By Nick Creely
The Kangaroos are hopping.
There is sense something special is brewing at Officer, and the tight-knit community that supports the club with so much gusto.
And while there are still so many chapters left to be written in this finals campaign, the significance of Sunday’s win for a club that’s been so staved of September success cannot be understated.
Doug Koop’s rising football side advanced through to Sunday’s AFL Outer East Division 1 semi-final after a dominant showing in its elimination final against Mount Evelyn at the Gembrook Sports Ground, 15.14 (104) to 6.7 (43).
It was a Jekyll and Hyde type of day for the footy fans that made their way to ground, with the first half baked in sunshine before the heavens opened up, and each time the Kangaroos adjusted superbly, playing the finals type football all observers knew they were capable of.
The Kangaroos struck almost immediately against the breeze, with skipper Matthew Clark wheeling around and snapping one through, before Jesse Longmuir – on his way to the finest game of his senior career – launched a long bomb from 50, kick starting a scintillating run of play.
Longmuir’s hands in the air were a particular highlight, taking several strong grabs and providing an excellent target for a Kangaroo midfield picking up the footy at alarming rates through the tap work of big man Sean Roach.
The Kangaroos finished the opening stanza with five straight goals to flex their muscles, controlling the ball on the inside with Ben Kerrigan and Blair Allan and showing flashes of brilliance through ball magnet Tyler Clark, Jake Ingaliso and club legend Ben Tivendale, who seemed to really relish the finals stage.
Longmuir, fresh off a splendid opening quarter, once again got the Kangaroos up and about early in the second, taking a nice grab and slotting another textbook set-shot, sending the Kangaroos into raptures as the lead ventured past five goals.
The Rovers did begin to assert some influence in the coalface, with big forward Robert Hartfield starting to get a good look in, but the Kangaroos halted them on most occasions, using slick ball movement and a strong aerial presence to continue their overriding control, and when skipper Clarke kicked another ripping snap from 40 out, the lead ballooned out to beyond seven goals, all but sealing the result.
While the Rovers did manage to peg a few back late through Hartfield who continued to look ominous, it felt like too little too late, with the Kangaroos still holding onto a five-goal advantage as the rain began to well and truly set in, settling in for the second half.
A brief chance of a fight back became a slim reality when the Rovers slammed on two early goals in the third term, before the Kangaroos once again took the game by the scruff of the neck and forged on ahead, kicking four unanswered goals to put to bed any chance of a remarkable resurgence.
In a final quarter with the result inevitable, one eye was clearly on the next test that awaits the Kangaroos, holding the Rovers goalless and kicking two themselves, including one from Tivendale, who capped off a golden day for the club by putting that extra sweet icing on the cake in the dying moments.
Kangaroos coach Doug Koop told the Gazette that his group were determined to not make the same mistake twice, after squandering a similar lead against the Rovers almost a month to the day.
“Losing to Mount Evelyn a couple of weeks ago was another really, really good lesson for us, so we’re learning all the time, and we put them to the sword on the weekend and got the better of them,” he said.
“My coaching this year has probably gone back to real basics, and we’ve stuck with a message from the start and continued to work on it, and we talked about it (the recent loss to Mount Evelyn) at half time, and told our boys that they’ll think they’re a chance, and we just needed to weather the storm.
“We knew they’d come, and be confident they could do it again, but the boys did extremely well to weather the storm.”
Veteran big man Sean Roach was absolutely superb, with the 36-year-old putting in a masterclass ruck performance for the Kangaroos, in one of his most influential games of the season.
Koop described Roach’s game as one of, if not the finest game the ruckman has played at the club, praising the 36-year-old for his leadership at the start of the game and ability to drag his teammates along and set the tone.
“He’s always competitive, and he’s got super, super passion, but his hit-outs on the weekend to advantage were phenomenal, and clearly his best game of the year from a team perspective,” he said.
I’ve always said, ‘if we could bottle his passion, we wouldn’t lose a game’ – it was clearly his best game for the club, his leadership in the middle early on allowed us to play our game and helped set it up for us.
“He was outstanding on the day.”
Longmuir finished with five classy goals to be one of the most dominant players on the ground, with Koop talking about how far he has come this year after some difficulties last season.
“My first year at Officer, he got better as the year went on, and we had big plans for him, and he had a few issues, and 2018 was horrible for him, really,” he said.
“He’s motored along this year, and in the last few weeks he’s been getting better and better, and he played a great last quarter against Pakenham last week in the forward line, and (on Sunday) he marked the ball well, kicked the ball well and ended up with five. He could have kicked seven or eight.
“He’s been Officer all his life, so it’s great to see one of our locals really stepping up to the mark.”
With a crunch semi-final showdown against Monbulk – a side the Kangaroos hasn’t been able to topple in two attempts this season – on Sunday; Koop said that the past means little as his side looks to send the Hawks out in straight sets.
“Ultimately, whatever has happened so far this year counts for diddly-squat, if we play better footy, we can get the ticket to move to the next round,” he said.
“We made finals last year, and you always go in wanting to perform, and we were probably out of our depth.
“But this year, we went into Sunday’s final quite confident we were better than them, and beat them, and now the challenge is ahead of us.
“We know we haven’t beaten any of the three sides left in the competition, but if you look around, it’s finals time, so there’s no holds barred, and hopefully no regrets.
“Hopefully we go out and just play our best footy, and look to come away with the right result.”