Eaglehawk and Strathfieldsaye in BFNL flag showdown

SILVERWARE: Strathfieldsaye coach Darryl Wilson and Eaglehawk coach Josh Bowe with the BFNL premiership cup. Picture: DARREN HOWE
SILVERWARE: Strathfieldsaye coach Darryl Wilson and Eaglehawk coach Josh Bowe with the BFNL premiership cup. Picture: DARREN HOWE

FRESH legs v match hardness.

The team that finished top of the ladder v the team that is stastically ranked No.1 for both attack and defence.

137 years of history v nine years of history.

First-year coach v veteran coach.

Two of the biggest and most parochial supporter bases in the Bendigo Football-Netball League that will converge on the QEO.

It’s the 2017 grand final – Eaglehawk v Strathfieldsaye on Saturday.

If their second semi-final clash when the Hawks snuck home by three points is anything to go by, Saturday’s expected bumper crowd will be in for a treat as the Storm strive to win their third flag in the past four years and the Hawks their first since 2008.

The Storm have taken the long route into the grand final having played three tough lead-in finals decided by margins of nine, three and 16 points, while the Hawks go into Saturday having played just one game in 27 days.

“Footy has been around for 150-odd years and the debate over fresh legs v hardened bodies happens every finals series… by 5pm tomorrow it will tell,” Storm coach Darryl Wilson said at Friday’s grand final press conference.

“Our guys feel really fresh; we’ve trained accordingly and think we’ve done the right things there.

“Our fitness guy, Mick Talbot, has done a great job with the boys with rehab. It was a really light session on Tuesday and we probably only trained for 45 minutes last night, so we’ve tried to manufacture training so they don’t get too much, but not too little either.

“Again, time will tell tomorrow whether we’ve done the right thing and whether it’s worked for us.”

While the Storm is still only in its infancy as a club that’s just nine-years-old, they have become a familiar sight on grand final day.

Strathfieldsaye coach Darryl Wilson. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Strathfieldsaye coach Darryl Wilson. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Saturday will be the Storm’s fourth senior grand final, following back-to-back wins over Sandhurst in 2014 and 2015 and a loss to Golden Square in 2013.

For the first time in the Storm’s short history it has all three football teams in grand finals, with their reserves and under-18s, who have won the past two flags, also in action.

“This year there has been some really good depth, which makes it competitive and combative to get a spot,” Wilson said.

“All the guys have worked hard and we see the output on game day; our results have been really sound.

“Our under-18s have been really good for the past couple of years and this is their third year. Bart Leahy (coach) has done a really good job with that group and it just continues on with some really good players coming through the club.”

The Storm head into Saturday’s grand final on the back of eight wins in their past nine games following a mid-season bump when they lost consecutive matches to Golden Square and Eaglehawk.

“It’s no secret that we haven’t got many talls, so we have re-jigged our gamestyle a bit to try to implement a smaller running game and it has taken a little while to get that going,” said Wilson, who will end his seven-year tenure as Strathfieldsaye coach after the grand final, which will be his 140th game at the helm.

“Eaglehawk gave us a real touch-up out there (by 45 points in round 12) and a bit of a wake-up call, and the two games we lost to Golden Square (rounds two and 11) were really disappointing and the boys had a bit of a think about that.

“It has probably driven them to go well in the second half of the year.”

The Storm – ranked No.1 for both defence and attack this year – have at least one change to make to their winning preliminary final team with one of their most consistent players this year, defender Caillum Brady, out with a cracked hip, while Tom Dowd and Sam Simmons, who both missed last week with ankle injuries, will be given every chance to prove their fitness.

“We want to give those guys every chance to play in the game, and if that means making the call later today or tomorrow then that’s what we’ll do,” Wilson said.

“The team knows what’s going on in regards to that. We’ve been open and honest with them about what what we’re doing.”

Eaglehawk has no such selection concerns, with the Hawks to take in an unchanged line-up from the side that defeated the Storm in the second semi-final.

The Hawks will ride in the momentum of 14 wins in a row in what’s the club’s best streak since the 1982 premiership team won 16 on the trot.

Eaglehawk hasn’t lost since going down to Sandhurst by 27 points in round five at the QEO.

The only other game the Hawks – who finished a game clear on top of the ladder – have lost this year was when they copped a 57-point hiding off Strathfieldsaye in round three.

“After Strath gave us a bit of a touch-up out there and then losing the game to Sandhurst, we realised we needed to play around with a couple of things,” Hawks coach Josh Bowe said.

“But with a new coach coming in and some new players, it took a bit of time to gel and start playing the style that we wanted to.”

Eaglehawk coach Josh Bowe. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Eaglehawk coach Josh Bowe. Picture: DARREN HOWE

As well as the momentum of 14 wins in a row, Bowe says the playing group has also developed a strong belief on the back of several fighting victories – namely coming from 30 points down in the second quarter of the second semi-final to beat the Storm; turning a 17-point half-time deficit into a 67-point win at Kyneton; and recovering from a 29-point margin in the third quarter to run over the top of Golden Square by 26 points.

“We have identified four or five games throughout the season where we’ve been down by five or six goals, and to come back from that has instilled belief into the boys,” Bowe said.

“We feel we can come back from anywhere at any stage, so that gives us good confidence going into tomorrow.”

After four years in Western Australia, Bowe – who has played in losing grand finals with the Hawks in 2011 and 2005 – returned to his home club Eaglehawk this year to take over the coaching reins after Luke Monaghan stood down after six years.

It was a plum job given the Hawks boasted a host of exciting young talent that went on a tear in the second half of last season and reached the preliminary final.

The likes of ruckman Jonty Neaves, Lachlan Atherton – who will get the big job on Storm dangerman Lachlan Sharp – Dylan Hanley, Sam Harper and Gedd Hommelhoff gained valuable experience through September last year and will be part of Saturday’s team.

Darryl Wilson and Josh Bowe. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Darryl Wilson and Josh Bowe. Picture: DARREN HOWE

“I’ve said throughout the week that with the young group we have, they don’t play like a young group, they play with experience and we’ve been confident in them turning up week after week and just having a real crack,” Bowe said.

“No doubt playing in some big finals last year has followed through to this season, and when you put that with the mix of experience in big games that we have as well, we’re confident we have the right mix coming in.”

Of the Hawks’ 22 on Saturday only captain Tim Hill and Matt Gretgrix have played in winning grand finals for Eaglehawk.

Strathfieldsaye’s squad of 24 named on Thursday night features 10 players who have played in a Storm premiership.


ADAM BOURKE - Strathfieldsaye (6): wrote the Hawks off after round five loss to Sandhurst, can't jump back on the bandwagon now.

LUKE WEST - Eaglehawk (8): on a warm day the Hawks' fresher legs to give them the slight edge in what should be a thriller.

KIERAN ILES - Strathfieldsaye (4): the 22 players will be determined to send Darryl Wilson out on a winning note.

RICHARD JONES - Eaglehawk (11): the Hawks will have a bit too much run in the last quarter.


ADAM BOURKE - Sam Heavyside (Strath)

LUKE WEST - Josh Bowe (Eh)

KIERAN ILES - Kellan Smith (Strath)

RICHARD JONES - Brenton Conforti (Eh)