Liam Durkin

You better have a good reason for not being at Bairnsdale City Oval tomorrow.

The biggest East Gippsland football game from a local perspective will be staged tomorrow when Avon rivals Boisdale-Briagolong and Stratford fight it out in the preliminary final.

Only a Grand Final itself between the Bombers and Swans would likely draw more excitement, but for all intents and purposes, this will be every bit as hotly contested as a decider.

Put simply, Boisdale-Briagolong and Stratford share a mutual understanding – the Bombers don’t like the Swans, and the Swans don’t like the Bombers.

From a historical context, success for both sides has rarely run parallel. The last time Boisdale-Briagolong and Stratford played in a preliminary final was way back in 1999.

In a show of just how long ago that was – the league at which both sides were affiliated with back then, the Riviera Football League, no longer exists.

The Bombers were coached by Wayne Butcher – long before he coached Maffra to the first of five senior flags in the Gippsland League.

From 2000 to 2003, the RFL premiership was won by either Boisdale-Briagolong or Stratford. The Bombers went back-to-back in 2000-01 before the Swans followed suit.

Stratford has added three flags to the collection since then, including last year, while Boisdale-Briagolong is yet to salute as an East Gippsland club.

The Swans will be motivated to defend their premiership, and the Bombers to create history of their own.

With all this in mind, expect plenty of fireworks in Bairnsdale tomorrow.

The tale-of-the-tape this season stands at 2-1 in favour of the Bombers.

After claiming the wooden spoon last season (admittedly in a very even competition), Boisdale-Briagolong started this season in the best possible way, defeating Stratford by 42 points.

The win sent a serious statement to the competition that this was very much a new-look Bombers outfit. Having been cruelled by injury last year, Boisdale-Briagolong showed the benefits of staying healthy by finishing in the top-two this year, three wins clear of the Swans in third.

The Bombers will use their double-chance tomorrow, and having played last Saturday, could hold an edge with an extra day recovery.

Also working in the Bombers’ favour could be the fact their reserves are already through to the Grand Final, which in theory, should aid the vibrancy of training and overall club morale.

Conversely, Stratford, which played a bruising affair last Sunday, could be entering the preliminary final with some sore bodies.

Key forward Haydn Erfurth limped off the ground just before the final siren during the Swans’ elimination final victory over Orbost Snowy Rovers, and his fitness has the potential to have a big say in the result.

Erfurth kicked four goals last weekend and has booted 43 goals in virtually half a season, coming into the side in Round 7 following the habitual cricket comedown.

His work with Rod O’Keefe has proved pivotal to the Swans’ success in recent years, and the pair form part of a Stratford team that has no shortage of finals experience.

As they say, you can’t buy experience on a store shelf.

The big game experience of Stratford players such as Regan Tait, Lachlan Channing, Jack Bacon and playing-coach Jarryd Clohesy was evident in the elimination final, as the Swans were able to steady after being seriously challenged by the Blues.

Boisdale-Briagolong has enough finals experience of its own in the form of Andrew Quirk, Kel Porter and Jim Reeves, who have all played high-level Gippsland League finals.

While they will no doubt be better for the experience having played a final last week, the challenge for the Bombers may be to ensure those abovementioned names are not left to settle the nerves of their younger counterparts against an opposition that seemingly becomes a different team come finals.

Even last year, Stratford wasn’t the best team during the home-and-away campaign. The Swans finished second, but four games off Wy Yung. Come finals however, they then went bang-bang, beating the Tigers twice on their way to the flag.

As getting there is often the hardest part, if Stratford is to win tomorrow, they might even already have one hand on the premiership cup. Considering Wy Yung has already qualified, the Tigers may well be mentally rattled at the thought of playing the Swans in a Grand Final for the second year in a row.

Boisdale-Briagolong for their part will know what Grand Final week is about, having played in one only four years ago.

Granted the side has changed markedly since then, there are still the same club officials like president Ryan Evans and assistant coach Darren Renooy that will be able to keep things level-headed should the Bombers get through tomorrow.

If the Bombers are to qualify for a Grand Final, they could be entering without any fear of the outcome. Philosophically, any team that goes from last to a Grand Final is already a winner in many respects.

From the outset, the preliminary final is shaping as one of form versus experience.

Boisdale-Briagolong is in better form, having won eight of their last nine games, and defeated Stratford only a fortnight ago.

The Swans’ win on Sunday was just their third in six games.

Stratford forwards were happy to sit back and virtually play on no opponent last week, in full confidence their midfielders and defenders would win the ball back and find them sitting in acres of space.

Boisdale-Briagolong can change this by winning the ball at the source, and if they can keep it forward of centre for long periods of time, it will force the Swans to be accountable.

Stratford’s free running inside 50 led to many goals last week, however, can the Bombers make it a situation where one of the Swans’ greatest strengths becomes possibly their greatest weakness?

Can’t wait to hear what the umpires microphones pick up tomorrow.