Leongatha dynasty keeps on rolling

Undeniable: Leongatha won the Gippsland League senior premiership at the weekend. Photograph: Liam Durkin





DIVISIONAL football might be a good idea.

The problem is there isn’t a league higher for Leongatha to play in around here.

The Parrots added another Gippsland League senior flag to their collection on Saturday, after beating South Gippsland rival Wonthaggi 14.5 (89) to 7.7 (49) in the Grand Final.

Leongatha upstaged the minor premier to a degree, who had taken the shortest route to the decider after accounting for the Parrots in the second semi-final a fortnight earlier, and won 16 games in a row leading in.

Come Grand Final day however, Leongatha well and truly showed their opponents, and the rest of the league for that matter, that when it comes to the crunch, the Parrots are simply irresistible.

For a Grand Final, the game itself was a bit of a let-down (as was the crowd in all honesty) as by the 15-minute mark of the first quarter, Leongatha had four goals to one on the board on the lush, green Morwell Recreation Reserve (a rare sight for a football ground in the Valley these days).

After such a blistering start, the Power was forced to play catch-up. Wonthaggi skipper Aiden Lindsay gave his side a lift after converting from an Isaac Chugg hit-up to keep the scoreboard under control at 17 points, before disaster struck.

Wonthaggi forward Tom Davey might have been a bit too hyped up for the big game, and was yellow carded for late contact on the eve of quarter time. This meant the Power were down a man for the first 10 or so minutes of the second term.

Power coach Jarryd Blair tried to put a positive spin on the situation in the huddle, saying it suited his team as they would now have no option but to control the tempo. While being one down meant Leongatha defender Cade Maskell would be roaming loose, Blair told his players Maskell would be taken out of the equation if they could in fact stay patient and hit shorts.

Interestingly, Blair put it back on the players, asking “what did you talk about?” (from their line meetings) before breaking for the second quarter.

Unfortunately for the sentimental favourites, the plan backfired completely, as the second quarter unravelled and a maiden Gippsland League senior premiership slipped further and further away.

The Parrots continued their dominance, kicking four goals to one, two of which came in the first five minutes.

Leongatha captain Tom Marriott nailed a long range set shot to stretch the margin to five goals, while Wonthaggi’s first real look came when Chugg found Jack Hutchinson inside 50.

The first signs of a lucky break possibly falling the Powers’ way occurred following the set shot from Hutchinson. Although his kick went wide of the goal face, the ball was lost by Leongatha’s Jack Hume as he went to run the ball out of defence and it bounced backwards after he’d gone to bounce it himself.

Hume had survived a nervous week, after being given the all-clear by the tribunal on Thursday.

The 22-year-old was handed a three game ban for striking Moe’s James Blaser in the preliminary final, but the tribunal decided the charge didn’t match the offence, resulting in a not guilty outcome.

While video footage didn’t look favourable for Hume, it is understood Blaser abided by the players code of not ratting out opponents facing the music.

Those in local footy circles will attest to how that code works, with anyone who goes against it more or less blacklisted.

Like journalists going to communications – it is heavily frowned upon.

Leongatha kicked two goals while Wonthaggi was a man down, and continued their dominance as halftime approached.

Both teams played a similar style between the arcs, holding their wings and half-forwards wide to give them space to run forward.

The difference however was the next kick, the one going inside 50.

Where Leongatha found targets, the Power simply couldn’t, while defensively, it was a stark contrast.

The Powers defence was all at sea under the constant bombardment. The Parrots’ workrate to get numbers back saw Wonthaggi at times kicking to four-on-ones.

A Kim Drew mark and goal furthered Leongatha’s ascendency, and was followed by a mark to Cameron Olden, who had the opportunity to add further Power pain.

Some good umpiring a few moments beforehand resulted in a ball-up after Olden took what looked to be a pack mark.

Wonthaggi’s dirty day continued to get worse, and was perhaps best summed up when the ball literally bounced backwards over Brodie Mabillia’s head as he was running onto a loose ball heading inside 50.

You know those days where you have 15 play-and-misses …

A Power goal at the 18-minute mark kept the scoreboard in some check at 29 points. Cooper McInnes had an opportunity to get it back to a manageable 20 or so minutes later, but his set shot sailed out on the full in the pocket near the scoreboard.

McInnes had kicked more than 50 goals for the season, and ended up kicking three out on the full in the Grand Final.

When it’s not your day …

Leongatha’s Jenson Garnham provided one for the highlight reel, taking a hanger in front of the Parrots’ bench that would have no doubt been replayed a few times on Saturday night.

Understandably, given they were four goals down, Wonthaggi looked to take the game on as much as they could. At times however this had the reverse effect, as they were too excited to pull the trigger, of which Leongatha feasted on as the Power’s foot skills on the day were, for the most part, well below average.

Davey’s day pretty much ended before halftime after he was given a second yellow card. Compounding the issue as he retreated into the rooms, Leongatha kicked another goal courtesy of a 50 metre penalty

The Parrots led by 34 points at the main break, and while it wasn’t an insurmountable lead, it was hard to see Wonthaggi coming back considering they were still going to be a man down when the second half got underway.

The Power certainly weren’t handling the occasion well, but started the second half brightly, kicking a goal in the first two minutes.

Leongatha’s Noah Gown responded at the other end, kicking truly after out-muscling Noah Anderson.

Maskell was still free, and picking up kicks with ease. Wonthaggi was really only able to bypass him on one occasion, when Troy Harley kicked a goal on the run at the nine-minute mark.

If they hadn’t already lost the plot following Davey’s brain explosion, the Power was just about to completely do so.

Shannon Bray landed a huge bump on Drew which took the latter within range, and he converted for his second goal.

It was panic stations from here for the Power, so much so that they flicked about half-a-dozen handballs between themselves at half-back, with no one seemingly wanting to take responsibility to move the ball forward.

This led to consecutive holding the ball decisions, giving Leongatha even more confidence.

By now, all the Parrots had to do was play time, and Gown, who previously spent time with Essendon and in the VFL with Sandringham this year, provided the level-head to signal to his teammates to just hold things up when they had the ball following some chaos.

When they had to defend however, they were equally quick to do so, and Maskell could be heard from the grandstand barking orders for those in green and gold jumpers to “get back” after Blair was granted a 50 metre penalty and taken forward of centre.

The Wonthaggi coach looked like he was hobbling, and after a clever dribble goal from Aaron Turton just before three quarter time, the Parrots’ lead stood at 41 points.

Wonthaggi had famously come back from a 45-point deficit in a preliminary final in 2014.

If there was ever a time to perform another miracle, this was surely it.

Such an outcome didn’t occur, nor was it ever going to. The last quarter fizzled out, as each minute only served to tick closer to a Leongatha flag.

Shouts of “Power outage” came from the Leongatha faithful, and the Parrots started chipping the ball around as early as the 15-minute mark.

Wonthaggi had virtually conceded a few minutes beforehand. Blair was clearly struggling to run, while Chugg hobbled off at five minutes and Bray not long after.

As the end of the game approached, Leongatha forward Jack Ginnane and coach Trent McMicking embraced in a private moment together on the bench.

Ginnane had missed last year’s premiership following a much publicised eight-week suspension, which he took all the way to the Supreme Court.

With a premiership in the bag 12 months later, he may well have been thanking his coach wholeheartedly for giving him another chance.

Only two goals were kicked in the final term, with Wonthaggi adding a late one for consolation.

The Power found honest contributions from defender Fergus O’Connor, Tim Knowles, Jack Blair, Mabilia, Lindsay and Ryan Sparkes.

Those judged best in the club votes for the Parrots were Maskell, Marriott, Ben Willis, Aaron Heppell, Olden and Jackson Harry.

Imagine if someone told Willis 10 years ago he’d be a four-time senior premiership player.

As is tradition, two best-on-ground medals are awarded in the Gippsland League Grand Final.

Marriott was awarded the Victoria Country medal for best-on-ground, while Heppell took the Stan Aitken Medal.

In the wash-up, so much had gone right for Wonthaggi this season, only for everything to go wrong at the final hurdle.

It all appeared to be perfectly placed for the Power to win their first Gippsland League flag this year: Favourite son Jarryd Blair was in his third season as coach, had taken his home club to the minor premiership, they hadn’t lost a game since Round 3, and Sparkes had won the league MVP by 10 votes.

But then … not good enough on the day …. stage fright … Leongatha.

It is said what goes up must come down, but the Parrots are showing no signs of doing that.

They’ve now won four flags in the last five seasons,

While there was some questions surrounding the Parrots’ chances during preseason, and even at times during the year after they finished third, word from Parrot Park was always that the current group was hellbent on going for at least one more flag.

We did always say if you’re going to win the flag this year, you’re going to have to get past Leongatha at some stage.

Well, a couple of teams did, just not at the right stage.