By Nick Creely
OUTER EAST FOOTBALL
PREMIER DIVISION REVIEW – GRAND FINAL
The monkey is officially off the back.
To overcome the obstacle that has been Berwick for the past two grand finals, to find a way to innovate, and to find a way to more importantly believe.
It’s the kind of premiership that won’t be lost on anyone associated with Narre Warren, the kind of win that could be the start of yet another Magpie dynasty.
What was so vital in Friday’s rain-soaked grand final glory, 5.6 (36) to 4.3 (27) – and something that has eluded them in key moments against the Wickers in the past – was the ability to convert its chances, not relent in its pressure, and to not stray from each and every players’ roles.
Magpies star Mitch Cox was the one to get the underdogs going in front of a monster crowd full of voice, drawing a high free and slotting the opening major of the day.
What was evident early was the suffocating pressure being applied by Matt Shinners’ hungry group, who just wouldn’t allow the Wickers to transition the footy with the ease they’re used to.
But it needed to amount to something on the scoreboard.
While the Magpies were able to convert a chance through youngster Lachie Benson, who curled a ball through the goals with an excellent kick from a tight angle, what was more imperative was cutting off the supply to Wickers’ forwards Harry Money – who was closely checked by Nathan Foote (best on ground) – and Jordan Andrews, with the pair unable to find enough space to do any damage.
Heading into the first change, the Magpies had held the Wickers scoreless – almost a rarity considering the amount of stars floating through Rhys Nisbet’s side – with the excellent start built off elite pressure, and some razor-sharp foot skills off half back considering the difficult conditions.
With rain absolutely tumbling down, the strong start was absolutely vital for the Magpies, and the ability for Brad Scalzo, Dylan Quirk, Nathan Foote and Josh Tonna to find stacks of the footy was providing headaches, but it seemed the Wickers had clicked into gear when Money finally got his side on the board in the opening seconds of the second term.
Finding a bit of run and carry, largely through Madi Andrews in the middle, Bailey Asher and Will Arthurson starting to dictate terms with his intercepting off half-back, the Wickers gradually started to even the contest, but the Magpie defence held firm despite being peppered.
As they did all day, the Magpies responded in one of the most vital moments of the game.
Big man Jake Richardson – floating forward – showed great composure to slot a goal right on half-time, extending the margin to 14 points despite the Wickers largely owning the quarter.
Knowing all too well that the Magpies have been in this position before, with the Wickers overrunning them in recent encounters despite trailing at half-time, the all-important third term was always going to be the decisive factor.
Travis Tuck – who was largely quiet in the first half – provided a textbook clearance to hand Jordan Andrews a monster goal to begin the second half, but the only difference this time was that the Magpies simply wouldn’t allow the Wickers to get any flow.
With Richardson, Foote, Ryan Quirk, Trent Papworth and Mitch Dempster in the back half, and Scalzo, Quirk and Liam Myatt – who was hampered from a knock suffered early in the game – gritting their teeth and holding off the Wickers’ advances, the Magpies were able to land a huge blow late in the term.
With the margin at a tricky eight points, star Trent Cody won a crucial one-on-one on the half forward flank, before turning his man inside out and turning it through the goals from 40 out. It was yet another clutch moment in a stunning finals series for Cody.
Taking in that 14-point buffer in the wet, and with the Wickers unable to kick consecutive goals, the Magpies almost put the game to bed early in the last when Cody once again streamed into an open goal to put the margin out beyond three goals.
But the Wickers were never going to just lie down, and they had one last push.
Starting to use the corridor more frequently, and move the ball with desperation and speed, the Magpies had to defend grimly, and when Jordan Andrews slotting a goal in the 13-minute mark, the champion side were still within touching distance.
It was the determination and grit that staved off the Wickers’ push once and for all, completely shutting the game down despite their opposition doing anything it took to find the goals.
But it was third time the charm for the Magpies, with the Wickers running out of time as the siren blared on the stoke of 5pm, with legions of supporters streaming onto Toomuc Reserve to enjoy a famous victory, one that’s well and truly taking the monkey off the back once and for all.