Six games to play before final series
Having a bye on the same weekend when player transfers close on June 30 means that there will be a few unfamiliar faces running out for clubs in the Central Highlands FL this weekend compared to those who walked off two weeks ago.
None more notable than the recruitment by Gordon of Jarrod Edwards from North Ballarat. Edwards has been a prominent player across the past two decades, multiple Henderson Medal winner in the BFNL, an extended career at North Ballarat Roosters, Redan and North Ballarat City and captain of the VCFL senior representative side.
However there will be a lot of interest in how much impact he will be able to have as a 38 year old. There is no doubt that there is a drop in standard compared to anything he has played up until this stage of his career however is he going to prove the answer for Gordon who have gradually moved themselves back into fifth spot with a really strong percentage after a slow start to the season. Is Edwards going to be able to offset the loss of one of Gordon’s better players over the past few years in Steven Paterson who applied for a transfer out of the Eagles nest? Something of the impact of these changes this week when Gordon travel to Learmonth in a clash which will have a significant impact on both club’s positions on the ladder and potentially their positions come finals time. Learmonth has not been able to defeat any other club in the top eight even though at one stage a few weeks back they were themselves in second spot. However they had taken advantage of a favourable draw against clubs low on the ladder to make sure they achieved the wins which they were expected to.
Their biggest issue appears to be a lack of height across the ground to match it with the best clubs in key fixtures and this will be an even bigger problem this week as Gordon are one of the few clubs in the league which has height across most lines on the ground. Matthew Bond has been vital for the Lakies up forward where he has been able to provide the tall target but this week he comes across the league’s premier tall backman in Mark Gunnell.
Gunnell has not featured in recent matches due to the rest of the team stopping the ball from getting as deep as his direct opponent but you can be sure that this Saturday when his is potentially the key matchup to ensure that Learmonth don’t cause an upset he will be ready to take control. Gordon should also be able to match it with Learmonth’s strength, its small mid fielders. With Tye Murphy providing the grunt he has a good group of runners around him who will enjoy the chance to stretch their legs on the open spaces at Learmonth.
In another top eight encounter Daylesford will host Springbank who continue to be a game clear of the rest of the chasers with a healthy percentage gap on most of them. Daylesford on the other hand have the poorest percentage in the top nine clubs and their aim to secure finals action must be to keep winning. They cannot rely on being able to hold onto the eight using percentage as their advantage.
The key though is are they actually good enough to defeat the top clubs such as Springbank? The Bulldogs were sitting in a similar position this time last year and had to make a late run in the home and away matches to get a finals berth. At that time they were clearly the youngest club in the eight and with an additional season under their belt they were expected to be one of the clubs to push for the top four. Whilst the return of Joel Cowan from the North Ballarat talent program has been very successful with him being one of their best couple of midfielders each week and Sam Winnard generally showing out they have not been able to offset the loss of Michael Cummings at the end of last year.
The other problem that they seem to have is a lack of a tall reliable goal kicking option who they can kick to and know that they will get a contest that retains the ball in their forward line.
Sebastian Walsh has played ten matches and contributed a serviceable 26 goals but he is not suited to be the key player nor to have to deal with the stronger bodies of the big backmen who he often ends up with as they have no other options in the Bulldogs forward line. This week he is very likely to end up having to deal with either Justin Maher or Matthew Tyler who are both suited to role on Walsh and do not give away any easy disposals. A loss will put Daylesford under real pressure because this is the start of a month of games against fellow top eight of which they probably need to win at least two to not lose touch with the leaders. The rest of the top eight should all finish the round with an additional four points added to their tally. It is not often that a club at this stage of the year would be happy to have two weeks off but Buninyong who have a bye this week following the mid-season break will welcome the chance to get their best players over injury and have a late tilt at a top position.
Their final five matches includes four top eight teams.
Hepburn will add to their percentage against the winless Skipton, Waubra will bounce back from two losses against Rokewood Corindhap whose improved list have not been able to back up this potential in the last month on the ground. Beaufort will have no trouble rolling past Creswick to HOCKEY Ballarat’s experiment with introducing a second division in its senior men’s and senior women’s competitions has been an unqualified success this season.
The HB Senior Competition Committee made the change at the start of this year, asking clubs to nominate teams for Division 2. “To their credit, every club embraced the change,” said Hockey Ballarat’s Senior Committee Chair Jeff Sly. “They all had challenges in finding enough players to make it work, but everyone recognised that continuing with just one division wasn’t sustainable.” The new division has attracted older players back to the game, and made retain second spot on the ladder or settling into the top position if Daylesford upsets Springbank. Bungaree might have a tougher game against Newlyn who have shown the ability to stick with a team in the eight for at least three quarters but link this with Bungaree’s ability to turn on a quarter of dominating attacking play and the Cats will not be within range late in the game to put pressure on the Demons. Clunes has shown that they can be a nuisance for other clubs and as a team they work really hard for each other to find a way to score but this week they come across Ballan who room for younger players coming straight out of the Under 16 competition. Blaze Hockey Club led the way by nominating extra teams in the men’s and the women’s in order to make the new competitions viable. “If that hadn’t happened, we would have had only 3 teams in each, and that doesn’t make for a very good competition,” said Mr Sly.
The results have been particularly even during the first 9 rounds. Bobcats Hockey Club is undefeated in the men’s, but almost all its wins have been close. And in the women’s Blaze Orange is on top of the ladder, but was beaten has in recent weeks shown a real return to form. They have been up against lower ranked sides but they have been able to score at a rate very similar to those clubs in the eight. So another win will see Ballan retain 10th spot on the ladder but they are still going to be 10 points out of the eight.
Expect Dunnstown to move up to within half a game of Ballan and gain a few spots on the ladder with a win over Carngham Linton.
This will give the Towners four wins in row after a very lean start to the season.