CHFL preview – Preliminary Finals
Neighbours Line Up for Grand Final Opportunity A line of clubs just twenty three kilometres apart along the Western Freeway have the chance to make it through to the Central Highlands FL grand final as they meet in this coming weekends preliminary finals.
Bungaree were able to be in front at the right moment in their clash with Hepburn on Sunday and set up a meeting with Springbank whilst Ballan dominated Buninyong after quarter time in the other semi final providing the second derby against Gordon. Gordon and Ballan have the opportunity to go one step further towards breaking extensive premiership droughts when the meet in the second preliminary final.
Ballan booked their place in the preliminary final with a dominating victory over Buninyong and it appeared that Mark Williams has timed their finals preparation to perfection. After fifteen minutes it looked that it was going to be Buninyong’s day they had kicked three goals and were stopping Ballan from getting an effective scoring opportunity. However Buninyong were only able to score one more goal after this early onslaught and in fact added just two points after quarter time, whereas the Blues added 14 majors and all other clubs remaining in the finals race took note of a team capable of breaking a 34 year drought. Geoff Taylor Medallist Ballan’s Shaun Campbell highlighted to all who had not seen him before why he had dominated voting in the league best and fairest. His continual motion and attack on the contest was a key for Ballan.
Campbell was complimented excellently by Marcus Crook and Mark Williams in particular who took control of the middle of the ground. He finished with a further best on field performance including three goals. Daniel King and Lachlan Herring also continued their fine late season form kicking six goals between them. Trent Laurie in the ruck also had a fine match against a tall Buninyong outfit. Buninyong’s two finals losses has been at odds with the fine form they had shown in the second half of the season defeating most of the top sides, unfortunately it was the scourge of injuries which finally broke them. They lost coach Jarrod Morgan and the important run which he brings to the team and then they lost Sam Turner early in the second. Until then Turner had been playing as well as anyone on the ground. It left Ned Gilbert with little support and whilst he was clearly Buninyong’s best he was eventually broken down by the weight of numbers which Ballan was bring to the contest. Ballan have now improved significantly in most CHFL watchers eyes and they are being given a significant chance to challenge Gordon for the grand final spot. The Blues were able to show an ability to absorb the pressure from Buninyong and gradually set the game on to their terms, they will need to adopt a similar approach against the free running Eagles. Gordon is clearly the fastest team in the league and if they are given space to run with the ball they will probably be able to control the contest.
Matt Raworth, Tye Murphy, Steve Patterson and Chris McGuigan will have key roles in the middle of the ground and if they are able to bring Ash Munari, Jaymes Gorman, Mick Nolan and Steve Nicholson into the match they will again kick a score which will be difficult for Ballan to top. Ballan’s Trent Laurie will have a major role again as he will need to curb the influence of Luke Gunnell, one of the best big men in the league. Gordon will start favourite but Ballan is going to being a great deal of confidence build upon their past two performances. Springbank coaches keenly watched the outcome of the Bungaree and Hepburn clash and will probably be most pleased with the effort Bungaree had to expend in getting a victory. The result could have gone either way and both would have been justified to enjoy the feeling of being the victor, however Bungaree just happened to be in front at the right time when the siren sounded. Hepburn had many good players that had an impact on the match including Tanner Wills on the speedy Demon small forwards, Michael Watt in the ruck who stretched Bungaree’s Dave Benson and the usual suspects of Lee Cox, six goals, Andy McKay and Dan O’Halloran. However for all of the good players that Hepburn boasted Bungaree would not yield and kept themselves in contact with goals against eh run of play along with a couple of burst of scoring momentum either side of half time.
Dave Benson with his height dominated the centre knocks, but Hepburn was just as effective as Bungaree in gaining control of the football apart from a couple of periods where Chris O’Keefe used his speed to advantage.
Scott Mann continued his good form of recent weeks and one goal in the second quarter was sublime, weaving his way through four opponents.
Tristan Simons battled hard on the wing and Shaun Finlayson, Ashley McDonald and Jackson Murphy did their usual hard work up forward.
However rarely did it appear that Bungaree were able to generate an easy goal. They will need to find a way of turning this around this coming Saturday when they take on Springbank, whose backline were in a very miserly mood against Buninyong last week. The set up for the Tigers without key forward Paul McMahon will be one of the big challenges for Springbank coach Terry Simpson, does he start Michael Searl up forward where he turned the game two weeks ago or is he needed to stabilise up back initially.
Or will Springbank be able to push Andrew Tyler further forward as they did in the qualifying final to pinch a couple of goals. As Sunday’s semi-final progressed Dave Benson seemed to grow in confidence and was getting closer to the form which turned last year’s finals in Bungaree’s favour. Whichever ruckman is able to drag his opponent away from goal could give an important advantage. Another fascinating round of finals is assured and it is very likely that the excellent crowds of the past two weeks will continue to support their local clubs.