Just before 5pm on Saturday, May 20, Eaglehawk players trudged off the QEO after suffering a 27-point loss to Sandhurst.
The final margin had flattered the Hawks. Realistically, they should have lost by eight goals,
The result left the Hawks with a steady 3-2 record, but at that point they looked anything but a premiership threat.
They were only averaging 68 points per game, their half-forward line didn’t appear potent enough to trouble the better teams and their ball use off half-back wasn’t helping a forward line that had an unhealthy over reliance on star full-forward Matt Gretgrix.
The match committee meeting after the Sandhurst defeat threw up key moves that helped turn the Hawks from pretenders into contenders.
Brenton Conforti, arguably the BFNL’s best defender in 2016, was moved to centre half-forward.
Riley McIvor was moved from defence to a forward-midfield role, Glenn Daly returned to the senior side and slotted into his customary half-back flank role and recruit Scott Hann, who missed the Sandhurst game because of injury, spent more time across half-back once he returned to action.
The results were telling.
Daly and Hann instantly lifted the Hawks’ kicking skills and creativity off half-back, while Conforti and McIvor added spark and aggression to the half-forward line.
Conforti, or Fish as he is better known around the club, played 67 senior games for the Hawks between 2013 and 2016 and kicked one goal.
Since moving forward this year he’s averaged one goal per game. However, his value to the team is far more than what he scores individually.
Conforti’s athleticism and strong hands means he demands a good opponent and his work rate is as good as any forward in the competition.
“The way he (Conforti) attacks the footy is just as valuable up forward as he is in defence,’’ Eaglehawk coach Josh Bowe said.
Conforti and McIvor’s tackling pressure forward of centre has helped keep the ball inside 50 for the Hawks.
Their presence and pressure has eased the load on the other forwards.
33 of Ben McPhee’s 38 goals, 32 of Sean Williams’ 35 goals and 26 of Riley Saunders’ 27 goals came after the round five loss to Sandhurst.
After averaging 68 points per game in the first five rounds, the Borough has averaged 130 points per game in its 14 matches since.
No longer do the Hawks rely on Gretgrix to kick them a winning score.
In fact, in the second semi-final a fortnight ago the Hawks looked more dangerous when they went with a smaller, mobile forward line. The unpredictable nature of the forward set-up made it harder for Storm’s premier defender Jayden Donaldson to zone off and intercept mark.
Goalkicking depth could be vital to the outcome of the grand final. 11 of the 22 players selected to play for the Hawks on Saturday have reached double figures in goalkicking this season.
Strathfieldsaye star Lachlan Sharp has kicked a massive 36.6 per cent of his side’s goals this season. If Sharp has a quiet day there is a question mark as to whether the remaining Storm forwards can hit the scoreboard consistently enough to kick a winning score.