CHFL preview – Semi Finals Very good crowds enjoyed a return to sunshine and finals football in the Central Highlands FL across the weekend with four excellent senior matches which again highlighted the closeness of the top eight teams. Probably the hard luck story of the season has been the quick departure of Waubra from finals action. Two weeks ago before round 17 the Kangaroos were sitting in second spot on the ladder but losing to Gordon cost them both second spot and the double chance when they dropped to fifth. Then Ballan compounded the misery by causing the major upset of the Elimination finals by bundling Waubra out. Ballan have now defeated Waubra twice for the season and have been one club who has shown an ability to break apart the shutdown style of play which the Kangaroos have favoured. The breeze at Learmonth had an effect on the outcome with Ballan being able to break the shackles in the second quarter to have a 28 point half time lead which they essentially held from there on.
Zac Peoples, Daniel King and Lachlan Herring each caused problems for the Waubra defence kicking eight of the twelve goals between them. In addition the elusiveness and power of Shaun Campbell, Mark Williams, Sam Hitchings and David Ismail gave the Blues a tremendous start to their first finals campaign since 2003. This win will give all their team a confidence boost as they head towards their second cutthroat final a semi-final against Buninyong.
Final scores would suggest that Buninyong were never in the Qualifying final against Springbank but this was definitely not the case with the Bombers in fact holding the lead twice during the third quarter. Then class rose to the surface when Michael Searl, shifted forward due to the injury to Paul McMahon, imposed himself on the game taking three strong marks and goaling from fifty meters each time in the space of five minutes. This provided the catalyst for a seven goal quarter and a four goal three quarter time lead.
Buninyong needed to regain control quickly but they didn’t have the energy left after a very demanding, hard fought three quarters and the Tigers kicked another seven goals in the final quarter.
Along with Searl there was a solid contribution right across the ground for Springbank. Sam Cue directed the backline extremely well, Joel Maher proved to be the hardest at the contest at the crucial stoppages and Andrew Tyler popped in with a couple of crucial goals. It was the ability of Springbank coach Terry Simpson to manoeuvre the ready stocks of mobile tall players which he has at his disposal which eventually proved the crucial element. Ned Gilbert and Sam Turner both were able to get hold of the football quite a bit but apart from Turner’s three goals they couldn’t take control of the match to the extent which they have in recent matches. Anthony Ebery mopped up around the ground well and Alex Bomitali and Kenny Terry held their own but overall Buninyong always looked to be holding on rather than controlling the momentum of the game. Only three weeks ago Buninyong easily accounted for Ballan, however this was in very heavy conditions and it is unlikely that they will be faced with the same at Bungaree this coming Saturday.
If Ballan are able to make use of the space available they have a strong opportunity to actually make it through to the following Sunday’s preliminary final against Gordon. Buninyong will still probably rely on their strength around the contest and making use of Glen and Mark Phelps up forward. Last Sunday the Elimination final was also a super contest between Hepburn and Beaufort, which started with an absolute rush. Hepburn goaled twice within the first minute of play. The initial goal would have to be a contender for the fastest ever taking less than 10 seconds from the sounding of the siren. Twelve goals by quarter time highlighted a match of the highest quality, but one where the defenders were not able to contain forwards for long periods of time. As the game wore on a slight breeze towards the northern end of the ground appeared to assist and in the third term Beaufort got themselves back in the match on a flurry of goals from Rowan Brown and Mick Foster. At three quarter time the game was on a knifes edge separated by just four points but it was quick clean ball movement from the centre by Hepburn’s Brad and Andy McKay and pin point deliver to Lee Cox which shut the Crows out of the game within five minutes. Cox finished with seven goals and he demonstrated his well-known accuracy from set shots after strong contested marking. Joe Mason has had a great first year for Beaufort and along with Jake Garvey, Jack Duke and Alex Petrie has been excellent all year. However as they start to try to head towards next season the Crows might need to look through how many of their list will start to feel the impact of age on their performances. Of these older warriors Doc O’Kelly was outstanding on Sunday in his hard contested working the middle of the ground. Bungaree will be the next opponent for the Burras after the Demons were defeated by 25 points by Gordon.
Gordon’s run early in the game was unstoppable and they didn’t make the most of their nine scoring shots in the first quarter. Bungaree still felt that they were well within reach at the first break, and gradually narrowed the 20 point quarter time margin to nine by half time. They were not able to get any closer and in a tight second half the Eagles were able to gradually increase the margin to record a comfortable win and set up their second preliminary final in as many years. Shane Everard Goal Kicking Award winner Gordon’s Steve Nicholson had one of his better finals with three goals and Chris McGuigan, Matt Raworth and Ash Munari each contributed the sprinkling of mid field goals which typifies the Gordon playing style. Gordon was also pleased with the form of two of their big men Hamish Watts and Luke Gunnell who between them were able to nullify the influence of Bungaree ruckman Dave Benson. Benson proved a crucial figure during last year’s finals series and all teams will be putting extra effort into his game this year. Scott Mann has been in excellent form for Bungaree over the past month and along with Jason Linke and Matthew Sheridan they impressed the coaching staff the most. Bungaree now faces a very tough task in overcoming Hepburn next Sunday in the second of the semi-finals. It is going to be a very interesting week of planning for both Heath Pyke and Clive Raak.
Bungaree trying to find a way to score more freely this week against a miserly defence and Hepburn trying to take control of the midfield through Ricky Ferraro, Dan O’Halloran and Brad McKay.
Hepburn defeated Bungaree when they met recently and based upon the Burras form on Sunday they have a very good chance of bundling the reigning premiers out of the finals and setting up a great preliminary final against Springbank the following Saturday.