By Tyler Lewis
In its first match of the recent National Championships, the Vic Country under-18 side travelled to Tasmania to complete one of the bigger demolition jobs of the Allies in the tournament’s history, winning 18.8 (116) to 2.7 (19).
Country co-captain Caleb Serong may have travelled across the Bass Strait listed at 83 kilograms but after his three-goal, best afield performance, the Gippsland Power superstar came home carrying the weight of expectations.
Dandenong Stingrays prospects Cody Weightman (four goals) and Hayden Young were also at their destructive best in the big win.
In the second match of the tournament, the derby between Metro and Country took to the home of football, the MCG. Hayden Young relished in the wide open spaces of the ‘G, navigating his side to a 9.10 (64) to 7.9 (51) victory.
Young’s stablemate Ned Cahill (two goals) also enjoyed the big stage while Power midfielder Sam Flanders was strong against Metro, as were likely number one and two draft picks Matthew Rowell and Noah Anderson.
Vic Country went toe-to-toe with South Australia at GMHBA Stadium in its third match of the tournament and got the chocolates late in the game through pure brilliance from Weightman, Flanders and Serong, winning 9.9 (63) to 9.8 (62).
Weightman (four goals) put Country level late in the final term while Flanders and Serong kept the statisticians busy.
Serong finished with 33 disposals, nine tackles and 10 clearances and his Gippsland teammate collected 28 disposals, seven marks and 10 clearances in a stellar display that shook the suspected selections in November.
With Western Australia breathing down the neck of Vic Country on the ladder, the final game at Marvel Stadium was essentially the grand final of the championship.
Western Australia got off to a blistering start and put Country on the back foot. Sam De Koning, who has transformed from a wingman to a key defender after growing 13 centimetres in the space of a year, was sublime – taking numerous intercept marks across half-back and keeping his side in it at the first break.
After a slow start, Country was chasing for the remainder of the day but worked its way back into the match in the third and final term.
But it was the final three minutes that captured the nation’s attention.
Hayden Young won a free kick and with 2:59 on the clock, looked inside and weighted an unbelievable 60 metre pass to Isaac Wareham in the middle of the ground who then went on to the top of the square where Cahill soccered his side in front with 2:42 remaining.
With 25 minute terms, the clock continued to tick while the ball was being transferred back to the centre and when the umpire balled it up in the middle of the ground Country was up by one point with 1:51 to go.
When Gippsland star Riley Baldi demonstrated his football intelligence by taking his time getting up from the contest on top of the ball and Caleb Serong laid a ferocious tackle, Country seemed home.
But with less than a minute to go, Western Australia snatched the unwinnable through the final kick of the game off the boot of Regan Clarke, which handed the side its inaugural national championship – downing Country 6.10 (46) to 7.9 (51).