FOR the first time in almost a quarter-of-a-century the Loddon Valley league finals are unlikely to feature either Calivil United or Bridgewater – the two clubs that have combined for 14 of the past 15 flags.
Bridgewater’s finals hopes are officially over after Saturday’s loss to Bears Lagoon-Serpentine, while the odds are stacked against Calivil United, which is a game outside the top five with one round remaining.
Not since 1994 – the year Bears Lagoon-Serpentine won the first of back-to-back flags – has there been a finals series that either Calivil United or Bridgewater hasn’t participated in.
It also means this year’s finals series is now looming as the rare scenario of not including either of last season’s grand finalists, with Calivil United having defeated Bridgewater for the 2017 flag.
BRIDGEWATER V BEARS LAGOON-SERPENTINE
Bears Lagoon-Serpentine delivered the last rites to Bridgewater’s finals aspirations with a 40-point victory.
The Bears won 14.15 (99) to 8.11 (59) after they kicked eight goals to three in the second half at Bridgewater.
The result gives the Bears a one-game, plus 13.3 per cent, buffer inside the top five with their final game to come against the sixth-placed Calivil United, meaning they would need to cop a heavy hiding off the out-of-sorts Demons in the last round to be a chance of slipping out of the five.
“We knew it was going to be a tough contest against Bridgy, but it was pleasing the way the boys were able to run the game out knowing what was at stake,” Bears coach Greg Gadsden said.
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“Even though we’re not totally over the line yet as far as playing finals, we’ve now put ourselves in a good position to have a crack at it.”
The Bears have had their backs to the wall all season since starting 0-4, with their 8-7 record now the first time all year they have had more wins than losses.
Centre half-forward James Rippingale (four goals) and midfielders Kalem Paxton and warhorse Nathan McNally were the best for the Bears against the Mean Machine.
“We got control of the middle in the second half and were able to get some good usage out of there, which gave us some opportunities to get a bit of a break,” Gadsden said.
The Mean Machine, who are now 6-9, had good players in Jake Rushbridge, Jack Symons and Matt Collins.
Bridgewater – which has played in the past eight grand finals, winning seven of them – will now be on-lookers in the finals for the first time since 2006.
CALIVIL UNITED V NEWBRIDGE
Newbridge remains on track to secure its first top-of-the-ladder finish since 2007 after dishing out a hiding to Calivil United.
The Demons’ season has been marred by a string of close losses, but Saturday’s defeat was a blowout as the reigning premiers were held to just one goal over the first three quarters before they managed three in the final term.
The Maroons’ 13.11 (89) to 4.10 (34) win at Calivil was their seventh victory in a row in what’s the club’s best winning streak since they last made a grand final in 2012.
“We had five out of the team today and they were tough conditions against an opponent with plenty to play for, but they boys were fantastic and showed tremendous character again… it’s a privilege to coach them,” said Newbridge coach Brad Comer, who missed with a tight hamstring.
5th Mitiamo 8 7 0 32
“Our pressure around the footy set the tone early… the boys were manic in their pressure all day.”
The best for the Maroons was Jack Fowler, who took plenty of intercept marks in the back half and was also part of the midfield rotation.
Newbridge in-and-under midfielder Zach Heaslip (two goals) also reveled in the conditions, while Sam Kennedy was the game’s leading goalkicker with four.
The Demons could muster just 1.5 across the first three quarters, while their final tally of 34 was their lowest score since they were held to 3.6 (24) against Mitamo in 2014 – the year they last missed the finals.
Chris Sanders kicked two of the four goals for Calivil United, while Jonas Somerville and Jake Lawry were their best in what was the Demons’ fourth defeat in a row.
MAIDEN GULLY YCW V PYRAMID HILL
Just as it did in round eight, Maiden Gully YCW defeated Pyramid Hill by a 45-point margin in what was the likely qualifying final preview.
In a game that at times featured hail falling, the Eagles won 13.11 (89) to 6.8 (44) at Maiden Gully in a result coach Wayne Mitrovic concedes he will take little out of given how under-manned the Bulldogs were.
Pyramid Hill has been hit hard by injuries to the extent that its senior side featured Nathan Moon, Glen James, Chris Milroy, Gervase Birt on debut, Matt Moon and Dylan Tonkin, who had also all played reserves, plus Edmund Caburnay, who had already played in the under-18s.
“They were missing half-a-dozen players, so we’re not getting too carried away with the victory,” said Mitrovic, who kicked four goals.
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“The margin was encouraging, but probably where it should have been given the situation they are in.
“So we probably won’t take a lot out of today, but I don’t think it will have much of an impact on them either given they had a lot out.”
Sean Moyle, who had a run-with role on Pyramid Hill’s Billy Micevski, defender Hamish McCartney and Travis Mercadante, who has worked his way into the senior side in the second half of the season, were all good players for the Eagles, who have now beaten the Bulldogs twice in the home and away season for the first time since 2001.
Among the lengthy injury list at the Bulldogs was key forward Nathan Fitzpatrick (shoulder), who was consigned to the running duties.
“I thought we battled away really well today given we had so many players having to double up from the reserves and under-18s due to our injuries,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Our pressure was good throughout the game, but in the end we ran out of legs.”
The Bulldogs have the bye in the final round and will end the season in third position with a 10-6 record.
Co-coach Gavin James across half-back, ruckman Adrian Holland and Tom Sala were best for the Bulldogs, who kicked five of their six goals in the second half after they had just 1.5 on the board at the main break.
“We’ll have a very different side in for the first week of the finals… we should get the majority of our injured players back for the qualifying final,” Fitzpatrick said.
While the Bulldogs have next weekend off, the Eagles now turn their attention to what will be their first game under lights at Marist College against Newbridge in what’s fittingly a 1 v 2 battle to close out the home and away season.
For the Eagles to pinch top spot from Newbridge, they would need to not only defeat the Maroons, but do so by a hefty margin that would allow them to reel in a 18.6 per cent difference.
INGLEWOOD V MARONG
Marong returned to the winner’s list after seven defeats in a row, overhauling a 17-point three quarter-time deficit to defeat Inglewood.
The Panthers kicked 4.3 to 0.0 in the final term to clinch a 12.9 (81) to 11.5 (71) victory at Inglewood.
“It was a bit of a slog all day, but we had the wind in the last quarter and were able to use it to get over the line,” Marong coach Corbin Fleming said.
“We dug in deep in the last quarter, particularly through Zach Turnbull and Bryce Franzini, who were fantastic through the midfield.
“The boys are rapt to get the win and it’s obviously a bit of a relief.”
As well as Turnbull and Franzini, who kicked two goals each, Patrick Ryan and Callum Williamson were also among the standouts for the Panthers.
The defeat ensures Inglewood will claim the wooden spoon for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
The Blues led the Panthers at every break, except the one that mattered – the final siren.
Tate Mifka continued his strong late-season form to be named best for the Blues, while consistent youngster Bailey Evans and coach Ryan McNish were also solid contributors.
Peter McKay with three was Inglewood’s only multiple goalkicker.
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