Down, but definitely not out

It always saddens me a little when it is confirmed that a club has been relegated. In those immediate awful moments, it can seem like years of grinding and grafting and striving to climb the competitive rungs of the Ammos divisional ladders have been laid to waste in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, the dreaded axe fell on St John’s Old Collegians last week when they ventured out west to the Fearon Reserve and failed to contain a spirited last quarter fight-back from Williamstown. Believe me, I have experienced the lows of dwelling in the cellar – in a football sense, of course – but I reckon that the Jocs are uniquely positioned to take plenty of positives out of their year in Division 1.

After consecutive grand final appearances, the highlight of which was the famous victory over Glen Eira in 2011, St John’s endured a pre-season marked by the retirements and relocation of numerous experienced cattle. As a result Matt Jones, in his fourth year as senior coach, had little choice but to place his faith in a young and inexperienced playing group. There has been only one win to date, but the courage and application shown by this hardy group from Dandenong – particularly since mid-season – would indicate that they will be extremely competitive in Division 2 next year. In fact, in that win over Ormond in round 4, twelve of the Jocs were aged under 21! According to assistant coach Dylan Cousins, some of the stand-outs this year have been midfielders Liam Mara, Jarrod Gaget, Keith Ash and defender Cam Christianson. He reserved a special mention for Josh Green, a 17 year-old in his first season of senior footy. It is with a heavy heart that we say good-bye to St John’s, but I have a feeling it will not be farewell for long.

Williamstown’s final-term heroics against the Jocs ensured that will live to fight another day (or this week, in fact). At three quarter time, it looked like the CYs would be joining Jocs in the drop (and they may yet), but six goals to nil in the last enabled the home team to record a creditable come-from-behind 14-point win. In the end, it was potent forwards Josh Vanderloo (8) and Steve “Rickshaw” Barlow (4) who were the difference, booting twelve of Willy’s fifteen goals.

It’s the close ones that count. And don’t Old Mentonians know that only too well after being subjected to the pain of a third defeat by seven points or less. This time, Old Geelong’s three-point triumph drove the stake into the heart of the Panthers’ finals aspirations. The heavy conditions meant goals were at a premium on a miserable day at Keysborough, and when the Panthers hit the front with ten minutes remaining, their season was still alive. But the Hoops managed to winkle out a final major to record a tough three-point win. In what was a battle of defences, it was no surprise that the Panthers’ best were back-men Rowan Ball, Zach Nelson and Mike Myers-Synders. Oggers’ best were Mike Rockefeller, Angus Macdonald and Henry Johnstone.

Peninsula’s percentage of 219 proves that they have rarely been troubled by the bottom teams, and last week was no exception: the Pirates pounded the Saints by 71 points. However, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s had a tougher time of it: in an entertaining shoot-out, they called upon all their reserves of experience to eke out a one-goal win over MHSOB. Whitefriars had an easier time of it at Gunn Reserve, turning a four-goal half-time lead into a convincing 40-point win.

Preview: Although the final four is set, the penultimate round offers up plenty of interest, particularly in the lower reaches of the ladder. Whilst top teams NOBs and Peninsula should have no problem beating their lesser-ranked opponents St John’s and Old Mentonians respectively, the Whitefriars-Old Geelong clash at Friar Park showcases a first semi-final dress rehearsal. Purely because they are on home turf, I am plumping for the Friars. MHSOB (LWLL) host Ormond (LLLL) in a clash for little other than bragging rights. As all those “L’s” indicate, neither team has been on fire in the last month, but the Unicorns’ form has probably been a little better, particularly at the high school.

To the victor will go the spoils of Division 1 survival: Williamstown and Glen Eira meet at the Fearon in a game with massive ramifications – the loser almost certainly will accompany St Johns into Divvy 2 next year. Both teams have had hugely disappointing seasons, and it is with my head (and my heart) that I tip the CYs to take a huge step toward survival. But regardless of the result, like St John’s, I would expect that the vanquished will quickly rebound.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

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