Lions progress to preliminary final

Handball: Moe ruckman Ben Morrow looks to dish one off during the Lions' semi-final win over Traralgon. Photograph Liam Durkin





MOE progressed to the Gippsland League Preliminary Final after victory on Sunday.

The Lions finished full of running in the first semi-final, overcoming arch rival Traralgon.

A six goal to none final term was needed to see Moe eventually break away and win 12.7 (79) to 8.8 (56) in Maffra.

The Maroons certainly gave the Lions a fright, and were 15 points ahead at three quarter time.

Considering Traralgon went into the match with just one win from their last five games (which came in the previous week’s elimination final), it was very much a nervy Moe contingent huddled around at three quarter time.

While there was a clear scoring end at Maffra heading toward the netball courts, the thought of going out in straight sets lingered for Moe.

Those thoughts undoubtedly stayed with most Moe supporters, and possibly even players until midway through the final term.

Traralgon sowed the seed of doubt early, keeping the contest tight until kicking the first goal at the eight-minute mark of the first quarter through Harvey Neocleous after receiving an inboard handball from key forward Brett Eddy.

Eddy’s dual with Moe playing-coach Declan Keilty provided one of many key moments during the game.

Moe threw a bit of a curveball at the start, putting usual defender Brock Smith in the midfield. Traralgon also added some intrigue to the contest, playing captain Dylan Loprese at centre half back after he was named at the opposite end of the ground.

The Maroons appeared to have Moe rattled at times, but missed some gettable chances. A horrendous kick across the face of goal that landed straight into the hands of Josh Hamilton was one such let off for the Lions.

At quarter time, Traralgon led by eight points. Moe then had their turn kicking with the breeze, and added four goals to one.

The Lions got on top in clearances, while their pressure lifted around the ground.

Having enjoyed a dominating 15-minute period to start the second quarter, Traralgon was showing signs of crumbling even under perceived pressure. Moe small forward Harri Sim made Traralgon defender Joel Scholtes pay for dropping an uncontested mark, kicking an opportunistic goal off one step.

The pressure of a final was not just confined to one side however – at least that would be about the only explanation for a bizarre moment involving Lion’s midfielder Jordan Ceppi, who suffered what was surely one of the greatest brain fades of all time.

Moe would have added another goal through Ben Daniher, only for the ball to be recalled after Ceppi literally looked as though he had forgotten the rule that says you can’t block the man on the mark as someone is having a set shot.

Even as Daniher was running in to kick, the confused expression on his face screamed “what are you doing”. That the set shot from just inside 50 on a tight angle ended up splitting the middle became a non-event, as the goal was disallowed and Traralgon given a free kick amid great confusion.

Eddy pegged one back for the Maroons with a nice finish on the run kicking into the breeze, and when the halftime siren sounded, the margin was 11 points to the advantage of Moe.

The third term started in relatively ordinary fashion, before spectators were given reason to come to life.

Traralgon kicked the first goal through Eddy, who ran around and snapped it through after being paid a contentious mark beside the point post, with some Moe players appealing for a push.

With the margin only four points, things started to heat up. A huge collision between Traralgon teammates Tom Hamilton and Jackson McMahon occurred right in front of the Maroons’ bench, as both players got tangled up in an airborne crash both going for the ball.

The discernible ‘thud’ of bodies colliding left most spectators within earshot gasping, while a few moments later, a moment involving Keilty

left all spectators in absolute awe at what had happened.

Traralgon, streaming the ball off halfback and into an open forward line, looked certain to score, only for Keilty to come forward to defend from centre half back and nail a tackle to win the ball back.

The effort led to Billy Gowers kicking Moe’s only goal for the quarter, getting goal side of the contest and running in from point blank range.

Traralgon appeared to have a plan to antagonise Gowers verbally and physically, and he was given a lot of close attention, at times even being stood on. The tension boiled over on the eve of three quarter time as a small scuffle broke out close to Moe’s goal.

While this was happening at one end, the Maroons were getting busy at the other.

Back-to-back goals suddenly had Traralgon in front at the 20-minute mark.

What followed from there had Moe fearing the worst.

Billy Schilling added another for the Maroons after the ball spilled out the back, while Moe was again let off the hook, this time by Eddy of all people.

Traralgon’s parochial crowd was in full voice. Much like soccer, supporters were separated at either ends. The Maroons around their bench, and the Lions around theirs.

Traralgon’s momentum only gained further traction when Josh Hamilton added another goal following an uncharacteristic error from Moe midfielder Riley Baldi, perhaps indicating just how much heat was out on the ground.

Moe had the chance to calm things down a little, but a set shot from Gowers deep in the pocket in front of the Maffra bar drifted into the upright.

Keilty (and maybe even the timekeepers) saved Moe on the three quarter time siren, after Traralgon’s Sammy Hallyburton took four bounces sprinting down the middle and had his kick for goal touched right on the line milliseconds before the siren sounded.

Had it been the AFL, they may well have sent it upstairs.

The siren brought to an end a six minute purple patch for Traralgon, who now well and truly sensed the game was there to be won.

Although the Lions were only down by 15 points, it felt like much more in the context of the game. Moe was right where it didn’t want to be, behind at three quarter time against an underdog in a sudden death final.

Coming home with the breeze, Keilty told his players the wind wasn’t going to win them the game, and that they had to play for each other.

At the risk of delving into cliche, the first goal of the last quarter loomed as ‘massive’.

Moe was able to get that first goal through Nick Prowse, who juggled a mark and converted the set shot.

That major came only two minutes in, which provided Moe the spark they needed. Midfielder James Blaser made it a three point game not long after, snapping a set shot of his own, before youngster Jacob Balfour got Moe back the lead at the seven-minute mark.

Harry Pepper did the reverse to Blaser, kicking a banana from the opposite pocket to extend the lead to eight points.

Having controlled possession, the Lions were afforded the opportunity to breathe a bit easier. Sim thought he had another one after kicking a goal on the run, only for the non-controlling umpire to call a throw further back.

Likewise, the Moe crowd thought Blaser had another via a snap, only for the ball to be touched off the boot. A timely 50 metre penalty against Eddy took Smith to the edge of 50 at the 17-minute mark, at which time it appeared the Traralgon key forward was struggling to run.

Balfour and Riley Baldi combined for another Moe goal, with the latter receiving a handball and running in to take the Lions’ lead to 17 points at the 22-minute mark.

Pepper then sealed the deal with a left-foot snap from close range at the 27-minute mark to book Moe a ticket to the preliminary final.

Baldi was again best-on for the Lions, followed by Scott Van Dyk, Keilty, Blaser, Prowse (four goals) and skipper Jacob Wood.

Best for Traralgon was Conor Little, Tom Hamilton, Tye Hourigan, Scholtes, Josh Hamilton and Hallyburton.

The Maroons put up a brave fight, but could only manage two behinds in the final quarter. Simplistically at least, Traralgon kicked five goals with the wind when it was at its strongest, and Moe kicked six.

Moe now has a rematch with Leongatha for a place in the Grand Final.

The Lions will know what to expect from the Parrots, having played them in the first week of finals.

Coincidently, Moe’s last preliminary final appearance in 2019 was also against Leongatha.

The Lion’s still have 12 players on their list from that game, eight of whom played on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the end of the game was soured by an altercation in the crowd.

As Moe players were walking into the Maffra home rooms, a scuffle broke out at the Maffra bar, more than likely brought about by patrons who had had too much to drink.

The situation appeared to settle a short time later, with the main perpetrator escorted from the scene.