Fishy premiers but where to from here?
FISH Creek claimed its 20th Alberton Football Netball League premiership at Meeniyan last Saturday, going back-to-back after the break-up of the competition last year.
But it was the runners-up, Toora, which saved the day.
Trailing by a clear 10 goals, after Fish Creek’s Jake Buckland and Andrew Seccull combined to kick the first goal of the third quarter, the Kanga’s 12th for the day, the underdog Magpies rallied in spectacular fashion.
Inspired by their coach, Jack Weston, a seriously good player at this level of footy, and stung into action by some Fish Creek lairising, Toora piled on seven unanswered goals for the rest of the term to go into the last change only three goals down.
It was game on!
Earlier Weston had appealed to the players’ pride.
“We do not want to roll that out for four quarters. This club has got too much pride to do that,” he said at quarter time, after a one goal to six opening, and it was something similar from him at half time, with the scoreboard looking no better at 11 goals to two.
The third quarter fired spectator interest, restored Toora’s pride and they dared to dream.
“It was never out of our reach,” he said at the last change.
“You worked hard and it just clicked. The question is ‘do we have the heart’? We hurt together, we do this together and we bring the cup home.”
Toora pressed hard at the start of the last quarter and Fish Creek’s defence needed to be bolstered by the likes of Travis Manne, dropping back, to help out.
They had several solid chances to maintain the momentum and finally it was the Pies’ coach himself, Weston, who showed them the way home with a classy snap and goal after some fine build-up work by Michael O’Sullivan, Wellesley Jenkins, James Maurilli-Pullin and the league medal winner, Ben Wells, who had been a goer all day for Toora.
An arm-wrestle followed, featuring some thrilling defence by both teams, but ultimately it was Gareth Park who broke the deadlock with a terrific tackle and goal.
Fish Creek got the next centre break via Brent Cooper. Ethan Park rediscovered his dominance and despite the best efforts of Jayden Attard down back for Toora, a low, precision pass to a leading Jake Buckland was capped off with a goal and Toora’s challenge was effectively over.
Soon after that, Blane Coates took a big mark in the scoring zone before kicking his third for the day and it only needed a late goal by Travis Manne to complete the picture.
“Come on!” he said, Leyton Hewitt style as he rolled back towards the centre. Job done.
Prior to the courageous Toora revival, something that all players in black and white had contributed to, spectators were losing interest, it must be said. They grumbled about the predictability of Fish Creek’s dominance, wondered about the future of a lopsided Alberton league or simply drifted off to see how the netballers were faring.
Toora’s fightback returned their focus but the questions remained afterwards, especially if the Allies don’t come up next year and Alberton is reduced to an unviable six-club structure.
Members of various clubs said they don’t want to be stuck in a six-team comp but are having trouble recruiting while the uncertainty continues.
For the winners, Ethan Park was clearly best on the ground, either breaking away from the stoppages with speed and strength or winning the contested ball around the flanks. Twenty one year old Jake Buckland provided the main lead-up option for the club all day deep forward, kicking four; all the more meritorious against Cat Grant. At 190cm and quick over the ground, Toora did not have a match-up for Blane Coates who was particularly dominant in the first half. Bailey Harfield-Park was a winner at half back and on the ball. Jack Hayes faced off against danger Toora forward Luke Manders and restricted him to one goal and Gareth Park was another of the rotating midfielders who served Fishy well, kicking two.
For Toora; Ben Wells and Josh Griffin were goers all day for Toora on the ball; Griffin, Johnathon Pintus, Weston and Richard Jaroszczuk were keys to their revival in the third quarter and Lewis Ferguson was a goer all day off half back.
After the game, Alberton President Barry Stride focussed his comments on the success of the day but he also acknowledged some uncertainty within the league and its member clubs.
“We’ve had discussions with three leagues and we hope to know a little more by Thursday,” he said, noting that Alberton was seeking further meetings.
“We want what’s best for football and netball in the area and our member clubs but the concern is that Alberton has seven clubs and the surrounding leagues have 10. We were never supposed to be seven.”
Mr Stride denied the Allies were at risk of folding, saying he was only hearing “positive” responses from them about next year.
“We hope to have the situation finalised by October/November,” he said.
But there’s clearly concern within the clubs about the viability of a seven-team competition that would be reduced to six if the Allies folded.
Individual clubs have been making their own inquiries but with the deadline for transferring between leagues passed, it would take AFL Gippsland or legal intervention to force the issue.
With other 10-team leagues failing to throw Alberton clubs a lifeline at this stage and no solution apparent, the status quo looks the most likely scenario at this stage.
Final score: Fish Creek 17.10.112 def Toora 10.9.69.