By Andrew Paloczi
Ashwood coach Mick Rossborough is not expecting any favours from Mount Waverley in the Grand Final.
Asked if the Magpies’ underdog status could work to his team’s advantage, he does not hesitate.
“They’re 19 and zip, mate. They’re not going to hand the game to us.”
That imposing Mountain Lions’ record includes three wins over Ashwood, two of which were by more than 100 points.
But Rossborough is undoubtedly right that Mount Waverley will display the same hunger it has throughout the season.
It has experienced too many Grand Final disappointments to take anything for granted.
The Mountain Lions have had a couple of weekends off during the finals series, whilst Ashwood has been in action every week.
Don’t expect this to impact on Mount Waverley’s sharpness though. The side did not miss a beat in its Semi Final against the same opponent after having a bye in the first week of the finals.
Jason Bird, Mount Waverley’s communications manager, explains how coach Nick Smith has ensured the weight of favouritism and past Grand Final disappointments won’t have a negative impact on the team come Saturday.
“It’s more about getting the guys to play the style he wants rather than ensuring they’re winning all the time. As long as they are playing his game style his way, he’s very confident that it holds up.”
Bird also touches on Smith’s ability to ensure his players have not rested on their laurels as the wins kept coming this season.
Each player is expected to regularly evaluate his own game and the performance of the team.
“It just kept the guys always thinking about their game and the things to improve on,” Bird says.
Both teams will be focused on the day, but will enjoy the build up over Grand Final week.
At Mount Waverley, the players will sit down to dinner on Thursday night as they are entertained by the club’s own version of the Footy Show.
The show is a weekly event and is hosted by Bird and the Mountain Lions’ co-captain Rich Mathers.
Coach Rossborough had some advice for his Magpie players.
“I told them really lap the week up and we don’t want to play the game too early. We can’t play the game till Saturday, so we’re really going to enjoy the week.”
When Saturday finally arrives there will be an abundance of talented players to entertain the crowd.
One player who performs well in big games is Mount Waverley’s co-captain Jarrod Wilkin. He is renowned for his contested marking in the backline, but has reverted to spending more time in the ruck this year.
Wilkin can expect assistance from exciting midfielder Michael Keem, who has the build of a ruckman, and from Drew Macrae.
Keem is praised by Bird for his ability to attack and defend and read where the ball is going.
Macrae’s leap and tap work in the ruck is valuable.
Bird enthuses about the coach’s son, Jackson Smith, describing him as a “tall running wingman with a booming left foot”.
The destructive power of Mount Waverley’s key forward partnership of James Gough and Luke Galle is well known.
The pair led the way on the division’s goal kicking table this season, but they are far from the only concerns for the Magpies’ backline.
Ian Taylor was in excellent form in the Mountain Lions’ victory over Ashwood early in the finals. Small forwards Michael Kinsella and Cliff Aikman are also dangerous.
As good as Ashwood’s backmen are, they have no hope of holding the Mountain Lions without help from the midfield.
Rossborough believes the key will be his midfielders’ ability to restrict their opponents.
“If we defend well enough through the midfield we get enough opportunities.”
It would not surprise to see Magpies’ co-captain Dale Carroll play a role in the midfield as he did against Doveton in the Preliminary Final.
He can provide the physical presence needed against the Mountain Lions’ big bodies.
Carroll is best known as a forward but has other strings to his bow.
“Dale’s had a super year. I think he’s kicked nearly 60 goals and I reckon he would have played midfield for me five times.”
A few other Magpies’ leaders are sure to spend time in the midfield.
Jake Chapman and Mitch Saunders are highly capable and can kick goals and bring teammates into the game.
There will be no more important player on the ground for Ashwood than Matt Maginnes who his coach describes as “humble”, but whose actions on the field speak for themselves.
He is one of the Magpies’ onfield leaders and showed again in the Preliminary Final his ability to pull in mark after mark in defence.
Helping out in the pressure cooker of the backline will be Mick Langford who is vastly experienced and brought up his 300th game this season.
Chris Meyers is another experienced player who was playing up forward last season, but has been at centre half back for some of this year.
Due to injuries, Rossborough has needed to try players in different positions this season and Meyers has proved versatile.
Tim Smith is a small backman who kept his Doveton opponent quiet in the Preliminary Final.
“He plays back pocket every week and just does his job, loves it,” enthuses the coach.
Up forward, Ashwood will be hoping for another confident display from Frank Martinicchio who was superb in a five-goal performance last week.
Paul Wineberg will present a big marking target for the Magpies.
Should Ashwood do enough right through the midfield and in defence, it still won’t have an easy time up forward.
The Mountain Lions have a robust backline.
Lachy Rose is one of those backmen who can be relied upon to maintain order if the pressure is on.
Bird praises Rose’s cool head and ability to take “a saving mark”.
Mathers and Matt Jeffries also offer solidity at the back.
Daniel Thirkell is another in the backline who caught the eye with an excellent performance in Mount Waverley’s previous finals outing.
Bird speaks of the importance of creating an environment that encourages quality players to come to the club and stay, even when they could go elsewhere to chase money.
Part of the secret is ensuring there are no cliques and everyone who plays for Mount Waverley is treated the same, no matter which level they are at.
He hopes the hard work everyone at the club has put in will be rewarded on Saturday.
As for Rossborough, he is delighted to see the loyal people at Ashwood enjoying the excitement in the lead up to the big game.
“A lot of people on the committee played there, and a lot of the guys who played there still come up and watch, and there’s a lot of good people at the club and I know they’re really going to enjoy the week and we’ll do our best to try and win a premiership.”
There is no disputing Mount Waverley has been by far the best team in the division this season, and it would be a massive upset if it doesn’t claim the premiership cup.
But that is the thrill of a Grand Final, having everything riding on that one September day.
And it remains to be seen what surprises Ashwood has up its sleeve to give the Mountain Lions something to think about.
There is a feeling, no matter what is thrown at them, the Mountain Lions will see off the challenge.
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The two competing co-captains Rich Mathers (Mount Waverley) and Paul Wineberg (Ashwood) get feel for the premiership cup.[/caption]
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Mount Waverley spearhead James Gough is the man Ashwood needs to keep quiet.[/caption]
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Four-time Division 3 B&F winner Jarrod Wilkin is a superstar of the competition.[/caption]
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Mitch Saunders will give Ashwood plenty of drive through the centre.[/caption]
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Ashwood co-captain Dale Carroll provides plenty of on-field leadership.[/caption]