Article and Photos by Michael Shillito

Preliminary final day saw high stakes at Blacktown Olympic Park, as Balmain took on Sydney Uni. East Coast Eagles had already booked their place in next week’s grand final, and the Eagle players watched on from the stands to find out who their opponents would be. And it would be an epic contest, with the contest for a grand final berth being in doubt until the final siren.
The Dockers won the toss and kicked to the railway end in the first quarter, and it was a dream start for them with a goal on the board within 20 seconds; the centre break finding Nic Fosdike, who quickly played on to a running Jason Saddington who made no mistake from 40 metres out. Troy Osland was next to score, and although the Students made attempts to get into the contest during the first term, the Dockers would maintain the lead through the quarter.
There was only a kick in it as the clock ticked into time-on, but the Dockers took the ascendancy with three goals in the closing stages of the quarter. James Howard and Nick Davis showed great accuracy when they converted set shots from tight angles; while coach Nic Fosdike, after a late decision to include himself as a player for this game, played on to get himself on the scoreboard and guide his team to a 25-point lead at quarter time.

The Dockers had been full of run in the first term, but slowed to a walk in the second. As if someone had slipped tranquilisers into their quarter time drink, the Dockers were second to the ball all quarter as the Students dominated around the ground. Mitchell Thompson had the Students’ first goal of the quarter within a couple of minutes, and shortly afterwards Tom Elkington drifted forward to get himself on the scorers’ list. From the centre break, the Students pushed the ball forward for Josh Cole to mark. It wasn’t a great kick, but Adam Campbell was on the spot in the goal-square to shepherd the ball through; and suddenly the margin was back to single figures.
The onslaught continued, and the Students could have taken the lead quicker than they did, only to be denied by posters to Craig Moller and Matthew Clarke. Adam McConnochie, after his heroics in the first semi, again got into the action to crumb a goal.
Balmain highlights were rare in a quarter in which they were soundly beaten around the ground. Troy Luff, who was starring in the AFL long before Craig Moller was born, showed the benefit of his experience to outposition and outmark his much younger counterpart in a one-out contest on the wing; but the Students soon regained possession. Chris Clarebrough had floated forward un-noticed, and was able to take an uncontested mark 50 metres from goal. The Students took advantage of the stoppage to make four simultaneous interchanges as Clarebrough guided the ball through to give the Students the lead for the first time. A quick snap by Anton Turco from the pocket gave the Students their sixth unanswered goal for the quarter, and a 12-point lead at half time.

The Students had taken the lead, looked to have the momentum; and the Dockers looked in trouble. But during the break, the Dockers regrouped, and it took just three minutes to erase the Students’ lead. Nic Fosdike was ridden in the back and had no trouble converting the set shot, and then Travis Stevens played on after a free kick to score an advantage goal and level the scores.
The first half had been played in sunshine, but during the third term the sun began to set. The shadow of the grandstand grew longer, while dark clouds were gathering in the eastern sky and a southerly breeze began to blow in and increase in intensity. The free-flowing football had turned into a scrap, both sides defending grimly to deny their opponents any easy touches.
After eight scoreless minutes of the ball slowly moving from end to end, the Dockers went to their attacking 50. Nic Fosdike was unlucky not to be paid a mark 45 metres from goal, but seconds later Jason Saddington was paid a free for being held without the ball on a slightly better angle. Saddington’s long bomb hit the spot, and the Dockers were back in front.
In the closing stages of the quarter, the Dockers extended their lead; Daniel Brian going long from the 50m line and kicking truly. But with only a minute to go in the quarter, Craig Moller marked and goaled from close range. The Dockers led by seven points at three-quarter time; but the Students would be coming home with the wind, and a grandstand finish was in prospect.

Mitch Thompson converted a free kick to reduce the margin to a point. The Students were throwing their all at the Dockers, but only firing points; first to level the scores and then to take the lead.
Scores were deadlocked at the 11 minute mark, when Nick Davis marked 50 metres from goal. Playing on, Davis found Osland slightly closer and on a significantly better angle, and Osland made no mistake to restore Balmain’s lead.
The Students continued to pile on the pressure, but found the lead hard to regain. Jesse Martin and Mitch Clarke both missed shots they should have converted, before Adam McConnochie received a free kick within range and made no mistake, giving the Students a two-point advantage.
It was a thriller, and the lead changes kept coming. Travis Stevens took the honours in a one-out marking contest and kicked truly; but that was cancelled out by a quick snap on a tight angle by Tim Barrett.
Both sides were putting their bodies on the line, refusing to concede ground in a thrilling match. Clint Wells, who had been a tower of strength in defence all day for the Students, stood his ground in a marking contest in the teeth of goals to take the ball and deny the Dockers. Chris Bolt, with a smother in the centre, prevented Anton Turco from setting up a Sydney Uni scoring chance.
The Students eked out a behind, and with a three-point advantage and time ticking away, the Dockers needed to produce something. Instead, the kick-in was intercepted by Moller, who centred to McConnochie; but he was unable to hold the mark and the Dockers cleared the ball out of the danger zone.

The Dockers went forward, inside the 50 and to the side of the square. Up went the big men for a marking contest, but the ball went to ground. James Howard was there, scooping up the crumbs and snapping over his shoulder; and at the 25 minute mark, the Dockers were back in front.
With not long to go, the Students worked desperately, but the Dockers held them out. And, regaining possession, the Dockers were happy to milk the clock as long as they could before going long, going forward. And finally the siren sounded, the Dockers were into the grand final while the Students were out.

It was a cruel way for Sydney Uni to go out. A season that had promised much had delivered some success for the Students, but not enough for a repeat of last year’s grand final appearance. Chris Clarebrough, Josh Cole and Michael Higgins were among the Students’ best.
But the win prompted celebrations in the Balmain camp, the interchange players and officials running on to savour the moment with the players. Ben Taggart, Travis Stevens and John Maniscalco were among Balmain’s best; but this wasn’t an occasion for individuals, more a moment of team triumph. The Balmain team song was sung with gusto in the rooms, celebrating that after many years in the footballing wilderness, they were a part of Sydney footy’s showcase occasion. But their biggest and toughest test is yet to come; and the Dockers have just six days to prepare for the toughest battle they will face this season.

We started with eleven teams, and now just two remain. East Coast, minor premiers and going for a premiership three-peat will take on Balmain, a side that have come from years of misery to qualify for a shot at the title. Blacktown Olympic Park on Saturday should produce an encounter to remember.

Balmain 6.4 6.5 10.6 13.7 (85)
Sydney University 2.3 8.5 9.5 12.10 (82)
Goals : Balmain –
J Saddington 3, T Osland 2, N Fosdike 2, T Stevens 2, J Howard 2, N Davis, D Brian. Sydney Uni – A Campbell 2, A McConnochie 2, M Thompson 2, A Turco, C Clarebrough, T Barton, J Cole, C Moller, T Elkington.
Best : Balmain – B Taggart, T Stevens, J Maniscalco, J Howard, R Lilly, C Bolt. Sydney Uni – C Clarebrough, J Cole, M Higgins, M Clarke, T Elkington, C Wells.


First Division:
Southern Power 2.1 2.3 7.4 8.5 (53)
Macquarie University 1.2 3.5 5.6 7.7 (49)
Goals : Southern Power –
S Demir 3, I Holder 2, G Enright, A Fritsch, M Graham. Macquarie Uni – S Richards-Smith 3, S Brooks 2, M Rice, A Moody.
Best : Southern Power – S Brierty, A Cook, R King-Thornburg, M Young, L Aggett, J Hardy. Macquarie Uni – A Rodgers, J Brackin, J Murphy, P Jackson, A Polkinghorn, S Richards-Smith.

Third Division:
Sydney University 0.4 1.7 3.9 6.10 (46)
University of Technology 1.1 4.3 5.6 5.6 (36)
Goals : Sydney Uni –
A Herring 2, J Huxtable, J Walker, S Lloyd, R Lee. UTS – A Cohen 2, S Robertson, C Doherty, D Lazarus.
Best : Sydney Uni – R Barnes, C Kennedy, P Younan, M Turner, M Watson, A Herring. UTS – B Lyle, T Robinson, A Kelly, M Ayers, N Allardice, M Ciavarella.

Under 18s Premier:
St Ignatius Riverview 1.3 3.4 6.5 8.6 (54)
Pennant Hills 0.4 0.6 3.7 5.11 (41)
Goals : Riverview –
Z Salter 4, M Woods 2, A Jalloh, J Davis. Pennant Hills – M Crawford 3, C McKay, T Rivers.
Best : Riverview – P Ferguson, D Gross, H Back, J Howard, J McKenzie, H Robertson. Pennant Hills – H Angel, M Cantrall, T Edmonds, S Wray, A Nixon, D Western.

Saturday at Blacktown Olympic Park saw the first four premierships decided, with a marathon grand final day.
The Fifth Division flag was the first prize on offer; the inaugural prize in the new league. It was evenly contested early, with Manly taking the fight up to the undefeated Southern Power. But the Wolves were let down by some inaccurate finishing early, allowing the Power to lead by three points at the first change. The Power found goals hard to come by in the first half, being held to two goals in the second term, but they held the Wolves goal-less to lead by 13 points at the long break.
Manly were matching it with the Power when it came to scoring shots, but many of the Wolves’ attempts were made under pressure. And the Power stepped up the pressure during the premiership quarter, running through four goals to one to put the result beyond Manly’s reach. From there, the premiership was assured, and although the Power were held to just one point in the final term as the Wolves reduced the final margin to 13 points, the deficit was too great for the Wolves to overcome. John Wakeman was awarded the match-day ball after a best-on-ground performance.
Fifth Division:
Southern Power 2.1 4.2 8.3 8.4 (52)
Manly-Warringah 1.4 1.7 2.9 4.13 (37)
Goals : Southern Power –
C Anderson, D Stanton, S Lowes, R Libbis, R Swanton, M Crowe, T Rokov, T Alexander. Manly-Warringah – M Rawle 2, J Dadul, C Layton.
Best : Southern Power – J Wakeman, T Rokov, T Alexander, D Stanton, A Graf, S Lowes. Best : Manly-Warringah – J McGrath, C Levy, J Dadul, S Graham, B Meredith, L Slobin.

The Under 18s Challenge Cup was next up for decision, with Campbelltown taking on Manly-Warringah. And it would be double-heartbreak for the Wolves, as Campbelltown’s undefeated season was completed with a 31-point victory.
The Blues had the better of the early exchanges to lead by seven points at quarter time, and keeping the Wolves scoreless during a tight second quarter the Blues were looking set at half time. The Wolves opened the game up in the third term, looking for a way back into the contest, but the Blues had the answers, and when they won the quarter the lead was out to 24 points at three-quarter time.
It was another low-scoring quarter in the final term, as the Blues counted down to victory. The result is a welcome boost in morale for Campbelltown, after a season in which their seniors failed to win a game; but the current crop of youngsters gives the Blues some hope of turning their fortunes around in seasons to come. Ben Wharton was awarded best on ground.
Under 18s Challenge:
Campbelltown 3.2 4.5 9.8 11.10 (76)
Manly-Warringah 2.1 2.1 6.2 7.3 (45)
Goals : Campbelltown –
J Beveridge 5, K Monteleone 2, C Gordon, P Green, J Bottin-Noonan, T Sims. Manly-Warringah – B Elliott, N Sampson, C Johnston, M Bell, N Bosschieter, T White, L Hearn.
Best : Campbelltown – B Wharton, B Martin, J Beveridge, P Green, J O’Brien, T Vella. Manly-Warringah – W Koch, C Johnston, M Varjavandi, N Bosschieter, P Fabbro, T White.

The Fourth Division grand final was a western suburbs derby, with Penrith taking on Moorebank. Penrith had been the minor premiers, but were quickly jumped by the Magpies, with Moorebank leading by 19 points at quarter time and still holding a 15-point advantage at the long break.
But in the third term, the Rams came storming back into the contest, kicking five goals to one and taking the lead. With a three point advantage at the last change, and momentum seemingly on their side, the Rams would have been confident of going on with the job in the last quarter.
But the three quarter time break gave the Magpies a chance to regroup, and the game was transformed in the final quarter. The Magpies kicked 3.4 while holding the Rams scoreless, to take out the premiership. Anthony Simpson was awarded the match ball as best on ground.
Fourth Division:
Moorebank 5.2 6.3 7.9 10.13 (73)
Penrith 2.1 3 .5 8.6 8.6 (54)
Goals : Moorebank –
D Weightman 3, D Wilson 2, T Currant 2, J Weston, B Currant, B Van Etten. Penrith – A Henry 2, T Corless 2, J Ponton 2, J Sultana, J Jackson.
Best : Moorebank – A Simpson, F Wanrooy, I Prudham, C Graham, A Mahoney, D Weightman. Penrith – T Corless, J Ponton, N Rowley, A West, C Butler, C Knight.

The last premiership decider for the day was the Second Division grand final, with Penrith taking on Balmain. The Dockers were hoping to be the first Premier Division reserves team since the introduction of the divisional structure to go up to First Division, but quickly found themselves chasing the game after the Rams kicked three unanswered goals in the first quarter and at half time the Rams were 20 points ahead.
But the Dockers fought hard in the third quarter. It was tight and low-scoring, but the Dockers kicked the only two goals for the quarter to cut the margin to seven points; and early in the last quarter they levelled the scores. But the Rams steadied and asserted themselves in the late stages of the game, kicking the last six goals to blow the final margin out to 35 points. Daniel Schroot was best on ground for the Rams.
Second Division:
Penrith 3.1 6.4 6.6 12.7 (79)
Balmain 0.1 3.2 5.5 6.8 (44)
Goals : Penrith –
T Cummins 3, B Roberts 3, J Anasis 2, D Schroot 2, D Chivas, B Robinson. Balmain – B Plug 2, J Boyd, M Busch, C Reichman, A Duell-Ferguson.
Best : Penrith – D Schroot, M Woodford, J Denton, N Wright, D Chivas, N Allison. Balmain – J Britton, A Cottrell, K Underwood, N Halliday, A Duell-Ferguson, M Carey.

Saturday 17th September
8:45am – Third Division – UNSW-ES v Sydney Uni
11:00am – Under 18s Premier – East Coast Eagles v St Ignatius Riverview
1:10pm – First Division – Manly-Warringah v Southern Power
3:30pm – Premier Division – East Coast Eagles v Balmain