SYDNEY AFL GRAND FINAL 2010Article and Photos by Michael Shillito
A long season of footy has seen many highs and lows; but finally on Saturday at Blacktown we’d made it to the Grand Final – and what a day it was. Great conditions, and an absorbing game that would be in the balance until the final moments.
Bright sunshine, the playing surface in good condition – all the conditions were right for some great footy. We’d already had two games that had been well-contested, with the Under 18s going to extra time and a First Division grand final that will still up for grabs until the closing stages. And now it was time for the climax in our league, and as the players warmed up they knew the significance of the prize up for grabs.
The teams had travelled differing paths to get to the game. Sydney Uni hadn’t been beaten since round 4, taking out the minor premiership and their win in the second semi-final extended their winning streak to 15 games. East Coast hadn’t had everything go their way in their title defence, but finished third after the home & away season; and after going down to Wests in the qualifying final then bounced back to scrape home in the wind against Pennant Hills in the first semi and turn the tables on Wests in the preliminary final.
Sydney Uni got the first centre break, taking the ball forward for Mark Egan to lead and mark, but his shot sailed wide and the first score of the game was a Uni point. The Eagles were finding room to move early, Ben Physick twice left unattended on the grandstand wing to drive them forward but the Students cleared the ball out of the backline. Jess McGuirk attempted a lightning snap but didn’t make the distance and the Eagles cleared the ball out of trouble. Finally on 6 minutes the opening goal came, Adam McConnochie being paid a free from outside the 50. His kick didn’t make the distance, but Mitch Thompson was there to crumb and snap truly.
But the goal put the Eagles into action, and they had the better of play for the next few minutes. Jamie Vlatko marked just outside the 50 – too far out to score, but Damien Bowles led out for a chest mark and simple goal. And when Peter Dugmore was paid a free after being held when not in possession, the Eagles had taken the lead.
But in time-on, a quick run of three goals gave the Students the ascendancy. Jess Martin marked and goaled from the flank to restore the Students’ lead. Mark Egan found some space to convert a long bomb. From the centre break, the Students went long to the square, where Ben Mankarious crumbed a goal to put Sydney Uni 15 points ahead at the first change.
Sydney Uni had a massive supporter base at the game. Their First Division and Under 18s players had stayed around after their game, while plenty of players from their other teams and an army of supporters had turned out to deliver some vocal support. And not only with their voices, but with drums and a vuvuzela, making an atmosphere unusual for Sydney AFL matches. And with the Students in front, they were in fine voice. But East Coast had plenty of vocal support on hand as well, and over the course of the second term they began to find their voice as the Eagles got back into the contest.
The Eagles were kicking to the railway end in the second term, and started well as Steve O’Connor went short to Daniel Spiteri. It was a tight angle, but Spiteri made no mistake. On 6 minutes, Bowles found some room on the wing to run and land a long bomb; and the margin was back to less than a kick. A leading Mark Egan gave the Students some breathing space, but the tide was beginning to turn East Coast’s way. Egan, moving back to the defensive 50, had the ball stripped by Peter Vlatko, but Vlatko hit the post. A rush of blood by David Mitchell saw Trent Baker brought down in the goal square behind play for an easy free kick and goal.
From the centre break, Mike Beardsley marked outside 50. But before he could take his kick, Aaron Hawkins ran over the mark and a 50m penalty gave the Eagles the lead. Spiteri played on from the pocket to add another. The Eagles went forward again, where Mark Goodey marked 25 metres out, but the mark was disallowed and a free for a pushout awarded to the Students instead.
But time-on would again favour the Students, with snaps from the pocket by Anton Turco and Mark Egan restoring the Sydney Uni lead. But after a marathon 32-minute quarter, the Eagles had a chance to regain the lead on the siren when Shane Ryan was paid a free kick 30 metres out. But Ryan’s kick was unsuccessful, and the Students came to the sheds for the long break with a 3-point lead.
The game had already been a roller-coaster, but there were more twists in this tale to come. The game tightened in the third quarter, with only five goals being scored; but the first three would result in changes to the lead. East Coast small forward Mark Goodey, who had already hit the post in the opening minute of the quarter, was at the end of a pass from Jon Vlatko to give the Eagles the opening goal. On 5 minutes, the Students were back in front, after Eugene Kruger was penalised for a kick in the back and Sam Crichton awarded a free 40 metres out. On 10 minutes, the Eagles were back in front after a mark and goal from Damien Charleston.
The ball travelled from end to end, but neither side was able to find a goal-scoring opportunity. An East Coast behind stretched the lead to 6 points, and when Peter Dugmore ran in to score his second the Eagles held a 2-goal lead, their biggest for the game so far.
But the Students weren’t finished yet, and as they did in the first two quarters, again shifted the momentum their way during time-on. Behind to McGuirk and Tyrone Roberts were to follow. After Roberts’ point, Adam McConnochie forced a turnover from the kick-in and a pinpoint delivery to Phelan Medallist Alex Lee saw the margin reduced to 4 points at the last change.
With less than a kick in it at the last change, massive throngs of supporters were around both huddles as Sydney Uni coach Roger Moten and Eagles’ mentor Glenn Garner made one final appeal to their players. An appeal to dig deep, leave nothing left in the tank. It was now or never, time to stand up and be counted. The ultimate prize was so close, but only one team would be drinking from the premiership cup.
The crowd roared as the last quarter got under way, and again after 30 seconds when the Students’ centre break found Adam McConnochie 45 out and a 50m penalty was awarded. McConnochie gave Sydney Uni the lead, a margin that could have been extended by a goal a couple of minutes later but Egan missed a set shot from 40.
On 5 minutes, the Eagles drove the ball forward, and Peter Dugmore took a strong, contested mark 15 metres out and his shot restored the East Coast lead. On 8 minutes, Kruger blazed away from 50, celebrating as his kick went through the air only for it to swing away late and just miss. Two minutes later, a free was picked out of a pack to Steve O’Connor 40 metres out. O’Connor made no mistake, and the Eagles were 10 points clear.
If Sydney Uni could feel their dream slipping away, they weren’t showing it; and continued to apply the one-percenters to keep themselves in it. Aaron Hawkins applied a spoil to deny Jamie Vlatko a certain goal. Alex Lee ran down Rowan Bilkey from behind to prevent a clearance. Alex Lee went long from 50 metres, but his shot was touched on the line.
But finally on 19 minutes, Jon Vlatko set up a leading Dugmore, and when the number 10 kicked his third, the lead was 15 points. Eagle players came from far and wide to celebrate, and Sydney Uni heads dropped. The premiership for the Eagles was so close they could smell it, as long as they could hold their nerve for the final minutes.
By now, it was Sydney Uni who had to take risks. Alex Lee had to back himself running through a pack, but was brought down for a holding the ball. Clint Wells had to quickly kick in after a point, but a foot-fault saw a ball-up at the edge of the square. The clock ticked on, but the Eagle defence held firm against anything the Students could throw at them.
And finally the siren sounded. The Eagle bench and coaching staff, their arms raised in triumph, joined the players in mass celebration on the ground. Eagle supporters jumped the fence to join the party.
The moments immediately after the siren in a grand final are a contrast of emotions, the agony and the ecstasy. Sydney Uni players slumped to the ground in despair. A 15-game winning streak had ended at the worst time. Even in the grand final, they had given it their all, but come away with nothing. Just metres away, the Eagle party was in voice, champagne showering as the players, officials and supporters embraced.
In just 4 seasons since their promotion to Premier Division, Sydney Uni had made it to Sydney footy’s biggest stage. A 15-game winning streak had been the benchmark for the season. The Students have had a great season, and over the entirety of the season had been the best team. But history does not honour the team that wins the most games, but the team that wins the last game.
And that team is East Coast Eagles. They had experienced grand final heartbreak in 2006 and 2008, but finally got the monkey off their back in 2009. And despite losing several players from their 2009 premiership side, were able to go back to back in 2010. Damien Bowles was awarded the Podbury Medal as best on ground, but it was a solid team effort from the Eagles; with everyone involved in the club, both on and off the field, playing their part well in making this success happen.
In any premiership side, 22 players will have 22 stories of how they got there; and the East Coast side of 2010 is no exception. A team that brought together local juniors who have worked their way through the ranks. People who moved to the area from the country and interstate who moved to Sydney and found their way to the club. Players who had come from other clubs, but for personal or footballing reasons decided the best move was to switch teams. Players who had overcome horrific injuries to be there. Veterans who have been part of the club for years. Young up-and-comers whose best football is yet to come. Fringe players who have been in and out of the side, but were there when it mattered.
And they won’t all play together again. Most will be back in Eagles colours next year, but some will hang up the boots, going out a winner. Some will move on to new pastures next year.
But wherever they came from, wherever they go from here – for those 22 players who stood on the stage with premiership medals around their necks, holding up the premiership cup, this is a moment and a memory that those players will share forever.
East Coast Eagles 2.0 7.2 10.5 13.9 (87)
Sydney University 4.3 7.5 9.7 10.10 (70)
Goals : East Coast –
P Dugmore 3, D Bowles 2, D Spiteri 2, D Charleston, J Steer, M Beardsley, T Baker, M Goodey, S O’Connor. Sydney Uni –
M Egan 3, J Martin, M Thompson, S Crichton, A Turco, A McConnochie, B Mankarious, A Lee.
Best : East Coast –
D Bowles, D Charleston, J Dimery, Jon Vlatko, P Dugmore, K McRedmond. Sydney Uni –
M Thompson, D Mitchell, A Hawkins, J Caspersonn, T Elkington, A McConnochie.
Also going back to back in 2010 was UTS in First Division, with the Bats completing a 27-point win over Sydney Uni. It had been a closely-contested game for three quarters, a strong third quarter by the Students reducing the margin to just 3 points at the last change. But UTS lifted a gear in the final term, with four unanswered goals to pull away to victory.
It was the culmination of another successful year for the Bats. For the second year in a row they took out the minor premiership, and despite being upset in the second semi bounced back with wins in the preliminary final and the grand final. With strong numbers, and a core of players who would be more than competitive if they were to be given their chance in Premier Division, the Bats have relished the challenges the divisional structure has given them and in two years have shown themselves to be clearly a class above the Premier Division reserves teams.
Tim Steinfort was awarded the match ball as best on ground, while David Lavender and Tom Chadwick were also solid performers. For the Students, Peter Halstead, Tim Air and Michael Atkinson were prominent around the ground.
Uni of Technology, Sydney 2.2 5.7 6.7 10.9 (69)
Sydney University 1.4 3.4 6.4 6.6 (42)
Goals : UTS –
S Fitzgerald 2, D Lavender 2, T Wallace 2, A Davis, M Mullins, F Purcell, A McGregor. Sydney Uni –
N Lye 2, C Walsh 2, C Kendrick, M Carey.
Best : UTS –
T Steinfort, D Lavender, T Chadwick, S Fitzgerald, F Purcell, A Kymantas. Sydney Uni –
P Halstead, T Air, M Atkinson, B Malone, S Nash, W Pearse.
Sydney Uni didn’t come away from the day empty-handed; the early arrivers at Blacktown being treated to a classic grand final that even the final siren was not enough to determine a winner. The lead fluctuated all day, and although the Students had got out to a 2-goal lead with just minutes to go, two goals in the last two minutes to the Eagles saw the scores deadlocked on 87-all when the final siren sounded.
Two halves of five minutes plus time-on were played, and again the Students got to a 12 point lead before an East Coast reply put the result still up for grabs. But despite their best efforts, the Eagles were unable to manage another goal, and the Students held on for a 6-point overtime win.
It was Sydney Uni’s first year in the Under 18s Premier Cup, but after finishing third in the regular season they lifted at finals times, with wins in the qualifying final and second semi-final to qualify for the big day.
Adrian Yakimov was awarded the best on ground, while the Students were also well served by Michael Hartley and Monty Krochmal. For the Eagles, Jake Patira, Campbell Ford and Jake Pianta were among their best.
Sydney University 3.2 6.5 10.7 13.9 15.9 (99)
East Coast Eagles 3.2 7.2 10.3 14.3 15.3 (93)
Goals : Sydney Uni –
N Perry 4, G Robbie 3, D Knight 2, T Aitken 2, T Barrett, M Hartley, N Lewington, T Considine. East Coast –
J Patira 4, E Barclay 3, D Steer 2, D Killworth 2, M Newson, J Spencer, A Savage, M Nance.
Best : Sydney Uni –
A Yakimov, N Hartley, M Krochmal, H Orr, N Perry, T Barrett. East Coast –
J Patira, C Ford, J Pianta, M Nance, D Killworth, E Barclay.
And so another season comes to an end. A season where hopes and dreams for some have been realised, while others have been shattered. The roller-coaster of sporting emotion, the tension and drama, have unfolded before us in 2010. Seven grades in Sydney footy have produced seven different clubs taking out premierships – congratulations to East Coast, UTS, Southern Power, Moorebank Sports, Auburn, Sydney Uni and Penrith.
Thank you to the readers and contributors to the forum for playing your part in keeping the footy talk strong. Thanks to the officials, umpires and to the volunteers at every club for the role you play in keeping our league and our clubs going.
It’s been a great season of footy, and it’s been a lot of fun. Wishing you all a safe and happy off-season, and we’ll look forward to another year of sensational footy in 2011.