Prior to the start of last weekend’s round of matches in the Central Highlands FL the top of the ladder was taking on the familiar log jam appearance which is typical of this league. There were many clubs in the top ten with very little between them. After Hepburn inflicted Springbank’s first defeat of the year and Beaufort bounced back for a win over Waubra, this crush at the top is accentuated further. There are now just two games separating the top nine sides. Hepburn though must be sitting looking at the ladder this week trying to work out how they can get into the vital top four. Successive victories over two in the top four Beaufort and now Springbank has not resulted in them moving up the ladder even one position.
It means that for all of Hepburn’s excellent work over the past six weeks if they don’t keep up this level of performance they could miss a vital double chance. As a result every match is vital no matter what club you are against. On Saturday a highlight is going to be at Carngham Linton when favourite son Nick O’Brien returns on release from the Essendon VFL side where he is currently captain.
O’Brien had a short AFL career of 14 matches with Essendon and last year went across to the SANFL where he excelled to finish runner up in the prestigious Margery Medal for the league’s best & fairest player. His return to Carngham Linton at Snake Valley on Saturday will clearly add some class to the Saints but to top this up further he is going to be accompanied by former Bombers teammate Jason Winderlich. A feature of Winderlich in his 129 games as an AFL player was his extreme speed and ability to cut through opposition midfields from defence into attack. If he has retained some of this speed then he could create havoc and put the combine’s opponent Buninyong under real pressure. The short Snake Valley ground can be scored on easily when a team is able to move the ball quickly through the centre and this will be an aim of Carngham Linton coach Beau Ketchen when he sends his team out onto the ground. The key though is whether Carngham Linton is actually able to get enough possession of the football to utilise its high profile and talented additions.
Ned Gilbert, Beau Guest Adam Scott and Jarrod Morgan are all seasoned senior players for Buninyong who will know how to keep the game under the control which they want it to progress. Whenever the ball is in dispute it will not be easy for Carngham Linton to find enough winners to get it heading in their direction. There is no doubt that it will be an exciting day for Carngham Linton and its supporters when they welcome O’Brien and Winderlich out onto the ground but it is difficult to see how they will be able to have enough influence for Buninyong to drop this match.
Springbank’s first defeat for the year at the hands of the in-form Hepburn has not removed them from the top of the ladder however it has raised a very interesting question, against a strong defence do the Tigers have enough goal kickers. Tom Eltringham was still not available to take up his spot in front of goal and it became apparent as the game against the Burras progressed that there were few options for Springbank to get a mark and an easy shot at goal. Over the past couple of years Michael Searl has been able to head forward and take up this role when there was a need but last Saturday he was forced to remain in the ruck to combat Michael Watt, a spot Searl is rarely seen in, and so for the Tigers it looked to be a forward line short in stature and with few options on how to attack into it. It suited the stifling defence approach of Hepburn particularly Alan Ware and Jackson Liversidge. Quite a few of the other sides in the top eight will take particular note of this outcome with the free scoring Tigers contained to a paltry five goals in perfect conditions. This coming Saturday Springbank are sure to be examining how they can start to establish an ability to score if they don’t have tall targets when they head across to Newlyn. The Cats are unlikely to have enough talent to put any sustained pressure on Springbank but they will hope to be able to add to a reasonably strong effort against Learmonth last week.
Newlyn lead at quarter time and were still within 15 points at three quarter time against Learmonth but were run away from in the final quarter.
A sign that too much of the work is being left to too few. Dylan Fishwick came to the league with good reputation from his performances in the Sunraysia FNL and he has lived up to this consistently. However apart from Dan Wehrung and Luke Relouw there are not enough Cats players who can consistently beat their opponent for four quarters. Matthew Bond for Learmonth was the player who proved to be the difference scoring nine goals in their total of 14 and in the process took the lead in the Shane Everard Goal Kicking Award.
He will be a key player again this week when the Lakies face up to Daylesford who are coming off the bye. This is a crucial clash for the Bulldogs who sit in ninth spot on the ladder but just one win behind second placed Learmonth. Based upon the matches who Daylesford’s nearest rivals have this week Buninyong against Carngham Linton and Gordon against Clunes the Bulldogs need to win to ensure that they remain in the final eight race. A loss will only put them one game behind and they have a very tough finish to the season, so any victory over a fellow finals contender will be crucial. Learmonth should start as favourite particularly as they play very well on the open spaces of their home ground.
Beaufort bounced back spectacularly from successive defeats at the hands of Springbank and Hepburn to hand Waubra a four goal defeat and step past them into the top four. This margin probably flatters the Kangaroos as they had only kicked three goals until quarter time and other than five goals in the final quarter they never had any level of control of the match. A really interesting addition to Beaufort for last week was quality former VFL and Geelong FNL player Jarrod McCorkell.
McCorkell has been an outstanding player for more than a decade in all levels of football which he has played in and if he remains at Beaufort for the rest of the season it is expected that he will gradually start to show through as a key midfielder for the Crows. He has a touch of class and the ability to set up other players into space and so should really add to the Beaufort midfield and may just be the key factor to take them well into the finals series.
McCorkell hasn’t played anywhere so far this season and it is likely to take a few weeks for him to show how fit he is and what impact his addition will have on Beaufort’s fortunes. Beaufort will have not any problems this week when they take on Rokewood Corindhap.
The Grasshoppers fell 13 points short of Dunnstown last week providing the Towners their first win of the season and in the past month Rokewood Corindhap have been disappointing after a really promising start in some of their early matches. Injuries are hitting Rokewood Corindhap hard and with their lack of depth the quality players who have been added to the list are finding the going difficult. Dunnstown should not have any problems doubling their tally of wins with Skipton unlikely to provide any challenge. Whilst they might be against some of the lower level teams in recent weeks Dunnstown’s form has definitely improved and they will add a number of wins to their tally before the season is over.
Waubra needs to rebound from last weekend’s loss to Beaufort so that they don’t fall to the bottom end of the eight but it will be a very difficult task as they now face Hepburn.
Hepburn looks to have added to a good list with their best group of recruits for a number of years. A slow start in the initial couple of rounds has now been replaced with excellent form from Kamen Ogilvie, Michael Watts and Finn Anscombe in great form. Anscombe often gets the key forward and if he lines up on Tim Boyle at Waubra this week it should be a great clash between the two. Dean Robertson at close to two meters tall will give Watts a big task in the ruck but expect the Hepburn big man to be up to the task. Hepburn will start favourite on the back of their recent form and with a win will move ahead of Waubra on the ladder. Clunes made Bungaree work all day in a match which never reached great heights last Saturday but the Magpies are not going to be able to get as close to Gordon as they did the Demons.
However the one known aspect is that Clunes will battle as hard as they can across the whole ground. What they might lack in class the Magpies players step up to the mark in effort to give every battle all that they can.
Ballan now have three wins after demolishing Skipton last week and will hope to take a step further up the ladder when they travel to Creswick this week. Creswick has been unable to sustain any form from week to week against any of the clubs higher on the ladder than them apart from an upset over Daylesford early in the year. On recent form Ballan will give themselves a good chance of a fourth win and getting closer to the edge of the eight.
With a reasonable draw across the final eight rounds of the season Ballan will still be giving themselves a good chance of finishing up in the bottom couple of positions of the eight. To do that though they must defeat Creswick this week.