KANGAROO Flat and Golden Square were in outstanding form as four clubs shaped up for action in the second week of the 2001 finals.
The Roos had bounced back from a Round 17 thrashing at Square’s hands to halt the Dragons’ impressive 13-game winning streak just one week later.
The stage was set for a gripping second semi with the Flat and the Hurst matched up again in the Sunday second semi-final.
And the Bulldogs were hoping to add to their own winning eight-game rush with a win over South Bendigo in the Saturday knockout first semi-final.
I don’t recall exactly why the minor semi-final was played on the Saturday a decade-and-a-half back, denying the higher ranked clubs an extra day off, but that’s how the fixturing went in the early Noughties.
There was huge anticipation leading up to these two mid-September finals.
The Addy splashed big pre-match coverages in the Friday and Saturday editions including mini-sections on ‘marquee match-ups’ and ‘trump cards’ for the competing clubs.
Just re-reading those previews sends a shiver up the spine.
Here’s a couple, second semi to start with -- “Marquee match-ups: Ben Sexton (Sh) v Troy Rodda (KF). Arguably the BFL’s best forward up against the league’s best defender. This battle will be dulled only slightly by the forecast wet weather. Whoever gets on top will put his side in a very strong position.”
“Chris Giri (Sh) v Wayne Landry (KF): two of the best rovers in the competition going head-to-head will be intriguing. Hopefully both coaches will let them square off so we’ll see who will have the bigger impact on the match.”
FIRST semi marquee match-ups -- “Greg Cox (GS) v John Hardinge (SB): Hardinge spent a lot of time a week earlier at CHF and he won’t find it any easier today against Cox.
“Cox was instrumental in Square’s elimination final win last week using his experience and ability to read the play and control the game from half-back.”
“Chris Carter (GS) v Mark Keck (SB): Carter is likely to get the tagging job on South’s most influential playmaker.
“Keck dominated the first half last week before running out of legs. He’ll be much improved by the run.”
Trump cards --- second semi-final, Derrick Filo (KF): “Big question for the Hurst is who to play on the triple BFL premiership player.
“Filo has played himself up forward a lot this season and has proved a nightmare for opposition coaches to match-up on him. The Dragons do not appear to have a player strong enough yet, at the same time, quick enough to stop him.
“The wet conditions also may see him play on the ball and Filo is just the man who can turn the semi-final on its head if he gets going.”
First semi-final trump card, Matt Dillon (GS): “Despite being a VFL Diggers-listed player Dillon doesn’t get the same plaudits as his midfield teammates.
“Paul Frew, Marty O’Rielly and Gary Learmonth get the wraps. But Dillon is super creative when used on the ball and has proved one of the most dangerous goal-kicking rovers in the BFL in 2001.”
BUT in the end Flat failed to fire --- they were rocked by the late withdrawals of stars David Lancaster and Brett ‘Growler’ Gloury --- while South bowed out of the finals race in straight sets.
Also hugely devastating to the Roos after the loss of Gloury and Lancaster was losing playmaker Landry to a back injury. He didn’t re-appear for the third term. Landry was reported to have a severe back injury after crashing heavily in a second quarter marking contest.
But that shouldn’t diminish Sandhurst’s terrific performance. Ben Sexton inspired fellow Dragons with a brilliant display of marking and watched on as Rodda was moved off him.
Robert Campbell was the dominant Hurst backman in a defence which shone. Brock Pinner, Malcolm Borchard, Matt Sexton, Vin Harrop and Paul Sexton all played strongly.
Campbell saw off four individual opponents.
After the Roos nailed the opening goal through Warren McKenzie’s clever snap the Dragons eased out to a 20-point quarter-time lead.
Then when Filo moved himself into the centre early in the second term the Flat trimmed the margin to two goals, before Matt Sexton curtailed the Roo coach’s effectiveness.
A TEN-minute late second term burst from the Hurst just about put the semi beyond doubt.
Tony ‘Snake’ Graham, later to coach the Dragons, Wayne Mitrovic (he’s still on the Hurst list, can you believe it), Peter Angove, Nathan Kelly and Ben Sexton all kicked majors to blow the match wide open.
The Roos never really recovered.
And despite leading by a handy margin the Dragons resisted the temptation to take their collective feet off the pedal and played the semi-final right out.
They won all four quarters. Filo said afterwards that to win games, especially important games like semi-finals “you need to score and that was the difference.
“Their half-back line was tremendous and we just couldn’t get anything working across our half-forward line,” he said.
Filo refused to use Flat’s injuries as an excuse and said being six to seven goals down at half-time the game “had pretty much gone.”
Hurst coach Mark Ellis was delighted with the effort from star player Ben Sexton.
“I’m seldom one to individualise but Ben was terrific at centre half-forward,” he said.
“And by doing that he takes pressure off blokes like Mitrovic and (Brandt) Fleming. When you look at it we probably didn’t have a passenger in this semi-final.”
Ellis added it was always tough to win a first final when you’d finished on top of the table, but by doing so you gave yourselves momentum.
“That was probably the best footy we’ve played in a long time. We had a lot to prove from the past few weeks and the boys hit back pretty well.”
HAPPILY the Sunday semi was far more competitive.
Even though the Dogs had the use of a strong first quarter breeze inaccuracy was costly.
They did manage to score four early majors through Gary Learmonth, Dillon Anderson and Heath Neville (2) before the goal-kicking yips set in.
They added a string of minor scores and were perched on 4.7 before South’s Ryan Connaughton broke through for the Bloods’ first major.
Andrew Reid’s shot from 60m out bounced and bounced and eventually trickled through for Square’s fifth major seconds before the first term siren.
Then the Bloods fought back. Devin Brown, Connaughton and Ross Maxted were on target. Evan Ralphs replied to a soccered major from Andrew Freemantle and a vital goal to South’s Neville Clarke slashed the halftime deficit to just 11 points: 6.13 to 6.2.
Even though he’d been outpointed by Square full-back Daniel Van den Ham Hetherington managed to find Luke Polglase for a vital South third quarter major.
The Dogs fought back with crucial majors from Tyrell and Anderson and by the last change they led by 17 points.
GREG Cox, Van Den Ham and Jody Van Eekelen shut down South’s attack in the final term. The Bloods didn’t score a goal until the 25-and-a-half minute mark after Paul Frew had slotted a crucial mid-term major for the Square.
Even though they were without leading goalkicker David McCormick (appendicitis) and Luke Sims (broken hand), South coach Simon McLean was at a loss to explain why his side went down. “I strongly believed at three-quarter time we were right in the contest.
“We had the scoring end and all the momentum from a terrific third quarter. So to be beaten in both finals, especially after the players had worked so hard to grab the double chance, was extremely disappointing. We’ve completely under-achieved.”
Square coach Brian Walsh conceded the first quarter misses could have been costly. “We should have landed at least eight goals by quarter-time.
“Then South really lifted its play in the second and third quarters. We were under the pump at three-quarter time and we had to play smarter and be more desperate.
“Overall though, this was a really good win. Under pressure we had a lot of players who really stood up and showed tremendous spirit,” Walsh said.
Sandhurst 4.3 9.5 13.8 16.9 (105)
Kangaroo Flat 1.1 2.4 4.6 6.11 (47)
Goals – Sandhurst: P. Angove 3, W. Mitrovic 3, B. Sexton 2, V. Harrop 2, T. Graham, C. Giri, M. Keown, R. Campbell, N. Kelly, A. White. K. Flat: P. Gray, W. McKenzie, N. Evans, S. Tuddenham, R. Wicks, S. Tully.
Best – Sandhurst: B. Sexton (best afield), R. Campbell, P. Sexton, N. Kelly, T. Graham, M. Sexton, B. Pinner, C. Giri. Kang. Flat: P. Gray, W. McKenzie, N. Evans, S. Tuddenham, R. Wicks, S. Tully.
Golden Square 5.10 6.13 8.14 10.16 (76)
South Bendigo 1.0 6.2 7.3 8.5 (53)
Goals --- Golden Square: P. Frew 2, H. Neville 2, D. Anderson 2, A. Freemantle, G. Learmonth, A. Reid, M. Tyrell. South Bendigo: R. Connaughton 2, D. Brown, P. Hetherington, E. Ralphs, R. Maxted, N. Clarke, L. Polglase.
Best --- Golden Square: G. Cox (best afield), M. O’Reilly, D. Van Den Ham, M. Dillon, G. Learmonth, M. Neve, M. Tyrell. South Bendigo: J. Hardinge, R. Maxted, S. Blake, M. Sandiford, D. Brown, M. Keck, W. Maxted.
By Richard Jones