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MORWELL claimed back-to-back premierships for the first time since 1953 on Saturday, with a grinding 18-point win against Wonthaggi Power in the Gippsland League grand final.
The Tigers withstood a gallant effort from the Power, who threw everything at the reigning premiers, to triumph 8.7 (55) to 5.7 (37) in front of more than 4100 spectators at Morwell Recreation Reserve.
The majority of the final quarter was played in the Power’s attacking half, but there was to be no repeat of the heroic preliminary final comeback against Sale, as Morwell clung on to win its 14th senior flag.
Outgoing Tigers coach Harmit Singh admitted he demanded a lot of his players this season, but said Saturday’s result was just reward.
“I’m so fortunate to get to play in such a good side,” Singh said.
“I’m just so proud to be here for two years and win two premierships, but I’m more pleased for our players… it’s such a great club and I probably can’t wipe this smile of my face.”
Morwell led at every change, maintaining an 18-point half-time margin at three-quarter-time and the final siren.
Former Collingwood star Tarkyn Lockyer finished with three goals – including the only goal of the first term – with Dean MacDonald the only other multiple goal-kicker of the game, with two. Ash Close was outstanding, with his impressive hands making him a frequent outlet for the Tigers.
Tim Ryan racked up possessions in the middle of the ground and Joel Soutar was relentless in his attack on the ball.
Shannon Bray and Byron Dryden were immense for the Power, defending superbly and rebounding well the other way, while ruckman Earl Shaw and on-baller Mick Kelly were other standouts.
As has become their trademark, the Power ran the game out better and had they kicked straighter would have been even closer, as Morwell lost some of its renowned composure.
“Our goal was still to keep going and scoring but the boys made a couple of silly mistakes and we just slowed the game down a little bit and worked through it,” Singh said.
“I felt 18 points at three-quarter-time was a good lead to have… Wonthaggi missed some shots they would normally kick and we knew if we could force turnovers we would have opportunities.”
Singh also paid tribute to the Power’s efforts.
“They are such a good side, full of quality people and I really respect them highly as a club,” he said.
“Through interleague I got to play with Aaron Ware and got to know Jack Blair and Aiden Lindsay and Rob (Railton) is such a fantastic coach and a good bloke who gets a lot out of his team and they’ll be a force for years to come.”
In the reserves football final, Traralgon defeated Maffra 15.7 (97) to 6.8 (44) and the Maroons also claimed the under-18 flag, with a 15.10 (100) to 6.4 (40) win against the same opponent.
Moe rounded out a tough day for the Eagles, taking out the under-16 grand final 8.12 (60) to 6.9 (45).
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
In a low-scoring affair, three goals in four second-quarter minutes was the difference between the two sides.
A turnover from a Wonthaggi kick-in resulted in a Ben Kearns major and back-to-back centre clearances led to a quick-fire double from the ever-efficient Tarkyn Lockyer.
It was the only such burst of the game and while the Power got within 10 points in the last term, the final margin, as it was at half-time and three-quarter-time, was 18 points.
Things may have been very different, had the Power been cleaner in front of goal in the final quarter.
One gilt-edged set shot miss from Dom O’Connor – following a terrific contested grab – either side of gettable set shots from ruckman Earl Shaw proved incredibly costly.
It meant the Power had to wait until midway through the term for Eli Richards to reduce the margin to 10 points, with one mistake effectively ending their chances.
Nail in the coffin
Wonthaggi’s high press and high-risk, high-reward final term approach ensured Morwell was always a chance to hit the Power on the counter-attack.
A rare foray forward created a chance for Tigers forward Daniel Hutchison and, unlike his Power counterparts, he took it with both hands to knock the wind out of Wonthaggi’s sails and seal the win.
Ash Close’s height and athleticism proved a huge asset for Morwell, with Wonthaggi simply unable to find a suitable matchup for him.
With his strength overhead, Close took important marks at half-back, on the wing and even deep in defence, highlighting the ‘key’ in key position player.
The Tigers named him their best and he was also rewarded with the Stan Aitken and VCFL medals as best-on-ground.
Harmit Singh’s record at Morwell is quite remarkable.
In two seasons at the helm, Singh won 35 of 42 games, including two grand finals – this with a team that finished sixth in 2012 and by commuting from Melbourne every week.
“I’ve done 220-odd trips since I started here and two of these (premiership cups) makes it all worthwhile and the boys have been so good to me,” Singh said.
“I had never won a premiership until I got here, so at 27 and to have two premierships as a player and a coach I’m stoked.”
His replacement has big shoes to fill.
Morwell junior Rob Michaelides picked the wrong year to leave the Tigers’ den, missing out on last year’s flag having spent the season at North Gippsland Football Netball League club Woodside.
However, he returned this season and earned his premiership medal with a solid season and a polished performance in the grand final.
GOOD WEEKEND’S WORK
As he was for much of the season, Tim Ryan was among Morwell’s best on Saturday and yesterday was awarded for consistency with the Tigers’ seniors best-and-fairest award.
The hard-running on-baller won the Brett Stanistreet Medal ahead of Brandon Bailey.