Local Footy: Xavs hold out De La for last-gasp win

Old Xaverians yesterday scored their 11th A-section premiership and 10th since 1995 when they held off a late flurry from De La Salle to win the grand final at Elsternwick Park by three points.

Xavs defeated De La by 92 points in the second semi-final and looked the likely winners throughout this match. They led by 23 points at half-time and 29 points at three-quarter, at which stage De La had kicked only four goals.

It was only at the 15-minute mark of the final quarter that most onlookers gave De La Salle any chance of winning. The Dees had run University Blues off their legs late in last weekend’s preliminary final and suddenly appeared capable of doing the same again.

The crowd of 3000 sensed a shift after Xavs defender Nick Wynne had outmarked his opponent Ben Mannix near the centre of the ground, only to penalised for a push in the back. When Wynne, who had won the VAFA equivalent of the rising star award early in the week, failed to throw the ball to Mannix on the full, De La’s talismanic forward was given a 25-metre penalty that took the mark back to the 45-metre arc.

In a match that was dominated by tackling and pressure, Mannix’s long goal was enough to spark a De La revival. Matt Fieldsend, who early in the week became a joint winner of the Woodrow Medal for the best-and-fairest in A-section, wheeled on to his left boot to kick a goal from outside the arc.

De La’s Michael Duggan just missed a set shot from outside the arc. Teammate Jack Vickers missed after trying to curl the ball through from the boundary. After every behind, Xavs full-back Andy Bowen had to kick in while 200 De La schoolboys in blue and gold tracksuit tops made a racket by belting the advertising hoardings behind him.

In this period Xavs were forced to call on every bit of finals experience just to keep the ball out of harm’s way. Their tactic of throwing full-forward Damian Lynch into defence in the final 10 minutes indicated the urgency that gripped Xavs coach Simon Lethlean.

Lynch did well to plug the hole in front of the goalsquare and was a superb foil in the air. But De La key forward Leigh Harrison, who generally had tried hard against Bowen without success, managed to jump over Xavs defenders to take a big mark at the top of the goalsquare at the 28-minute mark.

Harrison’s goal brought the rampaging Dees within three points. De La centre half-back Ben Corin had just given a handball on the half-back line when the siren went, prompting players from both teams to slump to the ground in exhaustion.

Xavs had won despite kicking only one behind in the final quarter. The final score was 9.6 (60) to 8.9 (57).

Xavs’ best included Wynne, who on the whole thrashed Mannix and would have been a worthy winner of the Nelson Medal for best on ground. The award went to hard-working forward and midfielder Luke Howard, who played with skill and tenacity throughout the game.

The De La midfielders made many disposal errors in bringing the ball through the middle of the ground but it was their determination to keep the ball moving that enabled the extraordinary fightback.

Last Monday De La captain David Lowe became the joint winner of the Woodrow Medal with Fieldsend. Yesterday he was trying to emulate his father Mark’s 1991 achievement of leading De La to an A-section premiership.

Lowe was an indicator of his team’s fortunes. Early in the match he kicked into the man on the mark while taking a shot at goal; late in the match he was still running strongly to set up attacking moves.

For all De La’s heroics, Xavs deserved their premiership after being clearly the best team all season. Xavs’ victory yesterday brought their recent premiership tally to 10 in 15 years: 1995-2000, ’03, ’05, ’07 and ’09.

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