By Nick Creely
They’re the kinds of wins that can set up a season.
Olinda Ferny Creek – who have had its fair share of struggles so far in 2019 – injected life into its season with a brave win against south-east rival Cranbourne at home on Saturday, 12.10 (82) to 10.6 (66).
And with a string of winnable games to come in AFL Outer East Premier – including Wandin, Upwey Tecoma and Healesville to come over the next month, have every opportunity to turn its now 2-5 record around.
The Bloods picked up its first real scalp against the Eagles on Saturday, in a see-sawing battle that saw the home side pull away with a terrific final term.
It was evenly fought first quarter, with the Eagles holding a slender four point lead – courtesy of its accuracy in front of goal – but the home side had an extra scoring shot and looked up for the challenge from the get go.
Finding more flair in its play across the second and third quarters, the Bloods managed to hold the visitors at bay – who were always going to keep challenging – to hold on to a precious lead heading into the final term.
With free disposals hard to win and a thirst for the contest from both sides desperate to clinch the points, it took a mighty effort late from the Bloods to kick away, in a win that keeps them in touch of a push towards the top-five in the back-end of the season.
All the more impressive were the fact that the Bloods did it without its biggest star – midfielder Marcus Hottes, who is set to miss a couple more weeks with a toe injury.
But in the champ’s absence, others stood tall, with Callum Beattie continuing his fine form with a starring display, while the likes of Peter Gough and Kelsey Currie had an impact. Still working his way into top form, James Charge played a fine game in just his third match of the season.
Olinda Ferny Creek coach Brendan Donovan praised his group for fighting through a tough stretch of games, with the Bloods having to contend with injury amid a raft of changes.
“It’s a bit of a relief, it’s been a tough month leading up, and we got our heads kicked in a little bit,” he said.
“It was our first four quarter effort for the year, and that probably shows our lack of continuity – there are no excuses, it’s more the cards that we were dealt, with a huge turnover of players, and then a few injuries meaning we had probably half the team that had never played together.
“I think we had one game with 13 players that hadn’t played more than four games together.”
All the more impressive was the fact that the Bloods could topple a strong side without the champ Hottes, with Donovan hoping it can quiet down a few of their critics.
“We challenged our boys, we’d never really won without him – we went out in finals last year horribly, and there was a bit of chatter that without Hottes it would be interesting, but the midfield group was great,” he said.
“Kelsey Currie, Peter Gough, (Nick) Keegan, (Matthew) Cunningham and (Dylan) Wilson were brilliant, I think the game was won and lost there.”
Despite showing plenty of ticker recently, it’s been a tough campaign for the Bloods, with Donovan explaining that its win-loss record is an indicator of exactly where they’re at.
“It’s spot on (the 2-5 record) – we had a really, really poor game against Upwey at Upwey, they beat us at our own game, Woori were horribly undermanned, Narre got us early and then we held our own, and Healesville was a relief more than anything,” he said.
“Beaconsfield was the real catalyst for us; it felt like the year really started after that.”
But the tide is slowly turning, and the Bloods are looking forward to its next challenge – a hungry Wandin side who are starting to pile on the goals.
“We’ve got some indicators that we work too, and the boys are starting to recognise it, and put it into place,” Donovan said.
“I don’t think Nick (Adam) ever holds back, their talent is in the front half, and our talent is in our back half, so it’ll be a great test.
“Trying to beat Wandin at their own game is really dangerous, that’s what Berwick found out – going for a shootout, with the weapons they have is difficult.
“Our attack needs to better, and we need to be more assertive with our defence.”
Donovan also weighed in on the noise surrounding some of the lopsided results in Premier – particularly when the Valley sides travel down to the south-east grounds – saying that clubs need to work harder and smarter on the different surrounds to get better results.
“I think it’s the biggest myth of the merge – we play at Healesville at least two times a year, finals at Alexandra, and Woori Yallock’s not that small,” he said.
“It’s a convenient story to tell, but it’s all about game style, and being able to defend and spread.
“It’s a bit of a cop-out.”
Down at Woori Yallock, Narre Warren were made to work by the Tigers but its class shone brightest in the crucial moments to land another big win, 19.12 (126) to 8.12 (60).
The Magpies were at their efficient best in the opening term, opening up a 25-point quarter time lead on the road, despite the Tigers registering just two less scoring shots.
With skipper Dylan Quirk, Trent Cody and Josh Tonna once again providing the class through the middle and Mitch Cox and Daniel Jackson once again showing their wares in attack, it loomed as a monster win until the home side steadied.
The intensity lifted and the Tigers were able to force the Magpies into some crucial errors with ball in hand, but still went into the major break with a 29-point deficit, but a chance to fight back and challenge again.
And they did, before Matt Shinners’ group – like a mature side does – found a way to withstand the pressure, not allow it to fester on the scoreboard, and eventually wrestle back control and pounce.
Despite the fierce surge from Woori early in the third, the Magpies – led by Jackson who eventually slotted six majors and another four to Cox – as well as a dynamic second-half to the legendary Michael Collins, pulled away with a 10-goal to four second half and more valuable percentage as the race for top spot continues to heat up.
Ben Monkhorst – as he usually does – had a big say on proceedings for the home side, while Magpies backman Jake Richardson played his best game of the year to be a crucial factor all day.
In the remaining matches across the Premier Division, Berwick overtook Narre Warren at the top of the table with a domination of Upwey Tecoma away from home, 25.13 (163) to 8.5 (53). Harry Money slotted six and Jordan Andrews five, while dynamic forward Tim Gunn was in superb touch once again. Wandin also filled its boots with a high-scoring game against Healesville, 25.12 (162) to 18.10 (128) at the Kennel, with Daniel Gorringe slotting nine in a best afield display.