By Nick Creely
OUTER EAST FOOTBALL
PREMIER DIVISION REVIEW – ROUND 15
“There was a lot to play for, and we have to keep winning to play finals, so to get over the top of the reigning premiers who are incredibly hard to beat on their home deck, it was a great result.”
Cranbourne coach Steve O’Brien knows just how vital Saturday’s win against Berwick was in horrendous conditions, but understands it’s only half a job done as finals creep closer and closer by the day.
The Eagles moved six points clear of Wandin in sixth as the final spot in the Premier Division top five moves one step closer to being finalised, with upsets galore truly shaking things up.
In arguably the biggest upset of the season, the Eagles defied the conditions at Edwin Flack Reserve to stun the champion Berwick side, 7.4 (46) to 6.6 (42).
Settling the quicker of the two sides on a ground synomous with dominant Wickers performances, the Eagles held true defensively to set the game up in the first term, and with the return of some of their biggest stars, booted three unanswered goals to set up a 25-point half time lead, holding Rhys Nisbet’s champion side goalless as a result.
Jed Smith and Jordan Andrews provided a spark up forward for the Wickers in the third term, and with the likes of Madi Andrews and the in-form Luke Jellyman-Turner finding his run, it seemed the home side would run over the top after slashing the margin to just four points with a quarter to play.
But the Eagles showed heart, and ferociousness at the footy to hold on despite the lead changing hands frequently in a riveting final term, with O’Brien’s side capturing its most precious four points of the season, and at exactly the right time.
O’Brien told the Gazette that it was near on impossible to prepare for the on-field conditions, which made for a classic wet-weather game, but said his side had to alter the way it mentally prepared, and it came to fruition in the first half.
“You can’t prepare for that, it was a hard slog, and it was more of a mental battle, and that was something we touched on before the game,” he said.
“It was probably more mental than technical.
“Berwick had the wind in the first quarter, so we held really strongly, and denied them being able to impact the scoreboard, and it was crucial.
“And we were able to kick one against the wind in the first quarter which gave us some momentum and belief, and in the second quarter we were able to put space on the game.
“But we knew they’d come back, they’re a great footy side, so we knew they were never out of it, but our first half was outstanding.”
Jake Stephens, important defender Jordan Bertrand and gun utility Shaun Marusic was instrumental all day, while Archie Lawler-Lobato showed plenty on his way to a haul of three goals.
The Eagles have bravely kept themselves in touch to capture the remaining position in the finals despite being lashed with injuries and unavailability throughout the season, but O’Brien believes its given youngsters, and fringe players the opportunity to prove what they’re capable of.
“We had injuries and some guys overseas, and when it all came at once, we had batches where 11 of our best 22 were unavailable, so we had to expose some young blokes, and hope they stand up,” he said.
“It’s great for their development – some of the guys have managed to stay in the side, and some made way, but their development has been fast tracked.”
Helping Cranbourne’s cause was the second major boilover of the round, with Upwey Tecoma stunning Wandin at home to put a dent in the Dogs’ finals hopes, 11.6 (72) to 8.15 (63).
The Dogs settled quicker than the home side to take in a seemingly match-winning lead of 27 points at the major break, but the Tigers fought back to slash the margin to 14 with a quarter to play.
With the momentum behind them, the Tigers kicked five goals to one in the final term, running away with the game and seeing the Dogs fall six points – and hefty percentage – behind Cranbourne in fifth, and with a bye to come this weekend, may have left their run for finals too late.
In a terrific day for the Tigers, Liam Beacom was outstanding, while Aaron Grenda slotted three to be the most dangerous forward on the ground.
Beaconsfield, meanwhile, snared a vitally important win in a tricky road trip to Olinda Ferny Creek in incredibly difficult conditions, 13.13 (91) to 7.12 (54).
The Bloods made headlines around Victoria with a stunning picture posted on social media on Saturday morning, capturing snow blanketing the ground only hours before the game.
The challenge for the Eagles – similar to Cranbourne – was one of a mental battle, with the Bloods proving to be one of the difficult obstacles to overcome, particularly on their home deck.
And at half-time, with the Bloods holding on to a six-point advantage, Leigh McQuillen’s side needed to respond and bank a win to keep in touch with third spot.
With the class of the likes of Matthew Johnson (four goals), and industrious performances from Riley Verbi and Jack Griffiths through the middle, the Eagles took the game away with a brilliant, and unanswered six-goal third term, showcasing the type of football that makes them such a threat for any side.
The Eagles professionally held onto their lead despite the home side looking to fight its way back, capturing an important four points in the context of their battle for third with Woori Yallock.
In the remaining match of Premier, Woori Yallock did what it needed to against Healesville, 11.19 (85) to 1.4 (10) to consolidate third position on the table.
Narre Warren had the bye.