As was expected it turned out to be a fascinating final round in Central Highlands FL with close results all round and as a result many changes in the final positions in the final eight, setting up some absolutely tremendous finals this coming weekend.
Buninyong and Gordon were clashing to get a top four spot, the winner taking all of the spoils and it was the home
team Bombers who proved to be far too strong, winning by 7 1points and in the process surely dinting the Eagles confidence. Over recent years Mark Phelps has been able to step up on a couple of occasions to become a key forward and Saturday proved to be one of those with a game high four goals. He was backed up very well by Fraser Russell who has worked himself into the Buninyong style of play steadily throughout the season and in recent week he has proven to be a dangerous goal kicker.
His class looks as though he is going to be a dangerous player in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile Gordon had few winners on the day and Jack Toohey along with Brendan Sutcliffe didn’t have enough other winners to take on Buninyong’s depth across the ground which has them playing as well as any of the top four entering the finals. Gordon’s loss didn’t just mean they missed fourth spot they dropped down to sixth and what appears to be the tougher Elimination Final against Bungaree. Waubra had the bye and benefited with a move into fifth.
Dunnstown had to win and win big if they were to take the slight chance of pushing Daylesford out of the finals. They were able to do most of what was required but the end margin was not enough. The Towners won by an impressive 48 points over Daylesford but this was only enough to make up just over half of the 14% differential which faced them at the start of the match. Dunnstown have finished the season extremely well and there appears little doubt that had they made it into the eight they would have been a tough opponent this coming weekend. However it was not to be and the very slow start cost Dunnstown a return to finals action. They should be able to take away a lot of confidence that if they can keep this group together and add a few to the list they are right in the mix to be a team who will worry plenty in 2018. They only concern for the Towners is that many of their key contributors are in the older players in the group, Rhys Cahir, Aaron Sawers and Aaron Brennan have been very good again but it would be a risk to expect them to all to be able to play to the same level again.
Learmonth also had a chance to regain a spot in the eight which they had occupied for much of the year if they could upset Hepburn.
They gave it a good shot to be within 17 points at three quarter time but they could maintain the effort and Hepburn secured second spot with a six goal final quarter.
The Hepburn team included some very interesting names including Nick Dal Santo playing his third game to qualify for finals action and their young gun Izaac Grant who played his first senior game for the club. The Lakies will have some hope from this season as their youngsters have definitely improved and are close to matching it with the best in the league. However they need to find some tall players to have a realistic chance of making finals in 2018. Rokewood Corindhap had their fourth win for the year, with a 29 point win over Clunes and as a result has earned their best finish since they joined the CHFL. Injuries have impacted their chances of getting higher up the ladder on the back of some excellent recruiting; however there have been many who have been limited by their ability to cover injuries during the year.
The other top eight clubs Beaufort, Springbank and Bungaree all had comfortable wins in competitive matches.
Now they are setting themselves for what is again shaping to be a super final series with a unique prize at the end of it. This year’s premier will have the title of the first premier at the newly developed Mars Stadium. Just being able to play a grand final on an AFL standard venue will surely be enough for all who remain alive to dig deeper than they may have ever in the past to ensure that they are at least one of the two clubs remaining by the second Saturday of September. Beaufort has deserved to finish in the top spot, they have been consistent throughout, but most importantly they have been able to score well when they go ascendency in a match. Hepburn and Springbank both sit on the same number of wins as Beaufort but the top spot could provide some real advantages. The only disadvantage facing Beaufort is that they need to defeat a surging Buninyong.
When the Crows overcome the Bombers in round four Beaufort was travelling at their best whilst Buninyong was really struggling with through a long list of injuries. This injury plague impacted upon Buninyong for much of the year; however the vagrancies of the draw might have helped them set up for the finals. The competition wide bye at the start of July was followed for Buninyong with the bye caused by Smythesdale not having a senior team and it appears that the two weeks off might have freshened them up nicely.
On top of being able to get back Jarrod Morgan who is an inspirational leader there are a number of elements of the Bombers coming together, not the least is the outstanding transition by under 18 player Jacob Coxall into senior football. He has been in the best most weeks and adds to an already strong midfield. Beaufort meanwhile has been able to tune up nicely over the past few weeks. Brendan Howard looked to be a long way of return a fortnight ago but he defied this and was in the better player for the Crows last week.
On top of this the return of Jacob Garvey is a real bonus, after missing most of the year with injury. He has been able to get three matches under his belt and he is one of the premier big men in the league. Either team could easily walk away the winner of this clash.
On Sunday the other feature match of the top four between Hepburn and Springbank is another game which promises to be vital. The winner of this gets a week’s break similar to the Beaufort and Buninyong clash.
Hepburn defeated an undermanned Springbank in the middle of the season but the Tigers have not been able to get their best team back together and look vulnerable. Two weeks ago Gordon had a good win over Springbank who were then found wanting by Buninyong. Springbank have only played one top eight side since round 12 and they lost that.
They still have a lot of talent across the ground with some such as Brock Freeman and Matt Tyler having their best seasons but they don’t appear to have the breadth of players which provided them with back to back flags. Hepburn have been well served by recruits Luke Stanton, Kamen Ogilvie and the return of Daniel Rees this year and will be the favoured to be able to achieve a week off and a spot in a preliminary final. The two Elimination finals can often be even more desperate because no one wants to end their season with just one finals appearance. Waubra last year were knocked out of race in the same fixture they face this year.
The young Daylesford outfit were too fast for Waubra’s defensive set up and they cut them open. However the Bulldogs are not coming into this weekend in the same form they brought with them last year. Whilst they have the toughest finish to the year they have won just the one match in the last six, their only win was over Ballan. Waubra on the other hand have had an easy finish to the season with wins since they ran into Springbank in late June.
Due to these different fixtures it is actually very difficult to determine which of the Kangaroos and Bulldogs is actually in the best position coming into this cut throat clash. Joel Cowan has been a strong leader in the middle for Daylesford and his experience in TAC Cup is showing through.
He will have tough job this week against Lincoln Barnes who has had a tremendous season.
Waubra should have an advantage in the ruck even though the Bulldog’s Sam Winnard has been very good throughout the second half of the year but the dual team of Dean Robertson and Geordie Lukich will make it tough for Daylesford to get any momentum out of the middle.
The other Elimination final brings together Gordon and Bungaree who meet just three weeks ago the Eagles were too strong and this shapes likely to be the case again this Sunday. Dave Benson is sure to give Bungaree an advantage in the middle even against the strong ruck outfit for Gordon of Luke Gunnell and Brendan Sutcliffe. Almost the most interesting aspect of this match will be who Gordon has fit to run onto the ground. If the Eagles have the majority of their first selected team then they should be too strong for Bungaree who have been able to blood a lot of youngster this year and to still remain in finals is a tremendous outcome. The CHFL finals series is the best supported across the region and always provides some outstanding quality football and this shapes to be the case again this year.
Crowds will be large and enthusiasm for all eleven matches of football and netball will be strong across all four weeks