By Nick Creely
Doveton has an abundance of experience and class on its list, but it took the energy and talent of some of its younger brigade to take down Monbulk on Saturday in AFL Outer East Division 1.
The Doves moved a game clear in third in what was their most impressive performance of the season, controlling proceedings on their home deck to knock the Hawks off the top of the ladder, 15.7 (97) to 7.5 (47).
In complete control from the outset, the Doves found a spark early to jump the premiership fancies with a four-goal to two opening term, before flexing their muscles with some electric ball movement to take in a 38-point lead at half time.
With the regulars in Matthew Boyd (three goals), Daniel Zajac and Matt Stapleton providing ample experience once again, two of the Doves’ brightest young stars lit it up in a game played in freezing cold conditions as the home side ran away with a massive confidence-boosting win.
Youngster Connor Macdonald – a name that will feature plenty in the coming years as an AFL draft prospect – was best afield in his senior debut as a teenager, taking out the David George Medal in the Indigenous Round as the Doves donned a special Indigenous jumper.
The Vic Country teenager, who will likely feature for the Dandenong Stingrays in the coming years, is a star on the rise, with director of football Martin Stillman full of praise for the highly talented youngster.
“His family’s got a long association with the club – he’s 16-years-old, was the Vic Country under 16 vice-captain this year, and is Dandenong Stingrays listed, he’s a very talented young player,” he said.
“We probably don’t expect him to feature too much at Doveton, he’s got a lot of commitments, with Vic Country and has played a lot of school footy this year.
“He had a run in the 18s against Emerald, and this week was outstanding, which is so pleasing for us especially with his family’s history.”
Another youngster to shine on the big stage was former Narre Warren forward Max Sheppard, who snagged four majors – including three in a dynamic second-term which helped turn the game for the Doves. Sheppard crossed over to the club mid-season after being starved of opportunities for senior football at the Magpies.
“He’s a quality person on and off the field – everyone in the AFL Outer East knows he’s quality, but wasn’t able to break in for senior footy at Narre, and he was looking for opportunities,” Stillman said.
“He’s great friends with Mitch Cotter – who’s returned to the Doves – and he’s been terrific, and at 19-years-old, is only going to get better.
“He kicked four, and is starting to blossom as a key forward for Doveton. We look forward to hopefully watching him playing senior footy for the next decade at our club.”
Stillman said that is was vital for the group to bounce back after a lacklustre effort against a Stephen Milne-inspired Emerald last week, and praised the resilience of the side
“After the disappointing result against Emerald, it was imperative we bounced back and put in a more Doveton-like performance against Monbulk, and that’s how we played,” he said.
“Any football club that has a poor performance would look at the rebound element of it, and to the players’ credit, they got the just deserts on the day with a big win.
“We were confident (coming in to the game), we played well against Monbulk early in the year on their home ground for three quarters, so we thought if we played at our best, we’d be right in the game and have a very good chance of winning.”
Down at Starling Road, Officer similarly bounced back from last week with a dominant win against Emerald, 17.14 (116) to 4.3 (27).
Despite missing star skipper and leading goal kicker Matthew Clarke with injury, the Kangaroos once again broke the 100-point barrier to once again highlight their immense depth in attack, racking up 31-scoring shots to flatten the Bombers.
Doug Koop’s side got the hot start to keep the Bombers scoreless in the opening quarter while slamming on three themselves, before the visitors tightened up defensively in a more competitive second term.
But sheer weight of numbers eventually wore the Bombers down, with the Kangaroos kicking 11 goals to two after half time to set up a dominant win, with Brent Moloney (three goals), Jayce Valentine (three), Will Hanson (three), Ben Tivendale (two) and Luke Smaluch (two) kicking multiple goals, while the likes of Jake Ingalsio, Tyler Clark and big-man Sean Roach were all dominant all over the ground.
Koop told the Gazette that the Bombers made it hard work for them to get the game on their own terms, but was happy that they managed to get the fast start and not let the foot off the pedal.
“Catch-up footy is really hard to do, and it’s good for our confidence, and being on the receiving end of Cranbourne, Narre, Berwick and Beaconsfield losses in the last couple of years where they put the game away at half time, that’s certainly our theory,” he said.
“To Emerald’s credit, they smothered us in the first half, they got some numbers back and we just weren’t able to get that freedom of run, but managed to get that in the second half which is good.”
The Kangaroos – despite sitting fifth – are now the highest scoring side in the competition, averaging 90.85 points a game, and are slowly building their game ahead of a huge finals campaign.
“We are setting ourselves for finals, whether it’s a qualifying or elimination final – if we can knock off the rough edges, and then play our best footy in finals, you can get the ultimate result,” Koop said.
“As the year’s gone on, we’ve certainly got better and better, and if you look at the ladder, we’ve got the highest offensive score in the competition now, so that’s a sign we’re playing good footy.
“We matched Pakenham at home last time, but they came home with a howling gale and got on top of us, matched Monbulk for a half on their home deck, so we’re confident that if we play our best for four quarters, we’ll be in the mix against any side in the competition.
“But there’s some rough edges for sure.”
In the remaining matches in Division 1, Pakenham surged to top of the ladder with a comfortable win against Warburton Millgrove, 11.8 (74) to 1.2 (8), while Mount Evelyn held on against Belgrave away from home, 10.20 (80) to 10.13 (73).