By Will Hunter
Second Semi Final – Springvale Reserve
Dingley 6.14 (52) def by Mordialloc 18.4 (112)
Round 13 – Souter Oval
Dingley 12.7 (79) def Mordialloc 10.13 (73)
Round 4 – Ben Kavanagh Reserve
Mordialloc 8.6 (54) def Dingley 7.10 (52)
Season 2017 has been one of the most intriguing in years, and fittingly it will be the two best sides in Dingley and Mordialloc that will go head to head for the ultimate prize in Sunday’s Division Senior Grand Final.
For the Dingoes, Sunday marks their fourth straight appearance in the Division 1 decider, and it is just one victory away from become the first side since the all-conquering Balwyn in 2000 – and just the second in Southern League history – to claim a premiership three-peat.
Mordialloc, meanwhile, is also no stranger to the big dance, with the then Sam Anstey-led side reaching three consecutive deciders between 2013 and 2015, including the 2014 Division 2 premiership.
Both clubs have forged a healthy competition with each other over the last three seasons. Since Mordialloc’s promotion into Division 1 in 2015, the two sides have faced off eight times – including in that season’s Grand Final – with four of these matches decided by less than a goal.
Consequently, few Southern League matched generate more excitement than the Dingley V Mordialloc blockbusters, and every indication the latest instalment of this burgeoning rivalry will be one of the best yet.
While their two home and away clashes this year were nail-biters, their most recent encounter in the Second Semi Final a fortnight ago was less of a contest, with Mordi streaking to an impressive 10-goal victory which earning them a week off before Sunday’s decider.
The Dingoes’ loss forced them to play in their first Preliminary Final victory since 2014 – they were subsequently beaten in the Grand Final by East Brighton the following week – but coach Shane Morwood doesn’t necessarily see this as a disadvantage given the circumstances.
“I think it’s always been a challenge for the team that finishes on top to have a week off and win, then have another week off and play in a Grand Final,” Morwood said.
“In effect, you are playing your third game in five weeks, or second game in four weeks, however you want to look at it. That’s where your training needs to be spot on, your intensity in between those breaks.
“Players need consistency from a conditioning point of view, hopefully with us playing three weeks in a row it might provide us with a different edge that we haven’t experienced since 2014.”
This extra week would certainly have been helpful for several players, including Lucas Walmsley, Kristen Feehan and Luke Bartholomew, who have all missed weeks through injury and unavailability in the back half of the season and could benefit from some additional match conditioning.
Furthermore, last Sunday’s Preliminary Final allowed the players to atone from the previous week’s disappointment, and they responded with a comprehensive drubbing of last year’s Grand Finalist Bentleigh, which ensures the boys enter the big dance with confidence restored.
Conversely, Mordialloc coach Daniel Quinn viewed their week off as an opportunity for his players to recharge the batteries.
Back in 2015, Mordialloc finished fifth on the ladder and were forced to play three elimination finals in a row in order to reach the last Sunday in September. Quinn, who played for the Bloods during that finals series, concedes the side was “pretty worn-out and weary by the time they played that Grand Final”, but insists the side is much better placed this time around.
“We’ve been able to freshen a couple of blokes up, which is good. This time of the year, just about every bloke’s got a niggle, so it’s a really good chance to take a load off them and freshen them up,” Quinn said.
On paper, both teams are pretty evenly matched. Both have a vast array of quality ball winners through the midfield, a potent forward line, multiple avenues to goal and a rock-solid defence.
But it is in the engine room where the 2017 premiership will be decided.
Dingley’s on-ball brigade has shown an ability over the last few years to tear sides apart with its outside, line-breaking run and ball use. Stars such as Walmsley, Jackson Peet, Rob Rusan and Josh Ferguson, among others, are particularly damaging, and only need a sniff to wreak havoc.
And if Dingley can get first hands on the pill at the contest and feed it out to their outside runners, it could be a long day for Mordialloc.
“You win the stoppages, you control the game,” Morwood said.
“We’ve got some good leg speed around the ground, and certainly with our onballers... If we can win the ball and get it out to our running-type players and break the lines then we are going to be hard to stop.
“If we don’t, then we are going to have to do some pretty heavy work around the stoppages to negate their effectiveness.”
Mordi, however, were simply awesome around the stoppages in the Second Semi, monopolising the clearances after quarter time. If their hard-bodied mids such as skipper Todd Bastion, ex-Magpie Danny Nicholls and Jordan Derbyshire can again crack in and win the contested ball, a repeat of the result from a fortnight ago may be on the cards.
But while their ability to win the hard ball has received much praise this season, the real strength of this Mordialloc side lies in its all-round versatility, ensuring there are plenty of soldiers that can roll through the midfield at various stages.
“We’re lucky we’ve got a very versatile side, we can throw a few different blokes there (midfield) as well,” Quinn said.
“We back our contested footy, there’s no doubt about that, but we try and back all of our 22, whichever position or role they are playing.”
In addition, the Bloods’ even spread of talent lessens the team’s reliance on a select group of superstar match winners, which is a big part of Quinn’s philosophy. It’s this even contribution from every single player that gives Mordi it’s best chance of victory.
The opposing ruckmen will also play a massive part in deciding which team gets first use of the footy. For Mordialloc, Tom McMahon has been terrific all season, and is one of the main reasons behind their Bloods’ stoppage dominance. McMahon has the motor to ruck long periods, with versatile tall Justin Summons also able to lend a hand.
Troy MacKenzie has been a tremendous pick up for the Dingoes this season, and worked well in tandem with Chris Morgan. MacKenzie has unfortunately missed the last month with a knee injury, and will be given until Friday night to prove his fitness for Sunday, but Morgan has stepped up ably in his absence. Big Danny Ades has also competed well when thrown into the ruck.
There is also plenty of firepower up forward for both sides, with several players on either team capable of booting bags of goals on their day.
Mordialloc have frequently selected a multi-pronged attack featuring strong marking options James Morris, Steve Tolongs and Matt Ravenall. The trio have combined for 130 goals this season and have regularly stretched opposition defences. Each of the three presents very well at the footy and they will provide a stern test for the Dingley defenders in Andrew Frost, Jack Clausen and ‘Pup’ Feehan.
Up the other end of the ground is the league’s leading goalkicker, Calhan McQueen. The vivacious forward is a super lead out target with a great set of hands and can boost his team with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. Working in tandem with McQueen is the silky Daniel Farmer, who can always be relied upon to kick a classy team-lifting goal when his side needs it most.
The two teams also get plenty of goals out of its respective midfield group, and, as such, both Quinn and Morwood demand accountability and two-way running from all of their charges to reduce to stress on their defensive structure.
Experience also counts for plenty in Grand Finals, and while the clubs have played in three each since 2013, the sides that line up on Sunday will be vastly different to those that competed in the 2015 decider. In fact, Morwood estimates that only five players will take the field for a fourth straight Grand Final in Dingley colours.
In any case, given the striking similarities between these two powerhouse clubs, the result of Sunday’s Grand Final is almost impossible to predict, which makes for a fitting conclusion to what has been a remarkably competitive season.
There is no doubt Mordialloc’s best is good enough to topple the Dingoes, but does it have the capacity to do it on the SFNL’s biggest stage? There is no doubt they are better placed to than any side has been in the last couple of years, however, it’s you cannot overlook Dingley’s recent record in Grand Finals.
Ultimately, whichever team settles their nerves first and gets on top in the midfield early will likely go on to be crowned premiers. While that could realistically go either way, the Dingles have proven themselves multiple time on Grand Final.
This looms as one of the best Grand Finals we have seen in many years as these two proud clubs write the next chapter in their storied histories. Dingley will likely go on to claim a rare premiership treble, but expect Mordialloc to stay with them every step of the way.
Dingley by 10 points.