By Nick Creely
It’s strange to say that a side sitting in third place can be seen as a bit of a sleeping giant in the premiership race.
But that’s the position Narre Warren is currently in.
Everyone is fully aware that Beaconsfield and Cranbourne are setting the pace this season.
But for the Magpies – defending their 2019 premiership – it’s been anything but smooth sailing.
Injuries and unavailability due to VFL commitments, plus some notable off-field departures such as Michael Collins and Dylan Quirk have forced the Magpies to re-jig the premiership group and blood some youngsters.
Crucially, however, the Magpies are still in a position to swoop if they’re good and hungry enough.
And that, in itself, is a thought that should strike fear through opposition clubs as a crucial block of footy gets set to ramp up in the Outer East’s top-flight.
“We’re going okay; we probably haven’t played that great to be honest,” Magpies coach Shane Dwyer said.
“But we’re still around the mark and still have a shot at securing the double-chance – we want some more consistency in our game.”
On Saturday, the Magpies snapped a two-game losing streak with a 76-point win against their great rivals Doveton at AJ Robinson Oval, 17.22 (124) to 7.6 (48).
Missing some key players, the Magpies took just over a quarter to shake off the plucky Doves, slamming on 13 goals to five in the remaining three quarters to run away with the win.
It’s most impressive patch was a seven-goal second term which stretched the margin to 51 at the main break.
Brad Scalzo oozed class with a vintage display through the midfield to be best afield, Josh Tonna’s run and drive was crucial, while ex-West Coast Eagle Kurt Mutimer is beginning to motor along and play some commanding footy.
The Magpies would have also been thrilled with the return of 2019 leading goal kicker Dan Jackson, who booted three in his first game of the season.
Dwyer said that the Doves didn’t make it easy.
“They’re a young side too – talking to Charlesy (Daniel Charles) after the game, and they’ve had a massive turnover,” he said.
“But they were a lot better than last time, and by no means made it easy.”
Those two consecutive losses prior to Saturday – both nail- biters to Beaconsfield and Cranbourne where they stormed home but fell just short – will hopefully provide plenty of valuable learnings.
“Beacy are the benchmark, and in that game we shot ourselves in the foot – we can’t play a quarter of footy and expect to win, and that was probably the same with the Cranbourne game but we weren’t down by as much,” he said.
“So aim is to be consistent, but we’ve got a pretty young side which is good for them moving forward.
“Once we get a few of our senior guys back, we reckon we’ll be able to even it up.”
Dwyer said that injecting youth into the side will hold the club in good stead not only in the long-term, but in the short-term, with the likes of Tom Toner, Pete Gentile, Nathan Foote, Cory Machaya and Lachie Benson all out of the side, with Foote and Benson the most likely to return this week.
“Depth is massive – Beaconsfield’s 19s are obviously on top, and while our 19s haven’t been as good we’re just below them,” he said.
“We’ve got some great kids, and have no hesitation in playing them – I think we’ve played seven this year, and we know that going forward and if we need them for finals they’ll be able to step up.”
The Magpies also saw boom recruit Mathew Suckling make a low-key debut for the club in the reserves, with Dwyer describing the game as a “light debut” as he builds to fitness and the club seeks to have their best side on the park at the right time of the year.
Down at Holm Park, an incredibly impressive Beaconsfield unit once again remains undefeated with a slick 33-point win against second-placed Cranbourne, 11.14 (80) to 7.5 (47).
Mick Fogarty and his side are producing more magic than at Hogwarts this season as they continue to knock over every challenge in its wake.
Wearing one of the famous old jumpers in the club’s history – that of the 1980 and 1981 premiership teams – there was a finals-like vibe in front of a healthy crowd.
The Eagles were terrific in the opening term, and really took it up to the ladder leaders, and it was built off a strong intercept game and razor sharp ball movement, particularly through the corridor.
Once the Eagles were able to isolate Marc Holt (four goals) deep, get the ball in quickly one-on-one in the match-up on Scott Triffitt, they looked incredibly dangerous.
It resulted in the visitors taking in a 10-point advantage at quarter time despite the home side dominating the early exchanges and booting the opening major through a lovely Jake Bowd curler from the pocket.
But from thereafter, the Eagles’ dominance at stoppage and outside class took hold.
The likes of Sean Dwyer, Nick Battle and Brandon White used all of their ball winning abilities to help turn the game back in the home side’s favour, while big man Jake Cameron turned in a fantastic second term as Fogarty’s group turned the deficit into an 11-point advantage.
Dwyer in particular played his most dominant game of the season, with metres gained and a hard-nosed approach the contest noticeable.
They also cut off the Eagles’ supply towards goals with the visitors only managing four more goals for the remainder of the match.
Matt Johnson also provided a strong presence with three goals, a great return considering the tough match up of star Eagles skipper Brandon Osborne.
While falling short by five goals there was plenty to like for the Eagles, with Jarryd Barker’s stellar season continuing, Marc Holt was dangerous every time he went near it, while Bailey Buntine was also solid.
Down at The Superdome, Upwey Tecoma was outclassed by Pakenham, 20.17 (137) to 10.9 (69).
The fourth-placed Lions were smarting after a surprising loss to Woori at home just prior to their bye, and played like a side on a mission.
While the Tigers desperately tried to keep pace in the opening quarter, Ash Green’s side broke the game apart with a dominant six goal second term to open up a 48 point lead.
With the likes of Josh Tynan (four goals), Liam Tyrrell, the returning Darcy Hope (three goals) and Zac Stewart all turning in eye-catching displays, the Lions played some of their best footy of the season.
They – similar to Olinda Ferny Creek – are a genuine dark horse this season, and have a way of making any side in the competition feel unsettled.
Ash Green said it was important that his side bounced back after a bitterly disappointing loss against Woori Yallock.
“We did a lot of soul-searching after the loss to Woori Yallock – we were in a position similar to Narre, and the pressure came and they knocked us over,” he said.
“We needed to rebound, we made a few changes – it was a tight first quarter contest, and after that our pressure acts went up.
“It was a really good win, and it was great to get a good spread of goal kickers as well.”
In the remaining game, Woori Yallock is turning up nicely for finals with a dominant win against Wandin, 21.15 (141) to 3.10 (28).