A YEAR on from now infamously blowing a three quarter-time BFNL grand final lead against Strathfieldsaye, Eaglehawk found itself in the same position again on Saturday against the same opponent.
Last year the Hawks’ advantage at the final change was 20 points before the Storm unleashed a devastating nine-goal blitz in the final term at the city end to win by 32 points.
This time the Hawks’ advantage was 25 points at three quarter-time, with the Storm to again kick to the city end in the final term in an eerily similar situation to 12 months earlier.
But whereas last year’s final quarter became a nightmare 30 minutes for the Borough, Saturday’s last term was the stuff of dreams.
This time there was to be no last quarter fade-out; rather a charge to premiership glory as the Hawks piled on six goals to two to surge to a 49-point triumph at the QEO, 19.8 (122) to 11.7 (73).
Given the heartbreak endured in 2017, this was sweet redemption for the 17 players who had been part of last year’s devastation.
On the back of 12 months earlier the big question entering the final term was how would the Hawks handle the situation this time, particularly if the Storm were to kick the first goal and get a sniff?
Crucially for the Hawks they kicked the all-important first goal of the last term when forward Sean Williams – who bagged a match-high five – marked and nailed his set-shot two minutes in to extend their lead to 31 points.
However, with the next two goals to Strathfieldsaye’s Fergus Payne and Sam Heavyside, the Storm were back within 19 points at the 10-minute mark and the contest was still well and truly alive.
But not for much longer as just as they did to the Storm in the second semi-final a fortnight ago, the Hawks were able to absorb the challenge from Strathfieldsaye and then kick away.
After limping to the finish line last year, the Hawks sprinted to the final siren as they booted the last five goals and in doing so kicked the highest score Strathfieldsaye has conceded since 2012 when it was still forging its way as an emerging club.
Among the run of five-consecutive goals to end the game was arguably the highlight of the match from the Hawks’ Riley Saunders.
Saunders flew in a marking contest and came to ground, but lying on his back got boot to ball from 20m out and put it through.
Saunders’ moment of brilliance came two minutes after he had also kicked his first goal to help the Hawks crack the Storm.
One of the downfalls of the Hawks in the grand final a year earlier had been their wasted opportunities inside 50 when they kicked 7.14 from 21 scoring shots – albeit in breezy conditions.
But this time they were on target from the outset and finished with 19.8 from 27 scoring shots. At one stage they were 11.4.
The Hawks led the game for all but a brief four-minute period late in the second quarter.
The best kind of pressure is scoreboard pressure and it’s what the Hawks applied to the Storm early.
Eaglehawk had 4.1 – its goals kicked by AFL Victoria medallist Brodie Collins, Williams, Brenton Conforti and Riley McIvor – before the Storm’s first score was a goal to coach Troy Coates at the 21-minute mark.
A second Storm goal to Lachlan Wallace brought Strathfieldsaye within 13 points at quarter-time as the Hawks led 4.2 to 2.1.
The Storm had as much – if not more – of the ball in their forward half in the first quarter, but the Hawks’ defence held up well, while their captalising of chances was shown with the goals by Collins, Williams and McIvor all being long-range.
The Storm enjoyed their best period of the game during the second quarter when five of the 11 goals they kicked for the match came during a 15-minute patch.
With the Hawks’ lead having got back out to 24 points five minutes into the quarter following goals to Williams and Nalder medallist Jonty Neaves, the Storm made their move.
They kicked five of the next six goals through Heavyside, who was restricted to a forward role due to a medial injury in the second quarter, Wallace, Hunter Lawrence, Jayden Donaldson, who played forward with regular Hawks’ opponent Matt Gretgrix not playing, and Payne to snatch a one-point lead.
And the Storm gained the momentum despite being one player down after forward Bryce Curnow’s game ended midway through the second term with what may be a cracked bone in his heel sustained just four minutes into the match.
Curnow had come off the ground in the first quarter, but returned to the field in the second term where he was clearly hampered before his game came to a premature end in what was a massive blow on the heels of fellow forward Lachlan Sharp (broken leg) already sidelined.
But the Storm’s advantage wouldn’t last long as the Hawks’ Williams capitalised on a downfield free kick and slotted his third goal from 30m that gave Eaglehawk a five-point lead at half-time, 8.2 to 7.3.
With the game in the balance at half-time, it was the Hawks who regained control as the third term lived up to its moniker of the “premiership quarter”.
Kickstarted in the ruck by Neaves, the Hawks dominated the Storm 6-1 out of the middle for the quarter and booted 5.4 to 2.2.
The first of the Hawks’ third-term goals came as a result of a 50m penalty against the Storm’s Shaun Dwyer.
The recipient of the 50m penalty was Hawks’ defender Tyler Miles – one of his side’s best for the day – who in six seasons with the Borough had kicked just six goals.
But on the biggest of stages, Miles slotted his seventh career goal from 40m.
As well as a 50m penalty costing the Storm a goal, so too did an overstepping of the goalsquare from Shannon Geary when kicking in after a behind.
From the resultant ball-up at the top of the goalsquare Eaglehawk’s Ben McPhee kicked a stoppage goal that gave the Hawks a 25-point buffer.
It was one of two goals McPhee contributed for the third term, the other being a shot from just inside 50m that bounced through.
Neaves – one of the 17 players from the defeat a year earlier – was a deserving winner of the Nalder Medal for best-on-ground in what was a gritty effort considering he played with a broken arm and had dislocated his elbow two weeks earlier.
Neaves was brilliant in the ruck in his battle with Harry Crone, with his performance reflected in the Hawks smashing the Storm 22-11 in centre clearances, including 12-4 after half-time.
But overall it was a performance that typified the Hawks’ season – an even spread of contributors, resilient defensive effort and an array of goalkickers (12) capped with a dominant final term that has been one of their 2018 trademarks.
EAGLEHAWK v STRATHFIELDSAYE
Eaglehawk 4.2, 8.2, 13.6, 19.8 (122)
Strathfieldsaye 2.1, 7.3, 9.5, 11.7 (73)
GOALS, Eaglehawk: S. Williams 5, R. Saunders 2, B. McPhee 2, B. Conforti 2, S. Knott 1, D. Williams 1, R. McIvor 1, B. Collins 1, T. Miles 1, S. Harper 1, J. Fallon 1, J. Neaves 1
Strathfieldsaye: S. Heavyside 3, F. Payne 3, L. Wallace 2, J. Donaldson 1, H. Lawrence 1, T. Coates 1
BEST, Eaglehawk: B. Collins, J. Neaves, J. Bowe, J. Mullen, B. McPhee, O. Madden
Strathfieldsaye: S. Heavyside, S. Geary, H. Robertson, H. Lawrence, T. Coates, K. Geary
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