By Nick Creely
SOUTH EAST FOOTBALL NETBALL LEAGUE
REVIEW – PRELIMINARY FINAL
It was a game that had almost everything. Until midway through the final term, a grand final spot was truly in the balance.
Both Narre Warren and Cranbourne electrified the crowd in an absorbing preliminary final, moving the ball with speed and skill to put on a show for a sizeable crowd at Pakenham’s Toomuc Reserve.
In the end, it came down to which side could capitalise at crucial times, and as they have been for the entire season, Matt Shinners’ side came out on top and earnt themselves a right to meet Berwick in what looms as a grand final for the ages.
Despite a masterclass by Marc Holt – who compiled one of the great finals quarters of recent memory in the second term – the Magpies had their noses slightly ahead at every change, and responded every time they were challenged.
It’s the mark of a good side.
In a fluent, fast starting game, the Eagles could only score through Holt, while the Magpies used their speed to get it in to forwards Mitch Cox (two goals), Aaron Wilson (two goals) and Nick Scanlon (one goal) quickly, taking in a 16-point quarter time advantage.
Desperate to cut out the running power of Nathan Foote, Trent Cody and Hayden Stagg – who were all finding plenty of space in the middle – the Eagles became more aggressive, isolating Holt in the second.
And he took complete control of the game. With the crowd on his side, it loomed as the biggest headache for the coaching box of the Magpies.
Powerless to stop the momentum of the 1000 goal legend, Holt was masterful on the lead, in the air and on ground level, snaring three and having a hand in several others to see his side claim the lead.
But a classy goal to Jack Toner, followed by a sublime leap and major to Cody saw the Magpies steady late and reclaim their control over the contest.
The midfield battle began to even up in the second half, with Luke Bee-Hugo in particular a standout in the third quarter, booting three goals – including a dashing, team lifting major to finish the term and bring the margin at the final break to just one straight kick.
Shaun Marusic, Michael Wenn and Anthony Vella all started to get their hands on the ball, helping their side mount a charge.
The tension was palpable as both sides emerged from the huddle, with one side playing their final quarter of the season.
Sensing the moment, Mitch Cox rose high to pluck a big grab early in the final term, slotting the most important goal of the day.
Only moments later, young defender Jesse Davies bravely jumped in front of a contest with Holt coming like a steam train the other way, taking an incredible intercept mark that resulted in a 50 metre penalty.
For such a young kid, it was a moment that had the Narre supporters in awe of his willingness to put his body on the line for his team.
Those little game changing moments began to be won by the Magpies, who were placing the Eagles’ defensive unit under serious heat.
Steve O’Brien’s side had urgency, taking the game on at every cost, but the likes of Davies, Col McNamara, Joel Zietsman and Ryan Quirk repelled everything.
Holt breathed some life into the contest by snaring his fifth goal with around eight minutes left to play, but Brad Scalzo put the game to rest and the Eagles’ resistance ended after snapping a goal only seconds later.
The Magpies slammed on another couple to bring the margin out to almost five goals, and have advanced through to yet another grand final.
On a day where each team was tested at various points, Dylan and Ryan Quirk, Nathan Foote, Cody and Cox were all influential for the Magpies, while Holt, gun defender Brandon Osborne and champion midfielder Ryan Davey were all valiant.
Speaking in a buzzing Narre changeroom to his players after the game, coach Matt Shinners told his players to embrace the week.
“We finished on top at the end of the home and away season, and you’ve earnt a right to play in a grand final,” he said.
“There was some terrific passages of play, for our spectators and people here – we got the opposition on the back foot, and you put your head down, persevered.
“Next week, we’ll really have to be on our mettle boys – how we use the footy, and decision making under pressure needs to be on the improve, and that’s what we spoke about in the box.
“We haven’t got there by playing absolutely scintillating footy, we’ve still got a lot of room for improvement, boys.
“That’s the best thing about next week, we bring our A-game – enjoy the week.”
Narre Warren 15.12 (102)
Cranbourne 11.9 (75)