Jones Files: Square keep Sandhurst at bay to earn grand final victory for the ages

By Richard Jones

GOLDEN Square plays off with old rivals South Bendigo in this Saturday’s Bendigo Football League grand final.

The Square Bulldogs went down by a goal to Eaglehawk in last September’s cliffhanger decider.

The Bloods, meanwhile, have made the grand final for the first time since 1995. Perennial losing preliminary finalists, South snapped the trend with a fighting 32-point win over Kangaroo Flat last Saturday night under the Queen Elizabeth Oval lights.

Looking back to the Square’s last flag, the Bulldogs broke a 12-year losing cycle with a 14-point victory over another city rival, Sandhurst, in the BFL’s 2001 grand final.

The Bulldogs had come from the first week of the finals. Their eventual grand final success capped an astonishing 11-match winning streak, including four finals.

The Square set up the win with a five-goal-to-two first quarter. The Dogs then withstood every challenge the Dragons mounted to win 14.11 (95) to 12.9 (81); it was Square’s first flag since 1989.

For Sandhurst, which had lost just three games during 2001, the loss was extremely hard to take.

Dragons’ coach Mark Ellis was gracious in defeat, saying the Dogs had proved the better side on the day.

“Credit to Golden Square. We just didn’t have enough players play at their best. And Square was very good at closing us down.”

Bulldogs coach Brian Walsh rated the victory as the most satisfying in a long and illustrious playing and coaching career.

“This is the best one I’ve had, because of where this group has come from. Not many teams win premierships from an elimination final.”

Perhaps the most crucial individual battle of the day came across the Dragons’ half-forward line.

Sandhurst’s Ben Sexton, who was held to two goals by Greg Cox but still won the VCFL medal, threatened to take the game apart on several occasion.

However Cox never lost his focus. He mopped up countless times across the half-back line and played his usual extremely reliable game.

Cox was inspirational in the final five minutes as he helped the Dogs secure victory in one of the most amazing final quarters played at the QEO.

Square had led by six points — 11.6 to 10.6 — at the last change. Many BFL followers at the ground predicted pre-match favourites Sandhurst would run over the top of the Bulldogs.

Matt Smith kicked the first goal of the last term for the Dragons and that six-pointer reduced the margin to a single point.

Sandhurst pumped the ball forward from the very next centre bounce. Former coach Tony Graham pounced on the ball and, on the run, fired at goal.

Graham and nearby Dragon teammates started celebrating. But the ball faded to the right and hit a goalpost, high up.

The Bulldogs regained the lead when eventual Nalder Medallist Marty O’Reilly nailed a goal. Cox and his co-defenders continued to close down the Dragon attack.

And when the Dogs booted two more majors to Sandhurst’s one as the quarter wound down, the Bendigo Advertiser Cup was in the Square corner.

Let’s look at some of the individual match-ups of the grand final.

1. Ben Sexton (Sh) v Greg Cox (GS): the most enthralling duel of the day ended with the points marginally favouring the Dragons’ gun centre half-forward.

Sexton hauled in more than a dozen marks. His mobility enabled him to break free of Cox on the lead and he finished the game with two goals.

Cox, meanwhile, used the experience and guile gained during his VFL career to hold out the Dragons in the dying moments of the last term.

Additionally, he zoned off Sexton when he pushed up outside the 50-metre arc and took several telling marks on the last line of defence.

2. Christian Carter (GS) v Chris Giri (Sh): the close-checking Bulldog midfielder was able to negate the impact of Sandhurst’s leading onballer.

Carter played Giri very tight at stoppages, denying the 1997 Michelsen Medallist any space in which to work. Carter had plenty of ball in the early stages with Square on top 8.4 (52) to 7.5 (47) at half-time, but faded a tad towards the end of play.

Giri looked dangerous in the second quarter, picking up several touches in quick succession, as well as kicking a telling goal on the run from just inside 50m.

Carter, though, locked down on Giri in the second half and in the end shaded the tenacious Dragon.

3.  Marty O’Reilly (GS) v Vin Harrop (Sh): these two played wide of each other through the centre of the ground for most of the match.

Both players collected several possessions during the first half and were effective contributors for their clubs.

However, following a heavy fall Harrop was less effective and had a quieter second half. This allowed O’Reilly to gain the ascendancy.

Leading goalkickers on the day:  for the Bulldogs Andrew Freemantle and Andrew Reid both kicked four goals, and Ben Neve added two. Jimmy Angove topped the Dragons’ goalkicking table with three.

And for Golden Square captain Paul Frew the six-day period between the Monday of the Michelsen medal count (awarded to the BFL’s fairest and best senior player) and the Sunday of the 2001 grand final was a long time.

On the Monday night Frew had to endure the agony of not being able to collect his second medal. Despite polling the most votes in the count, Frew was ineligible to win.

A two-week suspension for striking in round six meant the big centreman was ineligible to win the BFL’s top individual award.

As it turned out 2001 joint Michelsen medalists were Eaglehawk’s Lucas Mathews and Castlemaine’s Paul Eyles, who both polled 14 votes.

But six days later any pain Frew felt at not being able to claim the prestigious award was wiped away when he had a premiership medal draped around his neck.

“I’ve already got one of those (Michelsen Medals, from 1998). I didn’t have one of these (premiership medal) until today,” a delighted Frew said after the grand final.

“Football is a team sport and premierships are what we all play for. I’m really proud of all the Square guys. We worked really hard for this,” he said.

In the grand final rematch the following season Golden Square repeated the dose and increased the margin into the bargain.

Round 1, April 20, 2002: Golden Square 21.12 (138) def. Sandhurst 12.10 (82).

Richard’s grand final tip: Golden Square to beat South Bendigo by 27 points. Season tally for 2009: 78.

Comments

  1. Peter Lenaghan says:

    Lovely preview, Richard. Sexton took some towering marks that day.

    I also remember that Golden Square win in 1989. I was only seven years old, but I clearly recall being amazed by a young (16 or 17, I think) Wayne Campbell, who kicked a bag of goals for the Bulldogs and took South apart.

    Should be a grand final of a very high standard this year. Reading from afar, it seems both teams had excellent seasons.

    Would be lovely for some of the Bloods’ veterans, especially John Hardinge, to win a flag after so many “nearly” years.

  2. Richard E. Jones says:

    TKX, Pete. South will sorely miss key outside runner, Shaun Bergin, who did an AC joint last Sat. nite and will watch on from the sidelines.
    Coach Ricky Coburn is sexpected to play despite a sore, twisted neck from the prelim. final.

    Square has wisely brought back just the one veteran for the granny — ex-senior coach Darren Walsh (only 2 games this season) was left on the sidelines while former AFL player/Bendigo Bombers skipper Nick Carter (six games in 09, not counting the gr. final) was given a berth.
    South last won the flag under ex-Hawk Peter Curran in 1994. They lost the 1995 play-off to the Derrick Filo-coached Kyneton side, of course.
    Campbell kicked four goals in the first quarter, if you don’t mind, in the game you recall. His opponent was a player with VFA experience, Peter Hinck.

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