Moe will have to wait another year





THE number 20 became instantly connected to how Leongatha booked themselves a ticket to this year’s Gippsland League Grand Final.

The Parrots took to Sale Oval at 2.20pm for the preliminary final against Moe, and had the game virtually wrapped up 20 minutes later.

Between 20 past two and 20 to three last Saturday afternoon, Leongatha kicked five goals straight before the Lions had a chance to catch their breath.

That things evened up after the first break mattered little, for in a final scoreboard reading 10.13 (73) to 5.10 (40), the damage had already been done.

The match started calmly enough, although there was some talking points. Moe began leading forward Billy Gowers in the midfield, and sent usual on-baller Grady Cocksedge to play on Leongatha livewire Cameron Olden.

Olden had been the Lions’ nemesis in the qualifying final, kicking eight goals.

Cocksedge was one of four inclusions for Moe, in what was his first senior game since Round 11.

Gowers made his presence felt early with a crunching tackle on VFL-listed player Noah Gown, but it was Leongatha’s Aaron Turton who made the first impression on the scoreboard, kicking truly after juggling a mark straight in front.

This was followed by a long range goal from left footer Cade Maskel drifting down from defence, and then Jenson Garnham at the 13-minute mark, making it a fast start for the Parrots.

Garnham made up for an earlier fumble to kick his second for the term, which came after a Jack Ginnane set shot and follow-up trademark fist-pump celebration.

It took Moe until the 23-minute-mark to register their first goal, which came when veteran James Blaser curled one from in front of the ramp at Sale Oval and had teammate Harry Pepper shepherd it through.

A desperate tackle from Lion’s captain Jacob Wood on monster Leongatha ruckman Ben Willis typified Moe’s willingness to try and wrestle back some momentum.

With the margin 22 points, the Lions had the opportunity to head into the quarter time break less than three goals down. However, a huge miss from Nick Prowse from the point of the goal square sent a collective throwing back of heads from all wearing maroon and blue.

Prowse himself knew as soon as it left his boot, dropping to his haunches instantly.

While the Leongatha lead was only 22 points at quarter time, the worry for Moe was that the Parrots had kicked five goals to one.

Moe assistant coach Shane Paynter gave the side a bit of a spray at the first break, lamenting their inability to generate any overlap.

Moe added two goals in the second term, but went into the main break with an even greater deficit after Leongatha kicked three.

The Lions looked off the pace, which was perhaps unsurprising given they’d had one less day to recover after their Sunday semi-final.

The intensity of a final was virtually non-existent after halftime. Both teams only scored one goal each in the third, with the first for Moe coming from Harry Pepper at the seven-minute mark.

That goal got the margin back to four goals, however, Kim Drew responded quickly for the Parrots to keep the opposition at bay.

The five-goal burst from the opening term was now being used wisely by the Parrots, who were afforded the opportunity to control most of the tempo.

A clearing kick from Moe midfielder Trent Baldi saw him collected late by Ginanne, who made the mistake of doing it while Trent’s twin brother Riley was in close proximity.

Understandably, Riley wasn’t going to let someone clean up his brother, and came in to fly the flag. While there was audible contact to the face, the sight of Ginnane dropping to the ground clutching at his jaw could have also earned him an Academy Award nomination.

That the game went on with no on-field reports or a free kick reversed is perhaps all that needs to be said.

With a steady five goal lead, Moe was saved being further in arrears, as a set-shot from Leongatha midfielder Tom Marriott flew out of bounds after the three quarter time siren.

Come the last huddle, Moe was starring their final quarter for the season in the face.

Playing-coach Declan Keilty urged his charges to keep trying to take the game on, backing their fitness to potentially run over the top.

Unfortunately for the Lions, the last quarter played out in much the same fashion as the third. Both sides managed just one goal each, but from Leongatha’s viewpoint, that suited them just fine.

When Garnham kicked his third, the equation became virtually insurmountable for Moe.

Once Leongatha had killed enough time to make absolutely sure of it, they rested a few key players, turning one eye to this week. Gown was one who spent extended periods of the last term on the bench.

Not all wearing green and gold were thinking about next week however. Forward Jack Hume might yet have a case to answer for after putting down Blaser, after he’d bumped Drew at a boundary throw in.

Hume appealed for a free kick, before charging at Blaser and putting him down with what looked to be a forearm to the face. Players from both sides came in to remonstrate, while Blaser walked down to the goal square to kick Moe’s only goal of the quarter.

Hume was offered three weeks for the incident, but given what usually happens in Grand Final week, the Parrots will more than likely take it to the tribunal and try and at least get a suspended sentence.

While Grand Final week hearings ordinarily end up in the class of ‘kangaroo court’, why someone would even risk getting reported in a preliminary final when the game was already decided does leave one utterly perplexed.

Long-time Leongatha defender Sean Westaway was best-on-ground for the winners, and was followed by Marriott, Cade Maskell, Drew, Josh Hopkins and Aaron Heppell, who had his own footy in the first half.

Listing those names as the best in big finals has almost become an annual event. Those Leongatha players know finals, and would have played a seasons worth of matches in finals alone.

That amount of experience is playing no small part in the Parrots now entering their seventh consecutive Grand Final. Discounting COVID years, Leongatha has made the Grand Final every season from 2015-2019 and 2022-23.

Only Traralgon from 1960 to 1966 has done likewise. When talking about great Gippsland League sides, Leongatha of the late 2010s and early 2020s will surely have to now be in the same conversation alongside Traralgon during the 1990s and Maffra during the 2000s.

In contrast, the wait continues for Moe.

The Lions, after losing just two games during the home-and-away season, and after beating Leongatha on both occasions to finish second on the ladder, went on to lose just as many finals to the same opposition.

Granted Moe’s regular season form had supporters daring to dream of a first Grand Final appearance since 2000, and perhaps even a first flag since 1967, finals indeed proved its mantra as being an entirely different season.

Fifty six years … that is so long ago.

Put simply, the Parrots performed when it mattered most, and no one will care that the final head-to-head this season ended up being 2-2.

Riley Baldi was again best-on for the Lions, and found good support from Trent Baldi, Ben Maslen, Jacob Wood, Luke Mulqueen and James Blaser.

Never one to show much emotion, Blaser shed tears as he walked off the ground for what was his last game. The former Moe coach had announced his retirement some weeks ago, and was determined to go out on the highest note possible.

Unfortunately, footy just doesn’t provide everyone a fairy tale ending.

As Zach Tuohy said in Geelong’s premiership documentary “The reality is when you sign up to play football, you’re signing on for absolute devastation the vast majority of the time … one team wins it every year, you could play 20 years and not win it.”

The Moe faithful crammed into the Sale visitor’s rooms postmatch, with the congregation even spilling out the door. Keilty spoke, and thanked players and staff for the season, before acknowledgements were made for the careers of Blaser, and life members Tom Long and Ben Morrow.

Long’s troublesome hamstring again meant he did not play in the preliminary final, while selectors made the extremely tough decision to leave

Morrow, also a 200 gamer, out of the selected side.

The ruckman, and most loved player at the club, had played 17 games this season, and worked against the clock to get back in time for finals following injury in Round 12.

The Morrow decision perhaps compounded a few distractions the Lions had to deal with in the lead-up to the game, which almost started as soon as the siren sounded after the semi-final win the previous Sunday at Maffra Recreation Reserve.

An altercation in the Maffra bar led to some push-and-shove by spectators postgame (of which Maffra Football-Netball Club later formally apologised to Moe for), before a bizarre happening occurred early last week.

The Wonthaggi-based newspaper South Gippsland Sentinel Times ran a front page story about a Moe player being cited for umpire abuse in the qualifying final.

While every newspaper has editorial licence to decide what goes on the front page, it did strike some readers as odd to have a story about a player from well outside their readership splashed on the cover.

Reading between the lines, there was no shortage of conspiracy theory it was a deliberate ploy to try and throw Moe off their game.

If last Saturday was anything to go by however, Leongatha certainly didn’t need any help from the media.

For Moe, despite the result, there was much to celebrate in a season that isn’t exactly over, as the Lion’s A Grade netball team will be playing in the Grand Final this Saturday.

As one day doesn’t make up an entire season, there was a moment for those in the change room to reflect on where the club had come from in the space of 12 months.

For any team that finishes top three, anything less than a preliminary final is usually considered a shortcoming, so the Lions at least got to a stage that gave them a chance of competing in a Grand Final, and avoided the potential disaster that may have come had they limped out in straight sets.

Without stating the obvious, the current Leongatha group had played in a few more preliminary finals than Moe by the time they met at the weekend.

Moe looked the furthest thing from a finals team last year, let alone one that would end up going 16-2 in the regular season.

The senior side won three games after Round 5 last season and used 40 players. The reserves won two games after Round 10 and hardly had any players.

The Lions turned that around to get within one win of a senior Grand Final this year, while the reserves finished with 10 wins and beat a Sale team who will start favourite in the Grand Final this weekend.

For those pointing to Moe’s city-based recruits as the sole reason for the Lions’ rise up the ladder, maybe consider this: In the three finals Moe played, there was only ever one import listed in the best.