MAYBE it’s the loss Leongatha needed. That’s probably the only bright side to what was an ordinary performance from the Parrots in the second semi-final against Maffra at Morwell on Saturday.
The 11-point final margin was flattering as Leongatha kicked the last four goals of the game.
The Eagles were on from the beginning. Defensively they were relentless and didn’t give the Parrots the freedom they need to run and carry.
Early in the final term, when the Eagles led by 36 points, it was a truer indication of the gap between the intensity the two teams brought to the match.
It shouldn’t have been that way. Leongatha were stung similarly in last year’s second semi when they lost to Traralgon so there should not have been any room for complacency.
The inclusion of Dale Hoghton from Footscray’s reserves side should also have helped the mood.
Tom Marriott laid a crunching tackle in front of the Parrots’ bench in the first minute but that was about the extent of Leongatha’s physical pressure.
It’s not as though they were beaten up by Maffra, just outworked.
The Eagles capitalised with the first two goals of the match.
They had numbers back so that every time they went forward, the Parrots had nowhere to go.
Sean Westaway had the job on Daniel Bedggood and kept him quiet all day despite the repeated entries.
Joel Sinclair was also good in keeping dangerous forward Mitch Bennett goalless.
Hayden Browne was busy across half back but there was little polish in Leongatha’s ball movement.
There was a flukey breeze which also seemed to frustrate the Parrots as they kicked to the freeway end.
It wasn’t until Zak Vernon took a strong one on one mark 20m out that Leongatha had their first.
Josh Hopkins then managed to defy the breeze and kick a long goal from the boundary to bring Leongatha back to within three points.
Seconds later, and just before the quarter time siren, Maffra’s Kelvin Porter kicked a long goal to give the Eagles a deserved lead at the break.
Leongatha kicked with the advantage of the breeze in the second term but were denied possession.
Cade Maskell kicked a couple of goals, one the result of a rare Maffra mistake, and the other a crafty snap bounced through from an angle.
Maskell and Hillberg presented well as key forwards, but were simply starved of opportunities.
Maffra’s giant ruckman Trent Knobel had inches on Ben Willis, but Knobel did well to break even against Willis who was one player of whom the coach Beau Vernon could not have asked for more.
Others good players for Leongatha around the middle, apart from Marriott, were harder to find.
Somehow the Parrots were just three points down at the main break.
Most people at the ground were waiting for the game to open up, and it did, just not the way everyone expected.
The Eagles piled on six goals.
Sam Pleming was a dangerous target, as good in the air as he is on the ground.
But it was their smaller runners who were most damaging.
Michael Coleman put on a clinic with two goals and he had a hand in others, working beautifully with Kade Renooy who was also elusive.
Such was Coleman’s impact, Shem Hawking has sent to stop him but it didn’t seem to work.
Maskell set up Hillberg for a goal but the reply was swift again.
Coach Vernon shifted Chris Verboon to full forward in the last term to find an extra avenue to goal with Chris Dunne quiet.
He also called for more overlap run which had been missing most of the day.
But when Pleming booted a long goal for Maffra which took the margin out to 35 points, it was as good as over.
The Eagles took a large chunk of time off the clock with an impenetrable press before the Parrots broke free late.
Verboon proved to be a dangerous target with two goals.
Late goals to Maskell and Hillberg reduced the margin back to 11 points but there didn’t seem to be any panic from the Eagles who comfortably advanced to the grand final.
Leongatha will have to bounce back from their first loss of the year to face old foe Traralgon in this Saturday’s preliminary final, at Traralgon.
Full coverage of the weekend football in this weeks edition of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times.
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