THE sting of last year’s one-point loss to Leongatha in the Gipps land League football grand final has driven Maffra to great heights in 2018, and its shot at redemption will come on Saturday, when the Eagles again face the Parrots in the premiership decider.
“Last year there was a lot of blokes who walked away that would have had five premierships, so to lose to Leongatha by a point really stuck in their neck,” Eagles president Steve Saunders said.
“It’s not revenge so much, but the drive of going one better this year.”
With the exception of Lachie Channing, who broke his ankle in the semi-final, the Eagles will be fully fit, but Saunders admitted they would have to be at their very best to take it to Leongatha.
“Our best footy has to be exceptional. They’re a well-oiled machine,” he said.
“Tom Marriott won the league best-and-fairest, and he’s a class player and they’re a quick side that match-up well on us.”
Marriott is a vital part of Leongatha’s midfield, which will come up against Ed and Alex Carr, Danny Butcher and Kel Porter.
Just as they did against in the preliminary final, Jack Johnstone and Michael Coleman will look to provide a strong link between defence and midfield for the Eagles.
Leongatha’s forward line, led by league award winner Chris Dunne and fellow team of the year selection Cade Maskell, will test the Maffra defence of James Huts and Sam Pleming.
At the other end, Mitch Bennett, Daniel Bedggood and their fellow Maffra forwards will need to make the most of their chances, with Leongatha’s defence unlikely to give them many easy ones.
Unbeaten until round 10, Maffra travelled to Leongatha in round four and buried the Parrots by 42 points, but the defending premiers bounced back and took out the round 13 rematch by nine points.
The most recent encounter — the second semi-final a fortnight ago — was controlled after half-time by Leongatha, with a seven-goal final term helping them to a resounding 64-point win.
The Parrots were near-impenetrable in defence, with their tall back men intercepting the Eagles’ long kicks into attack.
The Eagles’ attack on the ball and opponent during the first half put them in a good position, but they weren’t able to sustain it during the second half.
There were similarities in Maffra’s preliminary final victory over Traralgon at the weekend.
The Eagles’ pressure gave them a 33-point lead at quarter-time, and while Traralgon lifted, they held off the challenge to win by five points.
Like the week before, the Eagles struggled to kick a goal in the second half, booting two, but the wintry conditions were as much a factor as Traralgon’s pressure this time around.
Parrots coach Paul Carbis said the week off had left his players itching to run out on Saturday.
“I suppose having the week off is good because you can freshen up, but you want to keep playing in some respects, and it’s long time between drinks so we just want the game to start now,” he said.
Carbis flagged the side’s second halves — particularly against Sale and Maffra in the qualifying and semi-finals — as some of their best football for the season.
The Parrots have won their past four matches, during which they kicked 36 second half goals, while conceding only four.
“Against Sale, they started well, but for us it’s about grinding out the opposition, staying with our players, not panicking and playing our footy and eventually we can get a result,” Carbis said.
“Last time against Maffra we got started a little earlier than what we thought, but every game is different and we need to make it happen for ourselves, so that’s what we’ll do.
“I think it’s going to be hard tough contest, we’re expecting Maffra’s best and that’s what we’ve been training for. They’ve been on top for a reason so we’ve got to be ready.”
Gippsland League grand final
Saturday at Morwell Recreation Reserve:
Seniors: Leongatha v Maffra, 2.30pm.
Reserves: Maffra v Leongatha, 12.30pm.
Under 18s: Traralgon v Bairnsdale, 10.30am.
Under 16s: Sale v Bairnsdale, 8.30am.