AFL Sydney Semi Finals Round Review 2016
SYDNEY AFL SEMI FINALS 2016
Article by Michael Shillito, Photo by Leigh Gazzard
We’re into September, and the finals action is heating up. A big weekend of finals footy saw East Coast Eagles become the first team to qualify for this year’s Grand Final. St George and North Shore will fight out for the other spot.
Saturday was fine but windy, but despite some rain during the week Blacktown International Sportspark was in good condition. There’s already been plenty of action with two NEAFL semi-finals played before the evening saw the Second Semi-Final, with East Coast Eagles taking on St George.
The Eagles had enjoyed a stellar season, despite a shock loss to North Shore in the last round of the home and away season. Finishing minor premiers for the second year in a row had given them last week off.
St George had also enjoyed a highly successful regular season, dropping only three games to finish second on the ladder. A comfortable Qualifying Final win against UTS had taken them to the Second Semi. And with a place in the Grand Final on the line, it was always going to be a toughly-contested game.
The first quarter was tight, with easy possessions hard to come by. The stakes were high, and both teams were determined to deny the other any advantage they could. And the flukey, inconsistent wind wasn’t helping, with frustration setting in as both sides were forced into turnovers. But around the ground, although there wasn’t much in it, the Eagles looked to have the edge. With three goals to one, the Eagles led by 12 points at the first change.
The lights had taken over by the time the second quarter had got under way. It would be a more open quarter of footy, as the two sides tried to build a winning score. The Dragons attempted to get back towards the lead, only for the Eagles to find the answering goals. And when the Eagles attempted to pull away, the Dragons had the replies to keep themselves in the contest. Three goals apiece for the quarter saw the Eagles leading by 13 points at the long break; but the contest was far from over.
But the third quarter is often known as the premiership quarter, and this is where the title contenders can pull away from their rivals to build a winning lead. That’s what happened this time, as the Eagles emerged from the rooms after the half time break having lifted a gear; and the increased intensity and speed was too much for the Dragons to counter. The scoreboard would tell the tale, as the Eagles added four goals to one to extend the lead to 31 points at the last change. Ruthlessly efficient and getting the job done when it mattered, the Eagles had a scent of a Grand Final in their nostrils and weren’t letting go.
The game was safely won by the last quarter, and the Eagles already knew they would get next week off to prepare for their assault on the title. But to the Dragons’ credit, they weren’t giving up; and St George would win the last quarter. A run of four goals to three restored some momentum to the Dragons, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Eagles taking the game by 29 points.
Jamie Vlatko was again outstanding for the Eagles, controlling proceedings on the forward line with an impressive bag of six goals; and along with Eugene Kruger and The Recruit contender Jack Dimery was among the Eagles’ best. The shock defeat in last year’s Grand Final still hurts the Eagles, and has motivated them through this season. Now they are just one game away from putting things right. But, as they know all too well, the last game is no certainty and there’s plenty of hard work to be done in two weeks of preparation.
Nick Shipley, Karl Merson and Jesse Mudge performed impressively for the Dragons. It wasn’t their day, and they were never really able to get their best game going; but as they showed in the last quarter, they are capable of being competitive against the Eagles. St George’s season isn’t over, and they have another chance to qualify for the Grand Final. It’s their fourth Preliminary Final in a row next Sunday; but the Dragons will be hopeful that this time they can finally break through and be a part of AFL Sydney’s showpiece game.
The Dragons’ opponents in the Preliminary Final will be North Shore, after the Bombers took out a 28-point win against UTS in Sunday’s First Semi Final at Henson Park. But despite the final margin, and North Shore leading all day; the game would be up for grabs until the final minutes.
The Bats had twice beaten the Bombers during the home and away season, and finished third after the regular season before losing the Qualifying Final to St George. North Shore, after finishing fourth, got through to the First Semi by beating Pennant Hills in last week’s Elimination Final.
The sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of, but what there was slightly favoured North Shore. But it wasn’t the wind, but a ferocious opening burst by the Bombers, that enabled them to put on some scoreboard pressure and ensure the Bats would always be chasing the game. Four unanswered goals was the reward for the Bombers’ efforts, as they won every contested ball and applied enough pressure to force the Bats into some atrocious turnovers. With a 25-point lead at the first change, the Bombers were looking good.
The Bats had to steady to stop the rot, and did that with a reasonable degree of success in the second term. But it would be a long, hard grind to get back into this contest against a North Shore side full of confidence and running. But the Bats did manage to achieve some success, winning the quarter by two goals to one and cutting the deficit to 19 points at the long break.
But it was still a healthy lead to the Bombers, and they showed every sign of going on with the job in the third quarter. Twice they would penetrate the big sticks, threatening to set up a match-winning lead. But the Bats were able to come up with the answering goals to stay in touch, and another goal on the stroke of three-quarter time cut the margin to 14 points; and suddenly the Bats had a sniff.
A noisy contingent of Bats fans had grown steadily during the third quarter, and travelled to the Sydenham Road end for the final quarter, the end the Bats were kicking towards. Day was turning into night, and the momentum looked to have shifted as the last quarter got under way. For several minutes the ball was in the Bats’ forward line; and two goals got the margin back to within a kick. With the season on the line, suddenly it was tense and tight.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man; and for North Shore the man was Wayd Blackburne. The game was there to be won, and Blackburne’s four goals in the final term would be the difference. Long bombs, a couple from the 50 metre line, were daggers into the heart of the Bats. The late comeback had been foiled. The Bombers were through to the Preliminary Final and UTS’s season is over.
Blackburne’s four last quarter goals would be the difference between the two sides, with the Bombers taking the game by 28 points; and he along with Selby Lee-Steere and Luke Robertson were the Bombers’ best.
For UTS, Thomas Perks, Andrew Morley and Tom Larby made key contributions. The Bats will be disappointed to go out of the finals in straight sets; but they have plenty to celebrate this season. Their sixth year since promotion to Premier Division, this was their first time in the finals; and one senses it won’t be their last.
So just three teams remain. East Coast Eagles are through to the Grand Final, and have two weeks to prepare. And on Sunday, it’s St George and North Shore who will battle for the right to join the Eagles in Sydney footy’s showpiece game.
The Dragons will go in as favourites, but the Bombers have beaten them once this season. But, having fallen at the last hurdle in the quest to make the Grand Final three years in a row; the Dragons will be determined not to let it happen again. It will be a fascinating clash at Blacktown next Sunday.
Full Article at Red and White Online