By Mitch Guy
LEONGATHA has bounced back in fine fashion with a commanding 54-point win against Traralgon to book a spot in Gippsland League grand final.
In fine conditions at Traralgon on Saturday, the Parrots made a statement and put its mediocre semi-final performance against Maffra behind them with a four-quarter team effort.
Brenton Fitzgerald came into the Parrots’ side for Lochie Dumont, and the minor premiers looked focused from the opening bounce.
Dale Hoghton got his side away to a flying start when he slotted a set shot after a free kick and Leongatha forward Chris Dunne looked lively early after a quiet semi-final.
Traralgon hit back via Rohan Hildebrand but the Parrots remained on top in general play.
Two quick goals by Dunne had the Maroons on the back foot as quarter time approached.
The first came from a beautiful set shot, and the second saw the exciting forward run back with the flight of the ball, hold onto a chest mark and finish from a tight angle.
Traralgon’s Tim Johnston showed the Maroons were up for the challenge when he kicked a magic goal from close to the boundary, before fluent ball movement through the midfield by Hoghton saw Shem Hawking spot up Pat McGrath with a tidy pass and he made no mistake from long range to give the Parrots a 13-point buffer at the first break.
The Parrots started the second term with plenty of run, and Josh Hopkins looked set to finish a superb team play in the opening minutes, but crossed the goal line before his kick for a behind.
The speedster quickly made amends when he sent a wide pass to Joel Sinclair in space and a long kick inside 50 saw Cade Maskell outmuscle his opponent and boot his first major.
The forward combination of Maskell, Chris Verboon and Aaron Hillberg worked well for the Parrots, while Hayden Browne was cutting off kicks across half back.
A couple of near misses let the Maroons off the hook, before Rhett Kelly kicked a steadying goal.
The forward line looked dangerous every time the ball went inside 50, with Hillberg gathering the footy with composure and passing to McGrath, who dished a handball to Hopkins who finished on the run.
When Maskell proved too strong in a one on one marking contest and gave a quick handball, Dunne ran into an open goal to extend the lead to 39 points.
Traralgon’s Lee Stockdale kicked a goal against the tide after a Leongatha mistake in defence to give the Maroons its first glimmer of hope in 15 minutes of footy.
Troy Forrest snapped truly to cut the lead further, and in a worrying sign for the Parrots, Maskell left the field with what seemed to be a serious shoulder injury before half time.
But the Parrots continued to control play and when Hoghton cut off a kick across the face of goal and booted his second, the Parrots took a 34-point lead into the main break.
Maskell returned to the field after half time and was untroubled by the earlier injury.
It was the Maroons who started well when Lee Stockdale goaled, but the Parrots had the reply when Browne chopped off a kick at half forward and delivered a clever pass to Hopkins, whose beautiful long kick sailed straight through the middle.
Sensing the match was started to slip away, Traralgon upped its physical approach to the contest and a number of off-the-ball free kicks for undisciplined play started to creep in.
A 50m penalty gave Hawking an easy goal and the heat in the match was evident.
Hadyn Hector hit back for the Maroons when he snapped truly, but a juggled mark and goal by Maskell extended Leongatha’s lead further.
With Luke Bowman winning the footy at stoppages and well supported by Tom Marriott and Hoghton, the Parrots looked like the team which went through the home and away season undefeated.
Zak Vernon’s influence on the contest through run and carry was starting to show, and he drew cheers from the crowd when he brilliantly dodged and weaved around a Traralgon opponent before landing a huge ‘don’t argue’ fend-off that sent another opponent to the ground, before delivering a pass to Hillberg inside 50.
Hillberg failed to finish the spectacular play, but redeemed himself before three-quarter time when he marked from a kick in a booted his first goal to give Leongatha a 48-point advantage at the final change.
The Parrots put the result beyond doubt in the opening minutes with goals to Maskell and McGrath, who played his best game for the season across half forward and in the midfield.
When McGrath snapped his third goal of the afternoon, it was party time for the Parrots and its loyal band of supporters, with three footy teams and B Grade netball in this week’s grand final at Moe.
Dunne finished with four majors in a great return to form and Maskell booted three.
The Parrots now face a rematch with Maffra in this week’s grand final at Moe.
Full coverage of the weekends football in this weeks edition of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times.
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