Dragons soar, Tigers lose their roar by Richard Jones

BFNLLogo1A wrap of Bendigo footy finals, Week 1

Kyneton’s heavy defeat in Saturday’s qualifying final at the hands of Eaglehawk was the talk of Bendigo football at the weekend. The Tigers didn’t give a yelp after quarter-time leading footy fans and journalists wondering what effect the news the club was $200,000 in debt had had on the team. Tiger coach Luke Beattie refused to lay the side’s atrocious performance to the club’s ongoing financial woes. “That information was known to the playing group two weeks ago and the way the players went about it in our final home and away game against Golden Square reflected the buy-in from the group,” he said.“I wouldn’t use it as an excuse for the finals loss at all.”

Kyneton was never in the game after the quarter-time break in Saturday’s qualifying final. Eaglehawk added 18 goals to the Tigers’ two after the first term had been completed and made the third-placed Kyneton looked flat-footed and disorganised.In the club’s 150th anniversary season it was revealed the players had foregone their round 17 match payments to assist the club financially. But even after coach Luke Beattie, president Karen O’Sullivan, vice-president Rob Waters and the five senior players in the leadership group – including skipper Josh Govan and three-time best and fairest winner Rhys Magin – had pledged their loyalty to the club for 2019 and beyond it was hard to reconcile their tame Saturday effort with harmony inside the Kyneton ranks.

eaglehawkeThe Hawks had forwards Sean Williams (5 goals) and Ben McPhee (3) on target while key winger/half-forward Gedd Hommelhoff bobbed up with three as well. The backline led by Brenton Conforti, skipper Tim Hill and reliable Glenn Daly completely shut down the Tigers’ attack. And in the on-ball department Jonty Neaves, Brodie Collins and coach Josh Bowe just kept pumping the ball into attack. There wasn’t much excitement over the final three quarters for the big crowd which had flocked to the QEO on the eve of Bendigo’s first White Night festival. Fortunately the QEO’s brand new under-cover panoplies at both ends of the ground supplied perfect escape for fans as periodic rain showers swept in after the long break.

It was extremely difficult to find good players for Kyneton. Max O’Sullivan kicked two of his side’s meagre tally of five majors while big Dan Davie battled hard in the ruck and at centre half-forward when he was switched into attack. He also snared a miraculous long range grubbered goal. Jordan Mangan had a crack in the big man battles but he was just overwhelmed by Neaves and Cam McGlashan while Hamish Govan and assistant coach Gareth Bowes tried to spark their on-ball brigade. Eaglehawk was led by creative half-back Jack Fallon who was a linkman through midfield and capped off an excellent game when he floated forward, took a courageous mark and kicked truly from 30m out.

Hommelhoff and McPhee did as they pleased across half-forward with Brenton Conforti having a major impact whether in defence or in attack. In the 35 years the BFNL has used the final five system only one qualifying final has been more lopsided – Eaglehawk’s 114-point drubbing of Sandhurst back in 2007.

SandhurstDragonsIn Sunday’s elimination final the Dragons shook off a determined Gisborne but only after an epic struggle. The young Bulldogs threw everything at their higher-ranked opponents although for the final 30 minutes it was Sandhurst’s edge in class through the midfield and their experience which got them home. The Dragons clearly needed a serious hit-out. Their final two home-and-away fixtures had been against the bottom two clubs in Maryborough and Castlemaine. Gisborne was fierce and unyielding at the contest from the opening bounce. Midway through the second stanza the Dogs led by seven points before the Hurst landed the concluding two goals of the first half to wrest back the lead. Third quarter majors to Zac East and Jake McLean for the Dragons were cancelled out by great marks and accurate conversions by Gisborne’s Jake Conolan and Jack Scanlon. Sandhurst playing coach Andy Collins urged his players to step up a gear at the three quarter-time break. “We needed to be more clever in the way we used the ball going inside the 50m arc,” he said later. “We’d lacked some polish in the first three quarters but in that final quarter we used the ball better and didn’t just bomb away.”

Young player Jed Zimmer bobbed up with two last term majors while elusive defender Codie Price floated forward and was prominent – not only by kicking a goal himself but by setting up Zimmer’s second major. Stars of the Hurst’s 2016 premiership win in captain Blair Holmes and Lee Coghlan led the charge for the Dragons.

Gisborne’s best were young ruckman Josh Grabham, midfielders Ethan Minns and Nick Doolan and 36-year-old key defender Anthony Belcher.

Scores: Eaglehawk 22.17 (149) def. Kyneton 5.7 (30, Sandhurst 13.10 (88) def. Gisborne 9.11 (65).

Week 2 of finals, second semi-final Sat. night: Strathfieldsaye v Eaglehawk.

Sunday, knockout first semi-final: Kyneton v Sandhurst.

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