LEONGATHA will meet Traralgon in next Saturday’s Gippsland League Grand Final at Traralgon after they withstood a third-quarter comeback by Maffra to go on to a convincing 45-point victory in last weekend’s preliminary final.
And it was the Parrots’ pace as well as their relative accuracy in front of goal that killed off the Eagles’ worthy challenge.
The Parrots could hardly have been more impressive as they surged to a 7.2 to 1.3 lead in the opening quarter but they won the match with a character-filled response in the last quarter, after Maffra closed the gap to just three goals, two at the final change.
Led in the centre by 204cm veteran, former AFL ruckman, Trent Knobel, Maffra got the first centre break of the last quarter and anxiety levels rose as they drove the ball forward. But after yet another point, this time off the boot of Kelvin Porter, the moment was lost and the Parrots returned fire.
Tas Clingan got the ball to Zac Vernon who went on one of his incisive runs. Cade Maskell led up strongly and when his long shot sailed through, Leongatha was on its way.
Two more to the Parrots, one through Aaron Hillberg and the other by Ash Lynch, before Maffra could mount a response, and hopes were high that the Parrots would get the chance to live the dream in 2015.
Their seven goal to two finishing quarter was emphatic and with all 21 players coming through the contest full of running, there’ll be only one ‘problem’ at the selection table this week for coach Beau Vernon and his
brains-trust, and it’s a nice problem to have.
Thanks to the departure of the Essendon Bombers from the VFL final’s race, at the hands of the Williamstown Seagulls just minutes after Leongatha had progressed, midfielder Aaron Heppell will make a welcome return to the Parrots just in time to face Traralgon.
It’s exactly the tonic they needed as their recovery started immediately after the game, ahead of a week of grand final preparations.
It’s been a long time between drinks for one of the most successful clubs in the modern era with Leongatha not winning a Gippsland League senior premiership since 2001, at the head of a run of seven in 13 years by Maffra.
And it made a nice change from the preliminary final of 2012 when the Eagles beat Leongatha by just one point.
There’s a lot to like about this Saturday’s grand final day at Traralgon.
The day will start with a grand final breakfast for some at 7.45am, featuring comedian Andrew Startin and Geelong great Cam Mooney.
Then it will be on to the Under 13s netball featuring Wonthaggi v Sale at 8.30am, Wonthaggi v Bairnsdale in C Grade at 12.15pm and Leongatha v Traralgon in B Grade at 1.30pm.
All will then be in readiness for the senior football grand final starting at 2.30pm between historic rivals Traralgon and Leongatha.
The ‘half time show’ at the game will feature a ‘Kick for Cash’ by a local radio station in which five contestants will attempt to kick a football into the back of a ute on the ground to win $5000.
All roads lead to Traralgon this Saturday for a chance to witness the Beau Vernon-coached Parrots trying to break a 14-year premiership drought.
Fast start gets Parrots on a roll
LEONGATHA had the perfect start in their preliminary final match against the highly successful finals’ campaigners of the past decade, Maffra, and the way the game panned out later, they needed it.
They got an all-team effort from the 21 players in what ended up being the perfect tune-up for a rematch with Traralgon but they had to keep up the pressure all day to keep Maffra down.
The Eagles were actually out of the blocks first, going coast-to-coast after an early Leongatha shot on goal and signs were a little ominous when they leading goal-kicker Darren Sheen led up strongly, marked and goaled.
But there was no panic in the Parrots’ ranks and two quick goals by Jake Best steadied the nerves; the second on the run getting the green and gold crowd to its feet.
Maffra’s James Read had drawn the tough job on the league’s top goal kicker and he was getting plenty of heckling from the Leongatha crowd as Best constantly got the better of him.
Maffra’s Daniel Bedggood was doing well on his wing and he found Jolly but only a point resulted. It was to be the story of the day for Maffra with their poor kicking for goal robbing them of the scoreboard pressure they needed to restrain the Parrots.
A point by Roe-Duggan from close range and a rushed point after a promising build up by Bedggood again and Jolly saw them come away empty-handed and a miracle goal, Rioli-style by Best, again added insult to injury.
Rhett Kelly defended well and Zac Vernon was on the run to help set up Hillberg for the next and all three of Leongatha’s key forward were on the scoresheet when Cade Maskell made the most of good work up field by Matt Borschman in particular, Best and Hillberg.
It was all good by the Parrots in the opening term with everyone contributing, including Sean Westaway, who was backing his judgement well in defence.
Hillberg and Maskell rounded it out to seven for the quarter and Maffra had only 1.3 to show in a fine display by the Parrots.
The second quarter was more of an arm-wrestle as Maffra arrested the free-flowing play of the Parrots.
The goals to Lachie Dumont and Ash Lynch were a long way apart, but Maffra only managed the one through Gieschen in the middle stages, plus six more points.
Leongatha also kicked points when goals were needed and their momentum into half time flagged a little until Lynch’s long bomb put a good light on it.
The third quarter was Maffra’s best as they kicked six goals to three, dominating the latter part of the term in particular after Maskell, Nagle and Best, again from the same tight angle, got early goals.
It was definitely ‘game on’ after Sheen bombed long to cut the margin to 3.3 in the shadows of three quarter time.
Their big ruckman was having a great tussle with Leongatha’s Ben Willis and their on-ballers and flankers were taking it right up to their opponents.
But to the Parrots credit they answered the challenge by taking them on and it was Zac Vernon who showed the way with a thrilling run through the centre resulting in a goal to Maskell.
Kelly, Best, Mackie, Hoghton were prominent and when Hillberg kicked another, the Parrots had some breathing space.
They finished on as a good team should, kicking seven goals to Maffra’s two to go on to a clear victory.
Shem Hawking on a wing was ever reliable, Vernon through the centre, Willis tireless in the ruck, Jason Tomada with the tough job on Sheen, limiting him to four goals, the trio of forwards Best, Hillberg and Maskell, and defenders including Pitman, Westaway, Kelly and Verboon, Matt Borschman around the flanks, Clingan, Hoghton… they all played their role in a very good performance.
Heppell set for Parrots’ return
THE Leongatha Parrots’ chances of winning the 2015 Gippsland League Premiership received a major fillip last Sunday evening as the Essendon Bombers bowed out of the VFL finals’ race at North Port Oval against the Williamstown Seagulls.
The Bombers’ loss was the Parrots’ gain with Aaron Heppell set to make his Gippsland League return after an impressive finals’ campaign with Essendon’s VFL side.
While Heppell went forward to high duties with Leongatha’s blessing, his return will be greeted with relief by Parrot powerbrokers, although it will cause a problem at selection table – a nice problem to have.
All of Leongatha’s players came through Sunday’s game against Maffra fit and healthy and with one or two other players pushing up for selection, coach Beau Vernon and his selection committee will face a tough task this week.
And there’s an outside chance that an injured Tom Marriott, an absolute dynamo for the team in the centre, might also be pushing for a return.
But it’s the inclusion of Heppell that’s the best news the club could have received, ahead of next Sunday’s grand final at Traralgon, after disposing of a persistent but inaccurate Maffra at Morwell last weekend.