Leongatha gets Wet And Premiership

Well oiled machine: The premiership took Leongatha’s unbeaten run to 28 games. photographs liam durkin



CERTIFIED freaks, seven days a week.
Leongatha completed the double on Saturday in the Gippsland League Grand Final.
The Parrots 10.10 (70) to 6.12 (48) victory over Sale capped off an unbeaten season of football, ensuring the title of premiers and champions.
It was the first time a premiership team had gone through an entire season without losing a game since Maffra in 2004.
Leongatha’s winning streak extended far beyond this season, going all the way back to April last year. That is 28 wins in a row.
The Magpies were gallant in defeat, with the game still very much in the balance until about the 20-minute mark of the final term.
Sale won plenty of admirers reaching the Grand Final, getting to the decider after three tough and hard-fought finals.
A loss in the qualifying final to Wonthaggi had the Magpies then defeat Traralgon on their home deck by three points in the first semi, before turning the tables on the Power in the preliminary final.
Carrying underdog status for most of the finals series, it was certainly a memorable journey for the black and white, who managed to get both teams into the Grand Final.
If someone had told you in January Sale’s reserves would make the Grand Final after finishing last in four of the past five seasons you would have got odds of 500-1.
Choppy conditions at Ted Summerton Reserve made for a sluggish Grand Final.
A huge westerly breeze played havoc throughout the day, so much so the goal posts at times looked as though they were going to topple over.
During the reserves, a number of clearing kicks out of defensive 50 at the Can Bar end ended up landing in the car park purely because of how strong the wind was. Conversely, those kicking out from full back with the wind from the scoreboard end were easily getting the ball to halfway.
The senior game started amid mildly calm conditions, but wintry weather had the lights turned on as early as the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.
Both teams traded blows in the opening stanza, each kicking three goals.
Sale was well and truly up for the fight, and did not seem overawed by the occasion in the slightest.
A snap out of congestion by Leongatha captain Tom Marriott showed his class, as the Parrots took a three-point lead into the first break.
The Magpies had done very well kicking three goals into the breeze, and now had a chance to make use of the scoring end.
“Bite down” could be heard in the Sale huddle.
The phrase has become a catch cry for the Magpies this season, named after a term used by UFC fighter Tai Tui, a favourite of playing-coach Jack Johnstone. It essentially means bite down on the mouth guard and compete ferociously.
Another even quarter followed, with both teams kicking two goals.
Spectators were not treated to an overly skilful display, but given the conditions, it was understandable why plenty of kicks went astray.
Sale forward Jarrod Freeman cut off a Leongatha rebound inside 50, and took a set shot no more than 35 metres out on a slight angle.
To give you an idea of how strong the wind was, Freeman looked as though he was aiming to kick the ball between the goal and point post. The resultant kick swung from right to left dramatically and looked on target, only to hit the post flush.
The Magpies managed a goal to Will Leslie in the pocket, which got the margin to three points at the 18-minute mark.
As the siren sounded for the main break, it was still anyone’s game. Leongatha leading 5.5 (35) to 5.3 (33).
On the resumption the Parrots made some early inroads with a goal at the 15-minute mark, taking the lead to nine points.
The wind had eased by now, and players were able to link up with a bit more surety.
Leongatha forward Aaron Hillberg scrambled a goal off the deck just before red time, and at that stage, although it was only 15 points, in the context of the game, it felt as though the Parrots had enough of a lead to go on with it.
However, the Magpies were not done yet.
Johnstone took it upon himself, flying high for a contested mark inside 50, juggling the mark to take a telling grab.
Taking a shot from 40 metres, the kick registered just the minor score.
Without stating the obvious, at that stage you couldn’t help but think “he needed to kick that”.
Sale kicked four behinds for the quarter, while conversely, Leonagtha had just as many scoring shots but registered 2.2 (14).
And then, as if it was destined, literally as soon as players made their way to the three quarter time huddle, rain came absolutely hammering down.
All of a sudden, the 12-point lead Leongatha had was worth a couple of goals more.
By then everyone at the ground knew it was going to be good-old fashioned wet weather footy in the last term.
Sale dug deep, with a goal to Freeman at the five-minute mark cutting the margin to six points.
However, the Parrots were able to respond, with a goal to Ned Hanily off the ground five minutes later.
Hanily had been brought in for the Grand Final in what was his first game since Round 17. What a time to repay the faith.
The Magpies still refused to surrender, and kept searching for a couple of golden goals.
Harry Ronchi was given a free kick for contact below the knees at the 13-minute mark, but
unfortunately, he kicked a behind, one of five Sale kicked for the term.
By now the rain had well and truly ruined the game as a spectacle. Spectators cowered under whatever cover they could find, while word got down to the Leongatha bench that there was 10 minutes left at the 17-minute mark.
With the Parrots holding onto an eight-point lead, Aaron Turton seized an opportunity at the 19-minute mark, soccering the greasy ball from 20 metres out as Sale defenders were bearing down.
The ball slid its way through for a goal, which ended up being the sealer. He’d only kicked seven for the season before that.
Leongatha knew then and there they no longer had to play to win the game – they just had to play to kill it.
With rain still falling, a quick glance up at the timekeepers’ box saw the man on the buzzer
standing up, ready to hit the button signalling a Parrots flag.
The siren eventually rang, sending Leongatha supporters onto the ground.
Most were too happy to care about the rain, although it did look a bit like a golf crowd with
umbrellas scattered around the green stuff.
Leongatha’s Cade Maskell collected the AFL Victoria medal for best on ground, while Marriott took the Stan Aitken Medal, presented by current Traralgon Tyers United coach Jamie Aitken.
Others to play well in the win were Ben Willis, Jake van der Plight, Hanily and Hillberg.
Sale was well served by Jack Leslie, Will Leslie, Ryan Pendlebury, Freeman, Jack McLaren and Shannen Lange.
Lange put in a mighty performance after appearing to play through a noticeable pain barrier.
The win made it three premierships for Leongatha in the modern era.
The Parrots won previously in 2017 and 2018.
Interestingly, Leongatha has had three different coaches for each of those three flags (Beau Vernon, Paul Carbis and now Trent McMicking).
The Parrots are clearly a well-oiled machine – a coach can only do so much.
For Sale, the group should be better for the experience.
There is a great deal of growth for the team, as seven that played last Saturday are still 22 or under.
Don’t forget, Leongatha lost two (2015, 2016) before winning the flag in 2017.
While there could only be one winner, both teams need to be commended for one thing: on the player points system, Leongatha only had two players worth more than one point, and Sale only had three.