By Hayley Wildes
Having earned a week off after demolishing Geelong by 91 points in the qualifying final, the Casey Demons return to action this Saturday as they look to book their place in the VFL grand final.
Casey’s opponent Essendon has come from the clouds, roaring into the preliminary final having beaten Collingwood and minor premiers Richmond in its two finals games after finishing eighth on the ladder.
While Essendon is in fine form, Casey’s body of work over the length of the season more than suggests deserved favouritism.
The Demons had a minor hiccup in the final two home and away season games, but rediscovered their identity against Geelong and playing the Casey brand of football – a tough and uncompromising thirst for the contest – will be key against Essendon.
Casey and Essendon have met once this season and the Round 13 match-up was an enthralling battle. In windy conditions at Craigieburn, the Demons claimed a hard-fought eight-point win.
In his first season at Casey, coach Jade Rawlings has turned his team into a defensive-minded and ruthless outfit. Their willingness to firstly compete at every contest and then spread with width and use the ball with composure makes them a tough team to crack.
Rawlings’ season was recognised at Monday night’s VFL Best and Fairest when he was awarded 2018 VFL Coach of the Year. Having led his team to a 14-4 record, finishing the home and away season in second position, it was some very well deserved recognition of a coach who has brought his team together.
Teams for Saturday’s game are yet to be named, but Casey will most likely boast the likes of Melbourne AFL-listed players Tom Bugg, Jeff Garlett, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jayden Hunt, Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty, Tim Smith and of course Cam Pedersen – who finished equal-fifth in the 2018 J.J Liston Trophy at Monday night’s best and fairest.
While there is plenty of skill and experience among that group, the VFL-listed players are just as important and have consistently stood up for Casey. Corey Wagner, Jay Lockhart, captain Jack Hutchins, James Munro and Josh Wagner have been vital to the Demons’ success.
Casey faces Essendon on Saturday at North Port Oval from 2.10pm.