NORTH GIPPSLAND FNL
HEYFIELD moved another step closer to the flag after claiming a berth in the North Gippsland Football Netball League grand final last Saturday with a barnstorming seven goal victory over Churchill.
The Kangaroos will eagerly watch from the sidelines to see who their opponent will be as the Cougars attempt to rebound against Sale City, a side which has taken flight in past weeks, crystallising as the ‘Smokey’ that few saw coming.
While last year’s runner-up Heyfield has had the tag of favourite hanging over its head for the best part of the season, Churchill has been the side favoured to play off for the title against it.
In contrast, pre-season predictions suggested Sale City would again languish outside the top five, which proved far from the mark.
Starting the season strong, the Dogs demonstrated an impressive resurgence which saw them touted as one of the competition front runners, winning six of their opening seven matches, only dropping the points in round two to Heyfield.
Churchill coach Allan Chandler will be looking for an improved effort this week.
“I was obviously disappointed by the weekend’s result however it probably showcases how good Heyfield are. They completely outplayed us again,” he said.
“Sale City will be a different challenge. The big challenge will be negating the influence the big three have, being Matt Lutze, Jake Schuback and Hayden Burgiel.
“They, Sale City, have been very good the last few weeks and our results this season will mean nothing with a grand final spot on the line.”
The Dogs have hit their straps in past weeks and have been convincing in their two knock out final clashes over the past fortnight.
Coming into the contest on the back of a blistering seven goal victory over a highly fancied Rosedale outfit, City is up and about and confident of again making its way from fourth position to book a grand final berth.
The Cougars dished the Dogs an 89 point thumping when they last met in round 16.
On that occasion the main protagonists in front of goals for Churchill were Brendan Holt, Brad Knowles and Nick Celima, who booted 15 of 20 majors.
However, The Dogs did better in the earlier fixture, winning by 17 points in the first meeting of 2014.
“Having beaten a side during the home and away season helps you mentally, but it is like the old clich finals are a different ball game,” City coach Burgiel said.
Burgiel was complimentary of his side’s composure and effort in the cut throat final last week, however will be looking for continued improvement and effort from his charges.
“We played exactly how we wanted to play, having only met them a few weeks back where we played pretty well despite not getting the points; we knew what we had to do and how we needed to play to get the win,” he said.
“The guys have been training well, to get them focused on the next game I have been putting it back onto them getting them to think about what we need to do and where we need to improve going into the next clash.
“This has seen the more quieter guys speak and step up, there isn’t any more passengers, guys riding on the back of the top 10 or so players, everyone has stepped up and we are addressing exactly what we need to do out on the training track.”
With the luxury of a rotating midfield and plenty of depth, a power forward with the best left foot in the league, and a brave running brigade, Chandler and his coaching panel will need to win the war against the Dogs on several fronts.
However, Burgiel would not be drawn into opposition tactics.
“We will be worrying about ourselves, and focusing on what we need to do, we went into the match a fortnight ago with 10 to 11 guys that hadn’t played senior finals footy before so to get the experience under their belt and to see the younger guys step up another level has been great,” he said.
“The key is to get it all right on the day, the guys know what’s at stake, this week they will need to elevate their game to another level. We will need a bigger effort, this is it.
“We have looked at who we will need to halt, we will be hoping that we can get (Matt) Lutze up from a hamstring to take on (Andrew) Brown in the ruck, we know the influence and damage that he can have on a game.
“If Brown is on song and can feed the ball straight down the throats of the likes of Travis Brighton and Chris Williams it really sets them up, if we allow them this luxury we will be behind the eight ball from the start.”
Burgiel also conceded there was likely to be some changes to this week’s line-up with Brad McKay and Rowan Bell waiting in the wings.
With a minor tweak to on field personnel likely, seasoned finals specialist Burgiel knows that past results will account for little on Saturday; three teams remain in the hunt for premiership glory with Churchill just as keen to make their mark and go another round with Heyfield.
In the reserves Heyfield advanced to their fourth straight grand final, and await the victor of this week’s clash between Churchill and Cowwarr.
Thirds minor premier Churchill was toppled in last week’s semi-final by Traralgon Tyers United, and will need to rebound against Yarram which beat Woodside.
With a third grand final appearance in four seasons beckoning, Churchill will be confident of matching it with the Demons.