By Andrew Paloczi
Saturday 26th August
Ashwood vs Endeavour Hills (Keysborough Reserve)
Spectators are in for a treat when Ashwood and Endeavour Hills commence the 2017 finals series.
These sides staged an engaging battle to finish the home and away season, with Endeavour Hills coming out on top.
It will be intriguing to see how the Magpies respond and whether or not the Falcons can maintain the intensity they showed last weekend.
Falcons’ coach Rob Dipper is confident his side won’t lose focus.
“We’re not a big name team recruit-wise, but every one of those guys, they know their role and they know what they’ve got to bring to the side every week,” he says.
The composure Endeavour Hills’ players displayed in round 18 suggests they will not be overawed by their club’s first finals appearance at senior level.
It is the Falcons’ seventh season and Dipper made it clear to his players during pre-season that senior finals were an expectation. The club has previously built a reputation for success at reserves level.
This time, Ashwood and Endeavour Hills meet on neutral turf in Keysborough. Each enjoyed success at the other’s ground during the home and away season.
The Magpies triumphed by 16 points in Round 7, after what was a tight game for much of the day.
In last week’s bout, the Falcons prevailed by the same margin.
Ashwood coach, Mick Rossborough is confident his side can turn the tables this week with the assistance of some handy additions. He confirmed Matt Maginnes and Paul Wineberg are certainties to return to the side and indicated Mitch Saunders and Alex Salama may also be back in action.
Endeavour Hills will also strengthen its team with the addition of captain Nathan Strom, a late withdrawal from last week’s game. He will be joined by Vas Fournarakis who is returning from holidays.
One area in which Endeavour Hills gained ascendency in Round 18 was in the ruck, with a strong showing from Nathan Crutchley.
To counteract Crutchley’s influence, Rossborough will make a change in the ruck, but unsurprisingly wasn’t giving much away.
Regular Magpies’ ruckman, Matt Menzies is not currently an option for health reasons.
Dipper stressed that he also has another ruck option up his sleeve should Ashwood get on top of Crutchley.
Whilst acknowledging Endeavour Hills ran the ball really well after half time, Rossborough explained he took a cautious approach with some of his players during that period.
“We had Daniel Macklin off for a lot of the second half. Jake Chapman went to the back pocket, and then spent time off the ground.”
Having to play on the Queen’s Birthday weekend has meant 14 consecutive weeks of Division 3 action, prompting an emphasis on player management.
Rossborough has high expectations for the standard of the qualifying final.
“I think it will be a ripping clash on Saturday.”
One challenge he faces is how to manage Falcon Jake Van Hoesel. “He was brilliant Saturday,” says the Magpies’ coach.
Rossborough believes it will be a terrific finals series as he considers all teams involved have a realistic shot at the flag.
His opposite number, Dipper suggests what has led to Endeavour Hills’ improvement this year.
One aspect is discipline, with players who don’t train not getting games. Another relates to the team spirit around the club.
“I think the camaraderie and the bond, that’s what’s sort of got us to where we are I think, wanting to play for each other,” observes Dipper.
Interestingly, he mentions that a couple of the Falcons’ players, Crutchley and Daniel Batson, don’t particularly like footy. However, there is no questioning their efforts on the field.
They mightn’t love the game, but they do everything in their power to win with their mates.
Dipper mentions a key for his side will be maintaining its recent accuracy in front of goal. It is an area in which he considers the Falcons have let themselves down this year.
Expect a terrific contest, with Endeavour Hills earning a shot at Hallam next week for a grand final berth.
Sunday 27th August
Doveton Eagles vs Black Rock (Keysborough Reserve)
Doveton narrowly missed out on a double chance and finds itself in a sudden death battle with Black Rock.
These clubs have met just once this season, with Black Rock claiming the points against an inaccurate Doveton in Round 9. The Jets’ winning margin was 17 points, despite the Eagles finishing with more scoring shots.
On that occasion Michael ‘Buddy’ Spohn was a key for Black Rock and he will make a welcome return for the Jets after International Cup duties with his native America.
Such is the strength of all teams in the top five, the Eagles and the Jets will both believe they can yet hold up the premiership cup. It makes for a compelling and competitive elimination final.
Black Rock coach Jay Williams stepped into the role five weeks into the season with the Jets having won just once. It is a significant achievement that he has been able to steer his side into the finals.
He is confident that the tough road to the post season will stand his team in good stead against the Eagles, having had to play a string of unofficial elimination finals.
“We’ve probably played 10 in a row I think,” Williams says with a chuckle.
He has been conscious of providing his players with fresh messages and challenges from week to week to avoid them becoming mentally stale.
One of the obstacles to a Black Rock win will be Doveton’s ex-AFL star Russell Robertson. “You’re never going to beat him,” Williams concedes.
Robertson played in the last game between the Jets and Eagles and Williams believes Black Rock won by gaining ascendency in the midfield. That is likely to be the key to the contest again with both sides having plenty of forward firepower.
Big Jet forward, Kristian Bliesner combines effectively with his smaller teammate Brenton Rafferty. Rafferty impressed with six goals in the final home and away round.
Williams anticipates a close game.
“We’re pretty confident that we can play good enough footy to push them and hopefully knock them over.”
He acknowledges the Eagles are a skilful side, but considers his team is capable of applying sufficient pressure to gain an edge.
On the negative side for the Jets, they have lost Tom Dalton for the season with a badly broken finger sustained against CPL in Round 18.
His coach praised Dalton’s courage in playing through the pain to help maintain his side’s structure and ensure it reached the finals.
The return of Spohn will plug this gap.
Doveton coach Simon Caldwell considers Black Rock a bit of an unknown, with the sides having played in different divisions recently, and having met just once this year.
“We’re going to be feeling each other out I guess the first quarter to see position wise and player wise how everything matches up.”
Caldwell believes the teams will be evenly matched.
He notes the Eagles led the Jets at three quarter time in Round 9, but were restricted in the final term with forward target Robertson off the field injured.
Regarding the Elimination Final, Caldwell is happy to put the pressure on Black Rock, suggesting its form should see it start as favourite.
However, one luxury Caldwell had in Round 18 was the opportunity to rest some key players, with victory over Sandown never in doubt. Jarrod O’Neill, Adam Read and Matt Fristad will return to the fray refreshed against the Jets.
Interestingly, Caldwell mentions the side’s two oldest blokes, Corrie and Cory Wilson, insisted on playing against Sandown, and have featured in every match this season.
He suggests there is no coincidence about their durability or the fact the Wilsons regularly appear on Doveton’s best player list.
“There’s a reason why they’re very good players, because they never miss training, and they never miss games. They’re very professional the way they go about it.”
Black Rock was not in a position to keep players in reserve for finals, needing to field a strong team against CPL to ensure the Jets qualified.
Caldwell is convinced his side can beat anyone, but considers all sides in the top five serious premiership contenders.
It is a tough one to pick, but Black Rock’s ability to handle so many pressure games to make the finals will prove significant.
The Jets will win a close one.