By Will Hunter
Round 14 -
Dingley 15.12 (102) def Bentleigh 7.10 (52)
Round 5 -
Bentleigh 6.6 (42) def by Dingley 14.10 (94)
The penultimate match of the Division 1 season pits last year’s Grand Final combatants against one another, with the winner to meet Mordialloc in the premiership decider next Sunday afternoon.
And while that match last September saw the Dingoes trounce a battle-weary Demons side by a whopping 107 points, rest assured there will be no similar blowout on Sunday.
Dingley find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory, playing in a Preliminary Final for the first time since 2014 – a year in which they also finished the home and away season as minor premiers.
On that occasion, the Dingoes pulled off the great escape, coming from 20 points down midway through the final term to scrape home over St Pauls by four points thanks to a final-minute major to spearhead Dean Francis.
Their thrilling victory that day secured the club their first SFNL Division 1 Grand Final berth, and they have not missed one since.
Bentleigh found itself on the SFNL’s biggest stage for the first time last season, and while the result was a disaster for the red and blue faithful, their foundation for success was laid.
The Demons’ fairy tale rise from its horror 1-5 start to season 2017 has been likened to that of Sydney Swans in the AFL, and the side has shown plenty of fighting spirit in its two hard-fought wins so far in the finals.
Their coaching duopoly since the mid-year departure of Paul Dimattina has also been tremendously successful, with co-coaches Chris Johnson and Pete Pirera employing a hard-edged game style that stacks up in big finals.
Since the pair took the reins Bentleigh have been mighty impressive, with their big stars playing excellent footy. Matty Troutbeck now has 20 goals in his last two games, including 11 in his two finals, young ruckman Mitch Smart is a genuine game changer and reigning Ellis Medallist Scott Lawry is back to his explosive best.
Add in quality footballers such as Rowan Nayna, Tom Massey and Michael Rogers to last year’s Grand Final team, and you’ve got a very powerful line up – one with more than enough talent to exact revenge on the Dingoes this Sunday.
But the million-dollar question is, after working so hard to resurrect their season, how much petrol does the playing group have left in the tank?
They were running on fumes in last year’s decider, and Dingley, fresh from their week off, ruthlessly exploited their exhaustion.
That’s unlikely to happen again this week.
The Dingoes were taught a lesson by the powerful Mordialloc side in last Saturday’s Semi, and while the margin was inflated by the Bloods’ supreme goal conversion, they nevertheless lowered the colours of several key Dingley playmakers.
How the Dingoes response to their first September loss since the 2014 decider remains to be seen, but you can bet coach Shane Morwood will leave no stone unturned in his quest for atonement and a fourth straight Grand Final berth.
The absence of ruckman Troy MacKenzie last week was a huge loss, and one that was exploited by the Mordi midfield. The big fella has been invaluable in his first season at the Den, and his possible inclusion this week should greatly assist his ground-level ball-winners, and ensure an entertaining battle against his opposite number in Smart.
Superstar Lucas Walmsley was unusually quiet last week, so expect him to lift on Sunday and play a massive part in the result.
Chris Horton-Milne, Jackson Peet, Rob Rusan and Josh Ferguson are all match-winners and big-game performers, and the Demon’s onballers will be hard pressed to keep them all quiet.
But while their aura of September invincibility has diminished, there is still more than enough quality and hunger in this group to win through and keep their dreams of a premiership hat trick alive.
Bentleigh will be right in this game for long periods, but the more experienced Dingoes should be ultimately too strong.
Dingley by 20 points.