Division 1 Grand Final Review

By Will Hunter

St Pauls 11.10 (76) def East Malvern 5.8 (38)

St Pauls’ young pups are now top dogs of the Southern Football Netball League after an emphatic 38-point triumph over East Malvern Saturday’s SFNL Division 1 Senior Grand Final.

Coincidentally, 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac, adding a nice touch of symbolism to the Doggies’ premiership triumph – their first since 2013.

Played in perfect conditions at Springvale Reserve, the Doggies hit the scoreboard early through a magical piece of play from superstar Matt Kreymborg.

After sprinting hard up the wing, the reigning Ellis Medallist didn’t break stride as collected the footy from a contest at half forward. He then brushed off Panthers defender Dan Gauci with a Dustin Martin-esque ‘don’t argue’ before slotting a beautiful goal on the run from deep in the pocket at the four-minute mark.

It was a clear sign that the Dogs had come to play, and they dominated possession for the next 10 minutes, with much of the play confined to their forward half of the ground.

It wasn’t until the 14-minute mark that East Malvern registered their first score, a cracking left-foot goal on the run to Xavier Linton.

It was the spark the Panthers needed, as they added two of the next three majors to finish the opening stanza three points to the good.

St Paul also lost Alex Spencer late in the term, with the key defender stretched off and taken to hospital with concussion following a collision with East Malvern ruckman Chris Carey.

The second term became a scrappy arm-wrestle, with neither side able to make their mark on the scoreboard.

A goal to spearhead Steve Muller at the seven-minute mark restored the Doggies’ lead, and it proved to be the only major score of the term as his side went into the sheds with a 10-point lead.

While the scoreboard didn’t necessarily reflect it, St Pauls were beginning to assert their authority on the contest. But East Malvern were certainly not out of it, and when superstar Ryan Mullett slotted a classy long-range goal three minutes in, the margin was back to just four points and it was game on.

That would be as close as the Panthers would get. Curtis Murfett bombed a goal from down town just 90 seconds later, before majors to Muller and Kreymborg extended the Dogs’ lead to 20 points at the final change.

With the game there to be won, Doggies forward Brad Dolan stepped up to the plate, booting two goals inside the first three minutes of the last quarter to dash any hope of a Panthers’ fightback and send the red, white and blue faithful into raptures.

In the end a 38-point victory was a fitting result for the St Pauls, whose straight-sets finals exit in 2017 was merely a distant memory as they lifted the SFNL Division 1 cup for the fourth time.

It has been a meteoric rise for the club, who have gone from seventh to premiers in just two short years on the back of a youth-driven rebuild under coach Jason Heffernan.

And Saturday was a coming-of-age performance for many of the sides’ young pups, who delivered on the SFNL’s biggest stage.

Connor Byrne was a deserved recipient of the Meneilly Medal, with the flashy blond ball-winner impressing all afternoon in a four-quarter performance. Byrne, the 2016 Sparrow Medallist, won plenty of the footy across the ground, and caught the eye with numerous line-breaking runs.

Dolan was a constant presence up forward and finished the match with four goals, three of which came in the final term, while Murfett’s ability to win the footy at the contest was vital.

Remarkably, all of the aforementioned trio are yet to celebrate their 21st birthdays, with their performances on Saturday belying their tender years.

Kreymborg’s body of work, particularly in the first half, largely set the tone for the afternoon. He finished the day with two goals, while the imposing Muller added four in another dominant performance.

Skipper Kieran Knox, bull Brad Gilder and bearded big man Nick Halliday were all influential, but it was the performance of veteran Josh Verlin that provided the feel-good story of the day.

Verlin, 31, was ready to hang up the boots at the end of last season but decided to have a kick around in the Doggies’ thirds side in 2018.

On Wednesday night, Verlin got a surprise call up for his second senior game of the season, and he didn’t look out of place, clunking several strong marks in the front half on the day, although his kicking left a bit to be desired on a couple of occasions.

But by 5pm on Saturday his fairytale was complete, with a premiership medallion draped around his neck.

In another heart-warming sub-plot, Spencer also made a return from hospital later in the day to accept his medal on the premiership dais and celebrate with his teammates.

For East Malvern, Mullett was a clear standout and worked tireless to keep his side in the contest. Carey was again influential in the ruck, Linton finished as the side’s only multiple goalkicker and both Steve Brewer and Jack Waterston tried hard, but in the end, it was a tough day at the office for the Panthers.

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