Storm does just enough to clinch bizarre 2015 decider by Richard Jones

StrathstormSTRATHFIELDSAYE did just enough to down Sandhurst and cap an undefeated 2015 Bendigo Football League season in the most bizarre central Victorian grand final I’ve seen.

The Dragons didn’t kick a goal until early in the third quarter, they had not a single score on the board at quarter-time and just one point by the long break while the Storm themselves managed only 2.9 by half-time.

The Hurst steamed home nailing eight goals although the Storm defence seldom wavered under the last half pressure.

Strathfieldsaye had to try everything to manufacture just six majors in the concluding two quarters.

All this on a perfect sunny spring day, with not a cloud in the sky, and on a brilliantly manicured bright green deck.

Sandhurst locked the ball in their front half for the opening four-and-a-half minutes of play. But nary a single score resulted – not even a rushed behind – as the Storm defenders held firm and repelled every single attack.

Eight inside 50s for nothing was the Dragons’ return.

That early Strathfieldsaye defensive pressure set the pattern for the rest of the grand final. Nalder Medallist Matt Smith dominated across half-back, Jayden Donaldson marked everything that came his way, rebounding defender Harry Conway (the 2015 Rising Star winner) enhanced his standing as the BFL’s best young footballer and full-back Kane Airdrie was solid all afternoon.

But the Storm forwards were sadly offline. Only big ruckman Michael Pilcher and midfielder Shaun Everington could split the big sticks in the first half, with the rest of the Storm forwards landing minor score after minor score.

Finally at the six-minute mark of the third term, Sandhurst assistant coach Lee Coghlan marked and kicked straight. Consecutive goals to Zac East and Galen Munari miraculously reduced the Hurst deficit to seven points.

The Storm steadied with Stephen Milne and Tom Bartholomew nursing  home majors at the Barnard Street end to push Strathfieldsaye’s advantage out to 19 points.

Again Coghlan revived Sandhurst’s hopes. He kicked his second major from just 30 metres out to bring the Dragons back within 13 points at the last change: 4.4 to 5.11.

It was still a beautiful sunny day with former Bendigonian Jake Stringer – now a Western Bulldog star and a 2015 All Australian – watching on among the enormous crowd.

Storm skipper Shannon Geary booted the all-important first goal of the final quarter when he nailed a set shot from the pressbox flank, city end.

The Dragons weren’t finished. Two goals in a row to Joel Wharton, including a sizzling over-the-shoulder snap, reduced the Storm’s lead to just seven points.

But then a mark followed by a goal to Sam Mildren, clearly still hampered by his chronic hip injury and his only major for the grand final, and a snap to Jake ‘Stingray’ Hall sealed the flag for the Strathfieldsaye Storm.

The Dragons had only themselves to blame. Twenty inside 50s to Storm’s seven in the final quarter were blighted by four out-of-bounds on the full.

Matt Thornton reduced the eventual gap once again to seven points with the last goal of the day, landed after the final siren.

Strathfieldsaye        2.4       2.9         5.11          8.12 (60)

Sandhurst               0.0       0.1         4.4            8.5  (53)

Goals – Strath: Sam Mildren, Michael Pilcher, Tom Bartholomew, Stephen Milne, Lachlan Bonney, Shaun Everington, Shannon Geary, Jake Hall (all 1). Sandhurst: Lee Coghlan 2, Joel Wharton 2, Matt Thornton, Galen Munari, Braidon Blake, Adam Parry.

Best – Strath: Matt Smith (best on ground), Jayden Donaldson, Michael Pilcher, David Gallagher, Kallen Geary, Kellan Smith, Jake Hall. Sandhurst: Codie Price, Nick Stagg, Tim Martin, Lachie Tardrew, James Coghlan, Braidon Blake.

Nalder Medal (for best afield): Matt Smith (Strathfieldsaye).

AFL Central Victoria Medal: Codie Price (Sandhurst).

Gate takings: $69,000.

STORM coach Darryl Wilson was more relieved than exultant, watching a large portion of the final term either with hands clasped on head or from a squatting position beside his interchange bench.

“If we had have kicked straight it would have been a different story by half-time,” he said later.

“We work really hard on or defensive structures – our zone defence and our back-half pressure.

“There’s a few guys in our team who probably didn’t get five or six touches in total, but that’s okay. It’s what they did off the ball with their pressure which was most important for us.”

And Wilson’s Storm is only the third BFL club since 1950 to go through a season undefeated and win the flag into the bargain.

Sandhurst coach Brett Fitzpatrick was still sitting in the Dragon rooms 30 minutes after the final siren, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Not kicking a goal in the first half was always going to make it hard for us. But perhaps just as painful for us was not making the most of that plethora of opportunities we gave ourselves in the final quarter,” he added.

“We dominated the inside 50s in that final quarter, but we missed shots, missed targets and kicked the ball out of bounds on the full four times. You have to make the most of your opportunities and we didn’t.

“It wasn’t through a lack of want. The boys gave their all, but our kicking let us down,” a desperately disappointed Fitzpatrick said.

goldenGOLDEN Square’s A grade netballers also went through the 2015 season undefeated, downing Strathfieldsaye in the big dance.

The Square got away to a brilliant start on their way to a 43-39 victory.

By the first change they led by three goals with goal shooter – and Bendigo Spirit WNBL basketballer – Gabe Richards notching 10 of Square’s 11 first quarter goals.

She didn’t have things all her own way, though, in a captivating one-on-one duel with Storm’s Scottish World Cup representative Fiona Themann.

By the midway point of the final term Golden Square was out to a 13-goal lead only for the Storm to peg them back as the clock counted down.

Strathfieldsaye’s gallant late charge in which they piled on eight unanswered goals brought the Storm within four goals late in the final quarter. Two minutes were left on the clock.

A steadying goal to Gabe Richards stretched the Square lead to five and Strathfieldsaye could muster just one goal from its next two forays forward, sealing the Dogs’ premiership – and a fitting end to their unbeaten 2015 season.

Best on court award: Allira Hammond (GS).

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