Inaccurate Hawks made to rue missed opportunities

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FINALS are unquestionably a different beast than that of your home-and-away season.

The occasion can inevitably bring out the very best or worst in players as they grapple with or take control of the pressure and their nerves.

I like to relay a story that was passed on to me about this time of year, that I thought was a good analogy, my coach saying to the team “Imagine a piece of timber 10 metres long and 30 centimetres wide, and I placed that timber in the middle of the oval and asked players to walk from one end to the other – most players if not all would complete the job without effort, or pressure or concentration … but if I placed that same piece of timber between two 10 story buildings and asked players to do the same, some might try, some definitely would not, most would feel the pressure and all that tried would absolutely need to concentrate … but yet the task has not changed, yet the consequences for not preparing concentrating, dealing with pressure can be catastrophic … welcome to finals!

The Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League finals got underway at the weekend, with two eliminators staged.


MDU vs Morwell East (Elimination Final)

WITH no second chances from here on in, MDU entered the first of the elimination finals as warm favourites, built on the back of an impressive and in the main consistent season, but also under no illusions as to the quality of their opposition in Morwell East.

The Hawks secured their position inside the leagues top six only in the dying minutes of the home-and-away season courtesy of Yinnar’s six point loss just a week before, but as quick as they were in, the Hawks were out.

Inaccurate kicking proved costly, as MDU beat the Hawks 8.10 (58) to 5.20 (50) at Walter Tuck Reserve, Mirboo North.

Demons coach Nathan Allen was ecstatic.

“Far out! Really proud day to be a coach. From where these guys have come from over the last few years, first final in about eight years and first final win in almost 20 years! Morwell East played really well today, made us battle for anything we got. Luckily we were able to convert in front of goal and result fell our way,” he said.

That was in hindsight the story of the day, as each quarter passed, there was little if anything between the two sides, but the reality was that bad kicking is inevitably bad football and bad football will cut you deeper than you deserve.

The Hawks four quarters delivered 1.6 (12), 2.6 (18), 0.3 (3), and finished with 2.5 (17) for a total of seven more scoring shots, only to lose by eight points.

Morwell East coach Paul Henry said it was a disappointing way to finish.

“Our game plan against MDU was to protect the short kick, force them long to a contest. We executed that perfectly,” he said.

“Scoreboard pressure was our other aim. Unfortunately we just couldn’t kick it through the big sticks. We controlled the game pretty much all day, we just didn’t capitalise. Sad way to finish the season but, as they say, bad kicking is bad football.”

MDU advanced to play Thorpdale, who defeated Foster in the other elimination final.


Thorpdale vs Foster (Elimination Final)


WHEN Hayden Britten kicked his third goal in five minutes to start the last quarter of Sunday’s Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League Elimination Final, he was well and truly experiencing what is described in sporting parlance as being ‘untouchable’.

Britten’s Thorpdale side was playing in its first final since 2018.

His efforts ensured it was the Blues’ first winning final since 2000.

Britten opened his account early, as did the rest of his Thorpdale teammates taking to Terrill Park for the do-or-die clash against Foster.

The Blues had a goal on the board in the first few minutes through Matt Powell, then another after Shannon Pickering calmly snapped the ball through.

Two familiar Thorpdale names lighting up the finals stage, a moment of poignancy if there ever was one given the Blues’ struggles in recent years.

Thorpdale had won just one game last season, and three the year before in the truncated 2021 year.

However, an offseason recruiting drive that netted favourite son Jason Winderlich to coach, as well as players such as Britten and Robbie Turnbull from the WAFL no less, saw the Blues finish this season fourth on the ladder.

Turnbull had the first clearance of the game, while Winderlich, confined to purely coaching on Sunday, provided the tactical nous working alongside co-coach Ray Pickering, who was surely feeling similar emotions to his younger brother.

Pickering had coached solo at the Blues through those tough years, at a time when they either couldn’t find anyone or had no one else willing to put their hand up.

Sunday’s eventual 9.13 (67) to 8.5 (53) victory would have carried a great deal of meaning for not only him, but his dad Keith and a host of others who have worked overtime to keep the small town club running.

They were all surely fearing the worst however at three quarter time.

Thorpdale kicked five goals to one in the first quarter, but saw the match tighten up either side of the main break.

When they retreated to the rooms, their lead was 26 points, and by the last change, it had been cut to just four.

Foster wrestled momentum back after halftime, and had momentum heading into the last.
The three quarter time siren came at a good time for Thorpdale, with a Cougar Millsom blind turn ala Marlion Pickett in the 2019 Grand Final about the only highlight for those wearing blue and white.

Winderlich cut a composed figure at the last change. For a man who had played more than 100 AFL games, his instructions were to simply “get your fingernails dirty.”

While most might expect someone who has played at the highest level to speak in technical terms, there is probably method to how the former Essendon midfielder is going about it.

He is coaching Mid Gippy seniors, so he is coaching accordingly.

Thorpdale generated some discussion this season for only training one night a week – a Wednesday, again in keeping with the realities of country footy.

How often are Tuesday night sessions wasted because half the team is still too sore from Saturday?

Another local coach was spotted nearby, although he had no role apart from being a spectator.

Traralgon coach Jake Best, watching his former club Foster in action, was spotted mingling around the Tiger’s huddle.

Whether Britten, who had joined Thorpdale midseason from the Maroons, saw him as teams broke, or was out to prove a point, certainly showed his old coach some of his tricks.

With the first goal of the last quarter critically important given the context of the game, Britten jolted the Blues to life, kicking an insane right foot checkside from 40 metres out in front of the Fish Creek canteen.

He followed up with a goal from the exact same spot, only this time, dribbled along the ground.

He kicked his third for the quarter, and fourth for the game a short time later, finding space out of congestion and sinking it home.

That Thorpdale only kicked three goals in the last term mattered little. Those three goals broke Foster’s back, demoralising them to a point where they couldn’t return.

Thorpdale had the game under control for the most part, with a 10-point margin at the 15-minute mark only really flattering the Tigers.

Britten and Turnbull were among the best players, as was Michael Burke, Harrison Sinclair-Stanley, Travis Patten and Joel Monger.

As the final siren rang, the Blues embraced in a show of true brotherhood. Much like the Blues Brothers themselves, Thorpdale might be on a mission from God this season.



TOP sides Newborough and Fish Creek will meet for a direct ticket to the 2023 Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League Grand Final this weekend.

The qualifying final will be played at Boolarra.

You sense that Newborough are far better prepared this year than last, coach Craig Skinner in 2022 having to grapple with a bye in the last game of the home-and-away season, followed by a week off in the first week of finals, before a win in this corresponding game last year meant yet another break before Grand Final day.

In short, last year they were ripe for the picking, in 2023 there looks to be no excuses.

“We were happy to finish the season off with a hard fought win (over Tarwin) and after a week off to reset we have now prepared for Fish Creek this week,” Skinner said.

For the Kangaroos, who have surged into contention in the back-half of the season, you sense that they are now ready to challenge the undisputed premiership favourites.

“We are looking forward to coming up against clearly the best team of the year in Newborough,” Fish Creek coach Jarred Walker said.

“There is no doubt this first final will be a massive challenge, but it is something I feel our group has been building towards all year, we will have a slightly different side to the first time we played them so I can’t wait to see how we go.”

Newborough is yet to drop a game this season, with a draw against the now eliminated Foster their only blemish.

The Bulldogs easily accounted for Fish Creek last time, winning 17.6 (108) to 4.6 (30), although that match was back in Round 2.

It would be fair to say the result would not be expected to be anywhere as one sided as that, but in finals we have come to prepare ourselves to expect the unexpected.