VAFA Div 1 Semi-finals: A weekend for the ages

Last weekend was truly a showcase of amateur football. Perfect footy weather, excellent conditions at Sportscover Arena, and above all, four clubs determined to give their all in their respective semi-finals. With all these factors in play, is it any wonder that both semis were decided by two points? Furthermore, both of the victorious teams overcame three-quarter-time deficits, with one game going into extra time. It was a week-end for the ages; one which has set the stage for a thrilling preliminary final this weekend.

Second Semi review: On Saturday, North Old Boys – St Patrick’s hit the ground running, controlling possession for most of the first quarter but failing to hurt their opponents on the scoreboard. In fact, that inability to score goals was a pattern which would continue – for both teams – throughout the day. NOBs’ midfield was on top, but the seven-point lead at the first break was not reflective of their dominance to that point. Given their quality, it is not surprising that Peninsula Old Boys worked their way back into the match, with their midfielders taking control and providing good supply to the forwards. A four goal to one term saw the pendulum swing in favour of the Pirates.

The third term was a tough grind, with the defences of both teams well on top; one goal for the quarter was all either team could manage, with poor conversion still continuing to be a factor. However, it was during this period that I felt NOBs on-ballers were beginning to claw their way back into it. At the final break, the Pirates held a handy (in a low-scoring affair) ten-point buffer. And when Peninsula scored the first goal, it was suddenly difficult to see NOBs winning – another goal would probably have sealed it, but some gettable chances were missed. But all of a sudden the game started to open up: Hosking at half-back took a telling grab from a kickout, the hard-working Brady was finding space as were Cassell, Ezard and Porter. The ball was now spending plenty of time in NOBs forward half. Keown also took three telling grabs to keep the game alive. NOBs began peppering the goals but it took the nerveless Horsley and Ryan, with back-to-back majors, to edge their team into the lead shortly before the final siren. It was a most-deserving victory, which will long be talked about at Gillon Oval. Best for Peninsula were the tireless Stefan Barbour, who kept getting up after being crunched, Cade Bannister and Stuart Grigg (three goals).

First Semi review: Who would have anticipated that Saturday’s quality and excitement would be bettered in Sunday’s encounter? Although a little blustery, conditions were again excellent. Whitefriars took advantage of their early use of the breeze, and booted 5-5 to take a handy 22-point lead into the quarter-time break. Although Old Geelong had plenty of the ball in the second term, they recorded up to a dozen turnovers, which meant they could make scant inroads into the deficit. Friars retained a three-goal lead at the main break. But the tempo of the match began to change in the third and, although they took a 20-point lead into the orange-break, the Friars looked to be tiring.

Goals were exchanged early in the last, but OGs were beginning to get on top through Tymms, Rockefeller and Bayles. With ten minutes remaining, Old Geelong hit the front for the first time, but conceded a goal instantaneously. A goal-mouth scramble saw O’Brien dribble a long shot through for a point to tie up the scores. When the siren sounded, it meant extra time. Old Geelong proved too strong in both halves of the extra period, although Friars did not go down without a fight: Mirabella’s long goal narrowing the margin to make for some tense final moments. Tom Pollett, Jarrod Scannell and Rob Petracca (4 goals) were the best for Whitefriars. Coach Theo Vlahos was left to ponder what might have been, but remained proud of his charges’ fighting attitude.

Preliminary Final preview: Old Geelong have taken huge strides this season under the guidance of coach Frank Dunnell: from seventh-placed also-rans to being on the cusp of Premier C. It would be a huge effort to come from those depths to win their way through to the grand final. And having “done the double” over Peninsula this season, they will head into today’s match full of confidence. But the Pirates are a hardened finals outfit, and have a steady hand at the tiller in coach Brett McIlwraith. Last week’s despair may be the extra motivation they require to reverse those two home-and-away losses. Doubtless it will be another thriller. But for me, the experience of the Pirates will be telling, and they should prevail by around ten points.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

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