Waubra walked away from the first week of finals action in the Central Highlands FL as probably the most disappointed loser as it constitutes three years in a row when they been defeated in their first final and be dumped from the action. For two years in a row it has been Daylesford who has stopped the Kangaroos in their tracks. The ten point margin flattered Waubra as they rarely looked to the threatening to take control of the game. Daylesford came into the match as a definite underdog after a month of uninspiring football, however they steeled themselves for a finals effort and it paid off.
The ruck duel was a crucial battle for the day with Sam Winnard continuing his strong form of the whole season and he was seen by the Bulldogs to be their best contributor on the day.
He didn’t have it all his own way though with Geordie Lukich one of Waubra’s best also. Most noticeably though was that often Lukich was having to win the football to clear it after the ruck as Waubra smaller midfielders were just not able to gain any ascendancy. Lincoln Barnes has been dominant in clearances in most games but he was well held on the day by Ricky Costanzo, and Waubra missed his drive from the middle. Whilst Waubra was having no impact in trying to contain the young guns of Daylesford in particular Joel Cowan and Zac Tisdale.
Then to top this off Luke Carland probably gave the Bulldogs his best game this season providing them with a strong contested target across half forward. Sebastian Walsh was very lively and created opportunities playing as a high forward.
William Booth was the most dangerous forward that Waubra had Daylesford wasn’t able to find a small defender to contain him. However he wasn’t able to build any pressure on the scoreboard. The Daylesford defence lead by the experienced James Evans and strength of Cameron Ralph never allowed league leading goal kicker Tim Boyle get loose and he was held to a single major for the day. Beaufort meanwhile hung on against Buninyong to get themselves a week off and the prime position in the preliminary final. There was a sigh of relief from the Crows supporters when the game finished as Buninyong was attacking constantly and within three points. Jarrod McCorkell returned after seven weeksoverseas and his recruitment mid-season immediately looks inspired as his class was a key contributor in the win, as well as the two goals he scored. Lachlan Murray has continued to be a boost to the Crows forward line with his strength and another three goals along with two from Jack Duke provided all but one of the goals for Beaufort in a low scoring game.
Beaufort game has been highlighted by their speed throughout the season and the slightly heavy conditions possibly made them a bit vulnerable but the Bombers were not quite able to take full advantage of this opportunity. It was the hard-nosed defenders for Buninyong which gave them the opportunity to snatch keeping their team within one goal throughout. Chris Wills and Jack Robertson repelled many attacks along with Daniel Pelchen who has been in good form over the last three matches. However, they were not able to create any real impact in their forward line and it is going to be very rare to win any final with just seven goals, even though Beaufort fared little better with just eight themselves. Now Buninyong need to take charge against Daylesford in the first of the semi-finals this coming Saturday at Learmonth. It will be expected that Buninyong will have an advantage in defence as Daylesford don’t have many key tall forwards and Buninyong have strong running defenders which will place Daylesford’s defence under plenty of pressure.
Zac Tidsdale may need to play deeper in the forward line to provide a marking target for the Bulldogs. Alternatively, they will need to be pin point in their delivery to ensure that the ball is kept low and to the advantage of the small forwards. This will rely heavily on the work of Joe Cowan, Pat Rowe and the deadly left foot of Rob Rodgers. The former premiership captain for the Bulldogs was able to control the game at times against Waubra when he was left as a free player across half back and pushing into the midfield, where his delivery he provided several scoring opportunities. Cam Lovig is going to be a key as he can draw the football to him and can kick goals. On the other hand, Buninyong’s experienced midfield is rarely beaten. Ned Gilbert continues to have a great season and his ability to get in to win the football when it is in dispute is equal to anyone in the competition. Alex Bomitali and Jacob Coxall will be vital in assisting Gilbert. Jarrod Morgan plays as a virtual quarter back and he remains one of the classiest players in the league. His direction of his team should play a key role in getting the Bombers a win and a berth against Hepburn in a preliminary final.
On Sunday Hepburn completely outclassed an undermanned Springbank in the second Qualifying final.
It was the spread of contributors from Hepburn which tore the heart out of the Tigers and put a third successive grand final appearance for the reigning premier at risk. Ten different goal kickers for the Burras highlights how they were winning in virtually every position Mitchell McKay had one of his better performances for the club and along with Jacob Brown, Jimmy Rodgers and his brother Bradley contributed 10 of the 17 goals kicked by Hepburn.
This barrage by small forwards and midfielders exposed the holes which have been gradually appearing in the Springbank make up during the season. With the absence of Joel Maher, Shannon Donegan and most importantly coach Michael Searl Springbank were without some of their best defensive midfielders and defenders.
It meant that stand-in coach Nic Coach had to weaken his own forward line to attempt to contain the Hepburn mid-field. On top of this not having the services of Tom Eltringham meant that there was not a clear marking target available for Springbank. Alan Ware had another superb game as a consummate defender.
In the past decade, he has rarely been defeated by any forward and he is sure to prove a tough opponent for one of the Gordon front half on Sunday at Daylesford. Now the challenge which is facing Springbank is to reverse the result of round 16 and defeat Gordon who again on Sunday showed that they are in strong form when they held Bungaree at bay by 22 points. Bungaree battled hard throughout and at stages during the last quarter they looked like they might cause an upset but every time they got within reach Gordon found a way to get back in control of the flow of the game. As a former AFL player Cam Richardson is a proven performer and he has often stepped up in the big game.
He played his best match since being recruited this year and dominated the match at times, controlling the half forward line with strong marking and accurate delivery deep into attack.
If he plays another couple of matches of this quality, he will have an influence of the outcome of the 2017 season.
Adam Toohey, Mark Gunnell and Brad Hallam were excellent across the backline and whilst Luke Mirtchinson threatened to give the Demons a win with three goals in the last quarter Bungaree never had an easy possession in the forward line. Tye Murphy and Chris McGuigan had major impacts on the game and they will need to be keys in the planning by Springbank if they are going to stop the Eagles from making their third preliminary final in four years. Another move of recent weeks which is proving to be successful is Steve Nicholson into the midfield and even across half back.
Nicholson has made his career as a goal kicker in a range of competitions, but he has not always had an influence in finals, when he was most needed. This shift into the backline is giving him the opportunity to demonstrate his outstanding use of the football setting up those in the front half who have moved into the role his used to occupy. The freakish ability of Ash Munari and Mick Nolan was also on show on several occasions last week and if they can keep this form up they can tear a defence apart in a few minutes. Tyler George has been close to Springbank’s best this season and he will have a big role in attempting to give them some ascendancy in the midfield against Gordon but he will need helpers. Nic Couch, Bill Driscoll and Brett Maher are going to have to spend plenty of time in the middle to make sure they remain in the game.
The winner of this game must face Beaufort who already sits in the prime preliminary final spot.