STRATHFIELDSAYE Storm firmed into unbackable favouritism for the 2015 Bendigo Football League premiership following a 41-point demolition of major rivals Golden Square on Saturday night.
With ace spearhead Sam Mildren booting seven goals the unbeaten Storm cruised into their third grand final in a row.
Many pundits had rated the Square Dogs a bit of a show in the night second semi-final.
But now they have to face up to a rampaging Sandhurst in this weekend’s night preliminary final after an impressive Dragons’ second half burst in Sunday’s first semi-final which sent Eaglehawk packing.
The Square looks like being without inspirational skipper Simon Rosa – older brother of West Coast’s Matt – who injured his back Saturday night. Maybe defenders Travis Baird and Brayden Dorrington will also be sidelined with foot injuries although they’re expected to battle on.
Rock-solid full-back Dale Young was a late withdrawal Saturday evening but coach Nick Carter is hopeful Young will be ready for the cut-throat prelim. final this weekend.
Strathfieldsaye’s form was super impressive considering they had not played a top four club in two months. Strath’s final six games of the home and away season were all played against the bottom six.
Mildren, Stephen Milne, Jake Hall and Tom Bartholomew took 11 marks between them in the first quarter. The Bulldogs’ forwards did not clunk that many marks for the entire night.
Kallen Geary, David Gallagher (showing the benefit of his handful of AFL appearances) and Shaun Everington dominated the clearances allowing Mildren, Bartholomew and Hall to bang home majors almost at will.
The margin ballooned to 55 points before the MyJet Oval Dogs made their scoreline a tad more respectable with 3.5 in the final stanza.
Storm coach Darryl Wilson, on the cusp of a second major success, said Mildren’s ability to play his best footy on the big stage was a credit to the spearhead.
“We are all very happy with Sam because he plays sore.
“He just gets the job done. I thought by the end he’d kicked three or four, but of course Sam finished with seven. He was very good,” said the coach.
And unsurprisingly Wilson also praised his midfield group.
“Our run and carry, allied with our spread, was very important on the big ground. We just kept running all night which was exciting.”
Key forward Matthew Ferguson seems certain to return from a thigh injury for the grand final, while livewire small forward Lachie Sharp is rated a 50-50 chance.
Wilson also has to consider whether he’ll play Essendon VFL midfielder Sam Heavyside who also seems certain to be available.
SANDHURST put their first half goalkicking yips behind them as they banged home seven goals in a match-defining third quarter burst on Sunday.
With a terrible 1.10 on the board at one stage the wayward Dragons seemed to spark up when clearance king Adam Parry was shown a yellow card for an alleged strike on the Hawks’ Brodie Collins.
Parry was sent off late in the second term with Eaglehawk on top by seven points.
The Hawks seemed to be holding all the aces. Sean Williams ranged far and wide collecting possessions, Brodie Filo was showing no ill-effects from his thigh soreness as he picked out teammates with brilliant passes off either leg while Tim Hill was rock-solid in the back half.
Plus Hurst key midfielder Lee Coghlan was off the QEO with a corked hip and Parry’s absence meant Sandhurst was down to just 17 players on-field.
Parry’s enforced sideline stint seemed to galvanise the Hurst. Big ruckman Tim Martin and his co-midfielders Koe Ngawati, Lachlan Tardrew and Nick Stagg took over.
With Lachlan Ross at full-forward together with small forwards Galen Munari and Seb Greee the Dragons now had a potent structure in attack.
Twelve Hurst goals to three after the long break sealed Eaglehawk’s 2015 fate.
Ross was dynamic in the second half while the third quarter yellow carding of midfielder Cam Milward didn’t help the Two Blues’ cause.
The Dragons have to weigh up what to do with the Parry report.
Will they cop the mandatory one-week suspension and not challenge it? If they do decide this week to front the Tribunal Parry risks a two-week ban and any chance of a possible grand final appearance will be shot.
Sandhurst, like Golden Square, faces plenty of action in the medical room this week.
Apart from Coghlan, Harry O’Meara (toe) and big man Ben Anderson (knee) will also be worked on. And the club’s leading senior goalkicker Joel “Skinny” Wharton was a late withdrawal Saturday because of hamstring tightness.
Dragon coach Brett Fitzpatrick conceded the Parry incident had proved to be a turning point.
“It’s amazing what goes through players’ heads,” he said. “From that point on when Adam was sent off we worked harder for each other.”
Strathfieldsaye 5.4 9.7 13.10 15.13 (103)
Golden Square 2.1 3.2 6.3 9.8 (62)
Goals – Storm: Sam Mildren 7, Stephen Milne 2, Tom Bartholomew 2, Harry Conway 2, Jake Hall, David Gallagher. Square: Ryan Herring 2, Corey Jones 2, Jayden Burke 2, Hamish Morcom, James Sullivan, Jack Daley.
Best – Storm: Kallen Geary (best on ground), Sam Mildren, Michael Pilcher, David Gallagher, Harry Conway, Matt Smith, Jake Hall. Square: Tom Toma, Corey Jones, Dale Lowry, Jonathan Coe, Phil Ryan, Brayden Dorrington.
Sandhurst 1.6 3.10 10.14 15.17 (107)
Eaglehawk 2.5 5.5 7.9 8.12 (60)
Goals – Sandhurst: Lachlan Ross 3, Galen Munari 3, Koe Ngawati 2, Seb Greene 2, Lachie Tardrew, Matt Thornton, Codie Price, N. Slater, Alex Wharton. Eaglehawk: Sean Williams 3 Ryan Wellington 2, Brock Rogers, Ryan Threlfall, Josh Ryan.
Best – Sandhurst: Lachie Tardrew (best on ground), Codie Price, Nick Stagg, Lachlan Ross, Tim Martin, Alex Wharton. Eaglehawk: Tim Hill, Josh Ketterer, Brenton Conforti, Brodie Filo, Ben McPhee, Tim Harrington.
This week: Saturday from 6 pm at the QEO, preliminary final: Sandhurst v Golden Square.