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Gutsy comeback by Learmonth

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Todd Curran for Learmonth gets a kick away as Matt Auchettl tackles him.

Final round of intrigue The final round of the season is always an intriguing day of football. Some clubs will just be glad to see the end of this season but probably looking forward already to doing better next time around. Other clubs are eagerly trying to maximise their opportunities for finals.

This coming Saturday in the Central Highlands FL is a classic case of this need to maximise where you will end the home and away season for the eight clubs in the top eight and guaranteed of finals action. Hepburn had their best win of the season last week when they defeated the ladder leader Bungaree by 22 points and moved within a win of possibly still finishing in the top four. Lee Cox and Brendan Sutcliffe ended up being the difference in front of goal for the Burras finishing with seven goals between them and gave themselves a chance to head into the finals with plenty of confidence. They have been one of the few forward lines to be able to get hold of Bungaree over the past two seasons. However it is going to be very interesting to see how Hepburn coach Clive Raak approaches this week’s clash with Ballan. Currently Hepburn and Ballan are both on twelve wins and sit in sixth and seventh positions and could end up facing up to each other again the following week in the second elimination final. Hepburn has the better chance of climbing higher due to having a very good percentage but they will be relying on upsets over clubs above them.

Ballan will be disappointed with their effort last Saturday when they were defeated by 39 points by Buninyong in heavy conditions. Constant heavy conditions over recent weeks could prove to be an important issue for Ballan. Some clubs have been able to enjoy the odd match in slightly better oval conditions enabling them to recover a bit better from one week to the next. Ballan haven’t had that opportunity and a heavy slog at Buninyong this week has compounded this problem. The clash between Ballan and Hepburn at Ballan this week will be determined by the club which can control the midfield on the small oval.

One kick from the middle at Ballan sets up a reachable shot at goal and an opportunity to score very quickly.

Ballan has the most improved midfield in the league this year with Shaun Campbell, without doubt the recruit of the season, leading the rest of the team forward week after week. Lachlan Herring in recent weeks has been able to follow Campbell’s lead and will be an important player again this week. The expected heavy conditions though should help Hepburn as well with Ricky and Jason Ferraro providing the strength around the contested ball to set up the ball carrying quality of Brad McKay, Andy McKay and Dan O’Halloran who has returned from injury just in time.

The disadvantage for the loser of this game is that they could drop to eight and face a tough first up elimination final against five different clubs which could finish in fifth. Positions two through to five on the ladder definitely remain in dispute with any of Waubra, Gordon, Bungaree and Buninyong potentially could miss the double chance, with the Bombers currently fifth on percentage.

Whilst not certain the one spot which is not expected to change is top spot after Springbank were able to move to the head of the ladder following Bungaree’s defeat.

The Tigers play Smythesdale and even though the Bulldogs had a better effort against Daylesford last Saturday they will be no match for Springbank.

A Springbank victory ensures that the hold top spot and play whoever finishes fourth in the first Qualifying final. For second and third placed Waubra and Gordon though it is a completely different story because the loser of this game could drop as low as fifth spot and lose the double chance. Waubra has been able to make sure it wins most weeks this year but often not appear to be in as strong form as others around them on the ladder. They have been positioned second for most of the year and have only lost the two matches so far but this week they need to lift a step further when they travel to Gordon to meet the third placed Eagles. The Kangaroos though have a great chance to keep this form going and secure the advantage of second. Tim Boyle is a key for Waubra with his ability to kick multiple goals and he both requires the attention of the best defender and usually attracts others defenders, which then sets free other attacking options. The clash between Boyle and Mark Gunnell should be a worth watching. Gunnell doesn’t appear to be in the best form in recent weeks and could be carrying an injury which may prove to be a key factor in the result.

Gordon at home though is one of the toughest tasks in the league over the past two years so they will be in the game right to the finial siren.

Alec Wiltshire is caught as he takes a pass for Buninyong
Alec Wiltshire
is caught as he
takes a pass for
Buninyong

Bungaree and Buninyong both should win this week as they play Creswick and Clunes respectively which should put them past the loser of the Waubra and Gordon match.

Gordon could drop to fifth but thanks to a draw against Beaufort early in the season should see Waubra hold onto fourth spot and a double chance.

The other top eight side Beaufort also has a chance to finish higher than they currently sit. Beaufort though faces a tough challenge against Learmonth who held on for a close win over Dunnstown last week.

Learmonth has shown improved form over the past month and it would be a great way to finish a disappointing season by upset a finials side.

If Beaufort does win they will move into seventh spot at least ahead of the loser of the Ballan and Hepburn match.

This could be a bonus as it will mean that they are not faced with an extra tough task in the first elimination final against whoever finishes fifth.

Daylesford and Dunnstown also looks as though it will be an interesting clash with Daylesford possibly finishing with six wins for the year, an enormous improvement on where they looked as though they were at the start of the season. Dunnstown could move back ahead of the Bulldogs though if they can repeat last week’s better performance and achieve a win. Neighbours Skipton and Carngham Linton will be looking forward to finishing of the season with a win. Just one win separates the two of them on the ladder and the Saints will be very keen to step up level with their long term rival by season’s end.

Newlyn could end up ninth if they are able overcome Rokewood Corindhap in their final match. The Grasshoppers have lost all momentum after a promising start to the year and probably will not be able to match it with the gradually developing Cats.