By Nick Creely
There would have been plenty of anxious moments in the Beaconsfield coaching box after Woori Yallock got off to a stunning start with the first three goals in a matter of just 10 minutes.
The Tigers looked up and about in the early stages of the inaugural Russell Rowe Shield at Holm Park, named after a legend of both football clubs, playing a relentless, surging brand of football in the driving rain.
But Leigh McQuillen’s side are a different beast to previous years, and have grown substantially in the space of just nine weeks of the Outer East Premier Division season.
They’re hard to beat, defensively sound and have class on every line.
It was an important test for the Eagles, but they stood up when it counted, kicking six goals to three after quarter time in almost torrential conditions to move into third spot and within striking distance of Berwick and Narre Warren at the top, 7.13 (55) to 6.12 (48).
“They (Woori Yallock) adjusted to it a lot better early on,” McQuillen said of the start of the match.
“It really suited their repeat stoppage players, and made it hard for us to get speed on the game with the track being so heavy.
“We had to mix up the players we had in there and add some size inside to bullock our way outside and get our runners involved.
“The most pleasing part for us is that twice Woori got out to a three goal leads in heavy conditions and we responded both times. To grind a win like that in heavy conditions is a fantastic result.”
A grind is probably the most perfect description of the result, there was almost no flashiness, just honest, wet-weather football.
After taking in an early lead, the Eagles still couldn’t get its game up to scratch in the second term, and the Tigers – once again – utilised its bigger bodies to kick two late goals and take in a three-goal lead at the major break.
At half-time, McQuillen said it was an important to adapt and make some changes, praising his group for its ability to turn the game around.
“We threw the magnets around at half time,” he said.
“The coaching staff spent a lot of time in the box at half time before going into the rooms to change the mix.
“When we got into the rooms we were pleasantly surprised by the boys demeanour and willingness to get back out on the ground lead by our leadership team.
“We’ve spoken all year about the adaptability in the side and that it doesn’t matter where you play, you all have a clear understanding of what’s needed for the team.
“Do your part for the side and do it with aggression at the ball. To the credit of the players we made around 10 positional changes and nearly all of them paid off with these players taking up the challenge, with a lot riding on that result.”
The tone was set early by midfielder Jack Griffiths – who in the midst of his finest game so far at the Eagles – kicked a crucial goal to kick off the home side’s run, which included a further three for the third term as the visitors struggled to contain the abundance of attacking threats.
The Tigers threw all they could leading into their bye in a thrilling final quarter, but the Eagles’ stingy defense, combined with pivotal moments from their leaders such as Griffiths and Brad Homfray saw them hold firm and claim a gritty win, with the scores level as deep as 20 minutes into the final quarter before the Eagles could find enough power to find the match-winner.
“They’re a great bunch, our backline,” McQuillen said of the back six.
“They work so well together and so hard for each other, constantly covering and calling their own match ups throughout the game.
“I have huge trust in them and rate their ability to not only defend but provide great rebound for us in attacking movements.”
Griffiths relished the conditions to be best afield, while Jake Bowd was also excellent for the Eagles with his razor-sharp foot skills. For the visitors, Jake Matthews was everywhere with three majors, while Zach Monkhorst had a big impact.
McQuillen didn’t downplay the significance of Saturday’s win, describing it as the perfect tune-up for what could be coming for his side in coming months.
“We lose that one and we go eight points adrift of third,” he said.
“We win we go to third, win our fourth in a row and have a very healthy percentage.
“Grind is the key word and in the past two seasons we lost a lot of those so to now have won two (Olinda and Woori) where we came from behind has given us great belief.”
And Saturday provides the next big test, Cranbourne on its home deck, the very side that bested them in the opening round of the season in a performance McQuillen was extremely disappointed with at the time.
“It was disappointing in the way we finished a successful pre-season winning all our practice matches then to jump out to a five goals lead and to see Cranbourne come back and roll over the top of us,” he said.
“We debriefed that one heavily and went back to the drawing board on the difference between ‘over confidence’ thinking it’s just going to happen, and not allowing the scoreboard to drive work-rate.
“The players agreed that we got ahead of ourselves and Cranbourne showed us that if you think it’s just going to happen, you’re in for a rude shock.
“Here’s a chance for our players to prove how disappointing they were with that loss and atone against a quality club.”
Elsewhere, Cranbourne, as expected, took care of business against Upwey Tecoma at home, 17.13 (115) to 3.4 (22).
Coming off three consecutive losses, the Eagles were always going to respond on its home deck, controlling proceedings from start to finish and gain some momentum back.
The fifth-placed Eagles got off to the best possible start, kicking away in the first term with 11 scoring shots to one to open up a 40-point lead, which soon ballooned to 62 at the major break.
While the Tigers showed some fight to keep the final margin under 100 points, the Eagles enjoyed nine individual goal kickers, with Tom Marks, Jake Cowburn and Corey Ellison each snaring three goals, while Bailey Buntine’s brilliant recent form continued with another assured display.
In the final game of the round, Wandin held off a fast-finishing Olinda Ferny Creek to keep in touch with the top-five, 13.9 (87) to 11.16 (82).
It was a classic game of blistering attack against a defensively minded outfit, and early on the Dogs had plenty of bark, opening up a whopping 29-point quarter time lead.
With Justin Van Unen (six goals) firing in attack, the Bloods needed to lift its game, and did, cutting back the margin from 29 at half-time to 25 at the final change.
Surging hard, and with plenty of momentum, the Bloods fell just short in a thrilling final term, with Lachlan Taylor’s bag of five almost getting the job done.
Berwick and Narre Warren played their Round 9 clash as a standalone match prior to the start of the season.