Bendigo FNLRichard Jones | Strathfieldsaye and Eaglehawk will play off this Saturday to decide the 2019 Bendigo Football and Netball League’s senior premiers.

The Storm has had the far easier run to the big dance downing the Hawks in the second semi-final in their only September appearance to date. Meanwhile the Two Blues have had to account for Gisborne twice --- in the qualifying final and then again in last weekend’s preliminary final --- to earn another crack at Strathfieldsaye. Mind you they’ll have to play a whole lot better than a fortnight ago.

In the second semi-final the Storm crushed the Hawks, restricting them to just three majors: 14.16 (100) to 3.10 (28). Eaglehawk bounced back in last Saturday’s preliminary final just outlasting a gallant Gisborne by four points: 12.7 (79) to 11.9 (75). The Gardiner Reserve Dogs showed they could cope with a lot of emotional strain following the death on the Sunday night leading into the prelim. final of reserves player Nathan Williams. He’d died in a car crash only a few hundred metres from his home. Nathan’s father, Steve, continued on with his duties as Gisborne’s senior runner in the preliminary final.

Post-match the Gisborne players gathered in a tight group with coach Clinton Young in the centre of the QEO. They then walked off the ground arm-in-arm to the resounding applause from all at the famous oval. In fact the Graveyard Dogs had kicked four last quarter goals to hit the front as time-on began. It took Eaglehawk small forward Riley Saunders to boot the match’s vital major from the 50m line. He’d earned a free kick following a great tackle.

With his side trailing by a single point Saunders needed only a behind to level the scores. Instead he sent a booming shot straight over the goal umpire’s hat to hand the Hawks the lead. Spearhead Pat McKenna was outstanding for Gisborne. He nailed four first term majors on his way to a match high tally of six. And the Bulldogs went into the big game without two of their key midfield contributors in Ethan Minns (knee) and Matt Goodyear (nose).

A head knock to skipper Brodie Collins was Eaglehawk’s only injury concern but Eaglehawk coach Travis Matheson expects his captain to be fit for Saturday’s decider. Shaun Knott and Gedd Hommelhoff (the Hawks’ best on the day) each nailed three goals for the Hawks while Jarryd Vernon slotted three to add to McKenna’s haul for Gisborne. And in Sunday’s BFNL senior vote count Golden Square’s Adam ‘Skinny’ Baird and Eaglehawk’s Ashley Ryan took out the major awards. Baird won the 2019 Michelsen Medal with 16 votes while Ryan finished on 24, four votes ahead of second placegetter Tiana Newman (Gisborne), to clinch the Betty Thompson Medal.

Ironically Baird and Ryan had both finished runners-up in their respective awards exactly 12 months ago. Baird was just one vote ahead of Gisborne duo Brad Bernacki and McKenna along with Storm midfielder Sam Heavyside when the last card was called. Nine players finished within three votes of Baird. Heavyside and McKenna made fast starts to the count with Heavywide one vote clear at the halfway mark on 13. McKenna was next on 11 with Baird a single vote away in third spot.

Baird snagged the three votes in round 10 against Kyneton and again in round 13 over South Bendigo to give him 16 votes in all. He didn’t poll a single vote in the concluding five rounds but just hung on as the top contenders in the rest of the field made their charges. But none could get past the brilliant Golden Square and Vic. Country midfielder and he hung on.

Top 10: Adam Baird (GS) 16, Brad Bernacki (Gis) 15, Sam Heavyside (Storm (15), Pat McKenna (Gis) 15, Nick Stagg (S’hurst) 13, Jake Thrum (GS) 13, Ethan Minns (Gis) 13, Coby Perry (M’borough) 13, Lachlan Sharp (Storm) (13) and Ben McPhee (E’hawk) 13. Sharp, the 2018 Michelsen winner and this season’s Ron Best medallist as leading goalkicker, booted 129 majors for the season And while the Michelsen count went down to the wire Ryan’s A grade netball win was quite convincing.

She had 10 votes on the board after Eaglehawk’s opening four rounds. At the halfway mark of the count Ryan had 15 votes, and led teammate Allira Holmes on 10 with Gisborne’s Tiana Newman and Kangaroo Flat’s Chelsea Sartori both on eight. Ash Ryan polled three votes in rounds 12 and 13 to catapult onto 21 votes and into a commanding position.

But with two rounds left Sartori and Newman made their moves with Ryan ahead by just three votes. The eventual winner gathered another three-voter in round 17 --- the penultimate round --- to move to 24 with the votes for just the final matches to be called. Ryan was in an unbeatable position. Final positions: Ashley Ryan (Eh) 24, Tiana Newman (Gis) 20, Meg Williams (S’hurst) and Chelsea Sartori (K Flat) both 18 and Julia Clarke (K Flat) 17. Grand finals, around the traps – Heathcote District: North Bendigo 10.10 (70) def. Colbinabbin 4.10 (34); Maryborough-Castlemaine DFL: Natte Bealiba 12.11 (83) def. Carisbrook 12.7 (79) and North Central FL: Sea Lake-Nandaly 10.13 (73) def. Birchip-Watchem 8.6 (54). Already decided, Loddon Valley FL: Mitiamo 11.16 (82) def. Pyramid Hill 9.6 (60).

This Saturday’s BFNL grand finals at the QEO, senior footy: Strathfieldsaye vs. Eaglehawk. A grade netball: Sandhurst vs. Kangaroo Flat. Richard’s tip: Strathfieldsaye by 31 points. Nalder Medal: Sam Heavyside (Storm). AFL Victoria medal: Bryce Curnow (Storm).