SMJFL 3.1 4.4 8.4 9.7 (61)
EFL 3.1 6.5 8.10 10.11 (71)
Goalkickers: T. Wallace 3, J. Scrimshaw, J. Smith, H. Burt, L. Patten, A. McGrath, J. Wise
Best: M. Rogers, A. McGrath, J. Laidlaw, L. Murphy, T. Wallace, H. Burt
By Ben Pollard
It was a case of ‘close, but no cigar’ for the SMJFL’s Under 15 Division 1 team in a thrilling AFL Victoria Metropolitan Junior Championships grand final against the Eastern FL on Saturday.
Momentum swung wildly across the four quarters at Shepley Oval in Dandenong, but it wasn’t with South Metro when it mattered most at the end.
The killer was the SMJFL’s inability to fully capitalise when it had that precious momentum and the trend started from the first bounce.
The ball spent much of the opening minutes stationed in South Metro’s half of the ground, but inefficiency going inside 50 resulted in only one goal to the prolific Hamish Brayshaw.
In contrast, Eastern’s clean ball movement early on was rewarded with two quick goals from limited attacking chances.
After scores were level at quarter time, the EFL lifted its intensity in the second term, booting three goals and threatening to blow the match wide open.
SMJFL kicking errors were abundant and costly, with the team unable to seize several opportunities created by Andrew McGrath’s stellar defensive work.
But in the shadows of half time, the busy Corey Lyons rebounded an Eastern attack and set up Tom Wallace for his first major – suddenly a 13-point deficit didn’t seem insurmountable.
When play resumed, South Metro struggled to clear the ball from Eastern’s forward 50, eventually conceding a goal.
But that only appeared to spark the SMJFL’s on-ballers.
Michael Rogers was physical in the clinches, Jack Laidlaw racked up possessions and Liam Murphy followed up his own brilliant centre clearance work by booting South Metro’s second consecutive goal. The momentum had changed homes again.
When Tom Wallace slotted his third major – and second for the quarter – just seconds before the three-quarter time siren, the margin was within a goal and the crowd sensed an intense finale.
After conceding the opening goal of the last term, the SMJFL regained the run of play again and constantly drove the ball forward looking for marking targets like Smith and Blake Hayes. Tricky goalscoring opportunities were created but missed.
The game’s climax occurred soon after when McGrath ran down an opponent in stirring fashion and converted from the resulting free kick, but Eastern simply responded with a devastating goal from the next centre clearance.
They held on grimly in the final minutes to deny South Metro another momentum change.
It was a gallant effort from the SMJFL, but still a heartbreaking couple of goals away from glory.