MINOR premier Heyfield and Glengarry will square off in the North Gippsland Football-Netball League grand final on Saturday at the Traralgon Recreation Reserve.
It has been far from smooth sailing for Glengarry, whose challenge for the premiership only came to life following a dismal start to the season, only winning one of its first six games.
After stringing together six straight victories, including wins over the highly fancied Rosedale, Woodside and ladder leader Heyfield, the Magpies were back in the hunt for a top five berth by round 13.
Despite beginning with a loss to Rosedale, Heyfield’s title defence hummed along in the opening half of the season before they began struggle to be competitive for a full four quarters. The Kangaroos have rallied when the wheels began to wobble.
After losing to the Magpies in the second semi-final two weeks ago, Kangaroos assistant coach Jesse Leeds wasn’t worried about his side carrying the underdog tag.
“It’s been a challenging season, it was good on Saturday to finally play a good solid four quarters of footy (against Rosedale in the preliminary final),” he said.
“The second half of the year we struggled to put together solid four quarter efforts, a bit like a fortnight ago against Glengarry where for three quarters of the contest our match-ups were working. We were playing good footy before we lapsed, dropping our intensity and tackling.
“There is no doubt like last year that there won’t be many backing us to win.”
Leeds knew his side would need to take its game to another level if it’s to claim back-to-back premierships.
“Our effort on Saturday was really good, we played well in the tough conditions, and everyone did their job playing their role in a strong team effort,” he said.
“We will need that same even contribution across the park come this weekend. There will be no passengers, we need to back ourselves to win the one-on-one and play like we did in the first half against Glengarry in the semi-final.
“It was great that we won on the weekend and have this chance, however the guys didn’t get too excited. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, a lot of the boys were saying ‘don’t get too happy, we made it but there is no need to be celebrating yet’.”
Renowned for thriving in big games, Leeds said the Saturday’s game will be a tough, tight and physical contest against a side confident of its chances.
“We can’t afford to model our side around the opposition, we don’t want to fall into that trap. Rather, we will be focusing on the one -on-one contests and ensuring that we win those. We know that we are not going to win every contest and we know that the other team will score against us but we will put faith in our players and hope that we come out on top,” Leeds said.
With only five players in this year’s squad yet to win a premiership, Heyfield’s depth and experience has long been the envy of opposition sides.
Following a solid run to finish the home-and-away season, Glengarry deservingly claimed the prized double chance and put the opposition sides on notice with comprehensive victories in the first two weeks of finals to advance to the grand final.
While pleased with his side’s efforts, coach Ryan Potter is a realist and knows how difficult it is to win the title.
“You need things to go your way and we are up against tough opposition,” he said.
“Heyfield are a dangerous team their players are known for stepping up. They finished top three and won it last year so they can’t be underestimated.
“They run the ball and spread, they boast a number of players that stand up in big games (Jesse) Bedggood and (Adrian) Cox are two and then they have the little spreaders that run and carry the ball (Jack) Woodland, (Nic) Dinsdale and the Dowses (Nic and Mitch).”
While the Magpies coach knows that there are a number of playmakers his side will need to closely guard, Potter said his side would focus on playing its brand of footy.
“It served us well last time we were three goals down and turned the game around,” he said.
“Our forward line with Josh King, Mark Engley and Ross McDermott is one of our strengths along with our back line. Defensively, we have matched teams throughout the year but just didn’t have the ability early on in the season to kick the goals.”
In the midfield, the Magpies perhaps holding the edge over Heyfield.
League team of the year members Potter and Lachie Little can quickly turn a game and were instrumental in the side’s semi-final victory against Heyfield.
Chris Panayiotou also stood tall with a best-on-ground performance, running amok along the wing and drilling the ball into the three-prong forward structure.
While Glengarry’s engine room is impressive, it is set to meet classy opposition with Sean Humphreys, Josh Neille, and Adrian Cox the main instigators in Heyfield’s dominance of the centre clearances.
Kangaroos coach Cox will no doubt draw the attention of Glengarry’s taggers, while dual premiership players Mitch and Nic Dowse will also attract attention.
NGFNL grand final draw
Saturday at Traralgon Recreation Reserve:
Seniors: Glengarry v Heyfield, 2.15pm.
Reserves: Heyfield v TTU, noon.
Thirds: Churchill v Cowwarr, 9.45am.