, thanks to the game of Australian Football. The greatest game in the world.

We now enter the off-season. But it won’t be too long before pre-season training starts. Every club will have people moving on; but new names and new faces joining up. But although the names of players will come and go; the torch they pass on to their successors playing the game is eternal.
And then the 2015 season will be here. The quest for the premiership, footy’s holy grail, will be back on in earnest. A new start, a new challenge.

Have a great off-season! We’ll look forward to seeing you in 2015.


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