Eagles triumph to claim first CAFL trophy

it was a perfect day for football and the crowd came out in force to watch the much anticipated showdown between the best two sides of the 2011 season. The Bulldogs had lost a lot of talent since their 2010 triumph, but had picked up some usefull imports, including 2011 Best and Fairest winner, Wayne Sullivan. The Eagles had recruited gun players during the pre-season, including resolute defenders Steve Howard and Matt Crighton, ironically from the Bulldogs. This had created some fierce rivalry between the two teams in 2011, but there could be only one winner.

The game started at a frenetic pace, with players throwing themselves at the contest. It looked early that the Eagles were in control, but they wasted seveal gettable opportunities in front of goal, while the more accurate Bulldogs converted with their limted opportunities. At quarter time the Eagles led by 6-points, with only 2 goals on the scoreboard despite their domination around the ground. The second quarter saw the Bulldogs fight back on the scoreboard, kicking the only goal for the quarter, while the Eagles again wasted opportunities in front of goal, scoring 5-behinds for the quarter. The Eagles were proving a handfull in attack, with tall targets and a loose checking Bulldogs defence.

After the long break, the Eagles came out firing and in a slick display of ball movement through the mid-field they found the slower and older Bulldogs defence easy prey. Unlike the first half, the Eagles wasted few shots on goal, snapping accurately out of packs and sending long bombs that split the big sticks. They piled on goal after goal, while the Bulldogs hardly saw the ball inside their forward fifty. The Eagles closed out the quarter with a 40-point lead and it looked like the game was in the bag.

To the Bulldogs credit, they fought the game out valiantly and managed to stay with the Eagles in the last quarter rather than throw in the towel, with both teams registerig 1 goal.

The win was a triumph for the determined Ricky Van Olphen, who had managed the Eagles for the past few years following the departure of club founder Sam Whitehead. It was great to see one of the Whiteheads, younger brother George, playing in the Eagles colours and proud parents watching from the sideline. Outstanding  committment was shown by Eagle veteran Stanley Chung, who despite living in Wellington, flew himself down to Christchurch for the past 4-weeks, to ensure he would be part of an Eagle's premiership triumph.

The Best on Ground medal was awarded to star Eagle Andrew Howison, who also came runner-up in the CAFL Best and Fairest, now known as the James Bowden trophy. The recipient of the inaugural James Bowden Award was Bulldog, Wayne Sullivan.

In the play off for third spot, the Blues showed that their recruiting towards the end ofthe season had paid off, with an influx of speed, strength, skill and youthful enthusiasm. Coupled with their stalwarts Neil Harvey and Richard Bradley and aided by stars Jared Court and Sam Dickson, they were able to grind down the Cougars who ran out of legs as they game went on, managing  only 2 goals after half time, whie the Blues slammed on 7 goals and 7-behinds. The Cougars lamented the loss of injured players and the usual exam attrition that afflicts a university based side, but their was still plenty to play for, as the Cougars had never finished in last spot.

In a fitting gesture, the CAFL, led by Team Manager Stephen Langridge, presented retired playing tops and a team photo to all members of the triumphant and reigning NPC championship team, the Canterbury Cobras. Good luck to the lads as they head off to Wellington next weekend to defend the cup!


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