By Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
GRAND FINAL REVIEW
The cricketing gods would surely have been smiling down on Toomuc Reserve on the weekend.
The grand final rivalry between the Lions and the Demons was already one of the biggest in WGCA history, but on the weekend that went to another level entirely.
If it wasn’t enough that the two clubs have an almost identical theme song, since Pakenham’s first season in the Premier tier – 2011/12 – the head-to-head rivalry between the two first XI sides now sits at nine wins apiece, with three draws.
On the weekend, the Lions had to find a way to reverse the trend of the previous two deciders – one that started with a loss in the most astonishing grand final in recent memory, that of 2016/17 when the Demons successfully defended just 113.
While Kooweerup scored comfortably more than that this time around, they still fell what felt like 20 to 40 runs short of what could have been a match-winning total.
Winning the toss and electing to bat on day one, they were dismissed for 161 with the Lions breaking through at regular intervals throughout their 74 overs.
Star Demons captain-coach Mark Cooper was removed for just six in the fourth over of the match – given out caught off Chris Smith.
His was clearly the key wicket for the Lions, but when Cooper’s opening partner and WGCA legend Chris O’Hara fell for 19 after drinks, the home side could no doubt smell blood in the water.
Prior to the clash it was said that the contest could well be decided by some of the more unheralded players from either side and through the Demons’ middle order it seemed young guns Tyler Clark (15), Lachie Ramage (17), and Mitch Cammarano (50) would make that become a reality.
But that steady flow of wickets – including that of the particularly impressive Cammarano, caught behind by Rob Elston off Tom Tyrrell for 50 – ensured the Lions would stay in the box seat.
The young gun aside, only Jess Mathers could reach 20 as Dale Tormey (4/30) and Jason Williams (3/32) struck with regularity.
But the impact of Chris Smith (1/28, Cooper’s wicket) and Dan Vela (1/14, Clark’s) was just as telling.
In the past, there’d be no return for the Lions when they failed to make it through the end of day one unscathed.
On Sunday, they resumed at 1/1 after the stunning dismissal late on the first day’s play of Ben Maroney, triggered LBW to Jess Mathers for a duck.
The precarious 1/1 soon became what looked from the outside to be an even more shaky 2/14 on day two, but Jack Anning (32), Smith (13), Tormey (61 in a man of the match performance), Troy McDermott (20 not out), and Elston (23 not out) ensured a reversal of the results from the past two years – with Pakenham squaring the ledger at 2-2 with the Demons in this era.
Tormey bludgeoned anything too short or overpitched during a defining innings for Pakenham, while, fittingly, it was Elston who struck the winning runs as his side won by four wickets (6/164).
“It was nice, particularly after two years ago when I couldn’t do it,” he said with more than just a touch of relief after the game.
“I was fairly calm, and I knew we had the game in hand a bit more than last time. “Last time we lost wickets at crucial times.
“Today (Sunday) we got enough momentum. They’re a team that keeps on trying to drag you back, but if you keep scoring enough and staying positive you can start to get on top.
“They just know how to get in the game, and they stay in it longer than most teams – and that’s why they’ve won four of the past six (titles). It’s a massive record.”
For the Demons, Mathers (2/41), Luke McMaster (2/64), and Cooper (2/40) finished with two wickets apiece.
Elston paid tribute to Cooper’s Demons and the winning culture at Kooweerup in the wake of the clash – praising their ability to bring through so much quality young talent alongside their proven senior stars.
Following the clash in the victorious Lions’ rooms, club president Phil Anning spoke of the adversity the group had faced this season, and of his pride in not only their efforts but those of each of the club’s teams.
Pakenham had seven of its 11 sides playing in grand finals.
“Just on behalf of the committee, the supporters, and the sponsors and everyone connected to the club, congratulations to the Premier boys on their premiership win,” he told the packed room.
“I know how hard you’ve all worked – I’ve seen it every Thursday night up here, no matter how hot the temperature. You’ve all worked hard, and to come off two heartbreaking premiership defeats, to see what you had to go through when Dom went down and not be able to play, to see Jack Ryan come back and then not be able to come up, and to see Zac (Chaplin) do his shoulder – the adversity that you blokes have had to go through to win the ultimate is nothing short of remarkable, so I can’t be more proud of a group of blokes.
“It’s just amazing, and I think the other thing that we should look at as a club is that today we had seven sides playing a grand final. That is an outstanding achievement. “It just goes to show that the culture, and who you people are, is shown through what you bring to the club, what you do at the club, and how you represent the club and I could not be prouder to be president of such a wonderful organisation.”