Local footy: In the Sheds: Big clubs in unfamiliar territory

Paul Daffey

Essendon’s win over Hawthorn on Friday night has a lot to answer for. Not only did it end David Parkin’s career on ABC Radio (as detailed in The Age yesterday), but it set in train a weekend of madness in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Vermont, Balwyn, Noble Park … these are the powerhouse clubs of the Eastern footy league. The chances of the big three being beaten on the same afternoon must be a gazillion to one—and yet it happened on Saturday. Vermont has played in every grand final since ex-Collingwood star Charlie Pannam coached the Eagles in the days when their ground was surrounded by orchards. And yet with a 1-3 record this season the Eagles are out of the top five. In fact they’re eighth and looking doubtful for September. As one club president said yesterday: “The ladder has a very unfamiliar look about it.”

THE biggest upset was at Wantirna South, where the club that won last year’s division-two flag hosted Noble Park. Wantirna South coach Jason Heatley, a former crafty forward with St Kilda, got the game off on a surprising footing by starting his two big forwards, Rob Woodford and Michael Jamieson, on the bench. The match was even until the home team clicked in the second quarter and kicked eight goals. About 50 past players who were at a function in the club’s refurbished clubrooms could barely believe their eyes. After spending the first half behind glass, the old players wandered out to the boundary line in the third quarter to get a closer view of the biggest day in the club’s history. Undersized full-forward Tom Carmody kicked eight goals as the Devils won by 20 points. John Woodruff, the Wantirna South vice-president, said: “It was quite euphoric,”

THE noisiest upset was at Lilydale, where the club that was almost relegated last year hosted Balywn, the reigning premier. The large crowd that gathers behind the top goals at Lilydale found plenty to yell about in the performance of full-back Chris Goodlet on former Richmond forward Pat Bowden, who last year kicked a ton for Balwyn. Goodlet has a propensity to dash downfield like former North Melbourne champ David Dench. Halfway through the third quarter, he’d scored two goals and Bowden had also scored two. The behind-the-goals crowd bombarded Bowden with reminders that his opponent had matched his goal tally. In the last quarter, the same spectators delighted when Lilydale full-forward Marcus Kenny, a 195-centimetre policeman known as Wombat, boosted his goal tally to nine as Lilydale surged to an eight-goal win. Bowden ended the game with five goals—and a measure of respect for the humour in which he accepted the advice from over the fence. “He gave a few wry smiles,” said Lilydale president Ian McCallum.

EAST Ringwood really should have crushed Vermont after leading by seven goals at three-quarter time, but the Eagles surged in the last quarter to almost steal the game. East Ringwood secretary Garry Hinds was sitting on the boundary with the Roos’ stats team as the spectators behind him roared the Roos to a two-point victory. “You could hardly hear yourself think,” Hinds said. East Ringwood fans’ biggest roars were for Cam Purdy, a key forward who played at full-back and kept Vermont gun Matt Greig to one goal, and match-winners like Aaron Fiora, the former Richmond and St Kilda player.

BLACKBURN’S handsome victory over Croydon was not so much an upset as a vindication after the drama of the week before, when the Panthers lost their game against Balwyn after a head-count in the last quarter. Blackburn coach Steve Cochrane took responsibility for the mix-up against Balwyn—and then followed up in the clubrooms last Thursday by reading out 22 players for the weekend’s team. (Eastern league clubs field only 21 players). A highlight for Blackburn on Saturday was the performance of Stuart Johns, a 17-year-old who replaced his injured brother Graham at full-forward. Stuart kicked four goals.

THE Goulburn Valley league ladder is also looking topsy-turvy, with Tatura, winner of the past three wooden spoons, sitting on top of the ladder undefeated. The Bulldogs have recruited a handful of former champs back to the club and promoted several members of their successful thirds team from recent years. On Saturday the combination gelled quite nicely when they defeated Seymour, the club that has played in the past four grand finals, by 46 points. Seymour full-forward Saad Saad, who takes high marks like most people eat Vegemite on toast, took yet another contender for mark of the decade when he stood on the head of Tatura teenager Anthony Poppa. But the match highlight was the performance of Linc Wellington, the son of the late Essendon defender Pat Wellington, completing a run to match that of Mick McGuane for Collingwood in 1994. Tatura recruiting officer Peter Ryan said: “Linc ran the length of the field with everyone running away from him. It was amazing.” Ryan’s son Chris, the Tatura centre half-back, was chuffed to be credited with a goal assist after handballing to Wellington about 30 metres from the Seymour goal.

THE Ovens and Murray league ladder is also a muddled affair after Wangaratta, premier of the past two years, lost to Yarrawonga on Saturday to take their record to 3-3. Yarrawonga players feared skulduggery when they turned up at the Wangaratta Showgrounds to find the oval under a sheet of water because a groundsman had left the sprinklers on. But the Pigeons climbed over the Magpies in the last quarter to win by 10 points and maintain their unbeaten record. Former Richmond players Kyle Archibald and Craig Ednie were among Yarrawonga’s best.

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