STRATFORD senior football coach Peter Morrison is enjoying himself.
Four years after the team’s last East Gippsland football premiership, Morrison is calm at the second last training session before the grand final, against Lakes Entrance.
“I think it’s trying to relax a bit more and enjoy it, (or) the pressure builds,” he said.
“In 2014 we got really het-up about it, but this time they’re having fun — even at my age it’s exciting, and you take it all in.”
There’s definitely energy in the rooms before the team begins warming up — camaraderie and confidence, a team that can identify its opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and that knows its own.
Morrison said there’s certainly a lot of strengths this time around — Stratford runs hot or cold, rarely in between, with a wooden spoon in 2016 followed by a semi-finals appearance last year.
“Having the two best big men in the competition, (Lachie) Heywood and (Regan) Tait, certainly gives us a slight advantage,” he said.
“They’re just as good as below their knees as they are above their heads, they’re flexible, they’re two blokes who run.”
Stratford’s powerhouse forward line is another polished aspect.
“My coaching philosophy’s sort of changed a little bit — you’ve certainly got to have a very good defence, but you must kick goals to win games,” Morrison said.
“You look at what happened to Geelong or Sydney last week — if Buddy (Franklin) didn’t kick six, they would have lost, but in our case, if we were to get two from (Josh) Kiss, (Haydn) Erfurth, (Rodney) O’Keefe, (Jack) Bacon, (Jordan) Robertson, (Liam) Lemon...
“They all know when it’s their turn to be the attacker and get the footy, and there’s other times when they know it’s their turn to be more defensive, it’s not about filling a hole, it’s about picking your bloke up and then he doesn’t have an influence on the game.
“The game hasn’t changed in 200 years, you still have to attack, and if we haven’t got it, we have to get it back.”
Injuries haven’t affected the side too much, with Bacon back in after a shoulder injury towards the end of the season, though veteran Gav Bickery will be watching from the sidelines recovering from a broken foot.
The challenge for the Swans will be taming Lakes Entrance coach and goal machine James Gibbs. That task falls to captain Jesse Broadbent, a broad-shouldered full-back.
“He’s a big boy to take on, big fitness, big bloke, we’ve had a few good battles so I look forward to it,” Broadbent said with a grin, noting the whole squad was playing well as a team.
“We lost one against Boisdale-Briag halfway through the season, and we really sat down and said we’ve got to gel together, and that’s exactly what we’ve done, you can see the result.”
For Morrison, the crucial point will be calming nerves.
“It’ll be the side that settles first and puts some scoreboard pressure on,” he said.
“In the semi, we got some scoreboard pressure, then all of a sudden we were six out, and it was the same thing last week, Lakes got six out, and it was a long way for Wy Yung, and Wy Yung played alright but it wasn’t close enough.”
The semi-final was played in rough conditions, but the Swans adapted, making the most of the mud and slippery ball.
Unfortunately, early forecasts say 17 degrees and rain in Bairnsdale — perhaps a repeat performance is on the cards.
Morrison is sanguine.
“It’s not about me, it’s about this group of young players, and they’ll stake their own place in history,” he said.
“They don’t have reunions for teams that finished fifth, they have reunions for premiership sides.”
Gibbs was ready for the fight, and said the finals series had been good preparation for the youngsters in the team.
“It’s exciting, we haven’t won a senior grade for 15 years,” he said.
“(In the semi-final), I thought we were a bit slow, so I’ve changed it up and brought in some quicker younger guys, so speed on the outside might catch them.
“They’re an even side with some experienced footballers, so hopefully a few of ours will expose them, and it’ll be nice if we can sneak a few goals in, me and Virgil (Puruntatameri).
“I knew it was going to take some hard yakka, understanding what it took to get to the finals, and I think the club’s in a great place — it’s great to have the opportunity, we’re going to give it our best shot.”
EGFNL grand final
Saturday at Bairnsdale City Oval:
Football, seniors: Stratford v Lakes Entrance, 2.15pm; reserves: Boisdale-Briagolong v Lucknow, noon; under 18s: Lakes Entrance v Lakes Entrance, 10am; under 16s: Wy Yung v Lakes Entrance, 8am.
Netball, A grade: Wy Yung v Lindenow, 2.20pm; B grade: Wy Yung v Lakes Entrance, 1.05pm; C grade: Wy Yung v Stratford, 11.55am; D grade: Lakes Entrance v Stratford, 10.45am; under 17s: Wy Yung v Orbost-Snowy Rovers, 9.35am; under 15s: Lakes Entrance v Stratford, 8.25am.