Undermanned Woodies bow out in straight set
The Woodsmen took on a resurgent Sandgate side last Friday night at home in front of a big crowd in a do or die Preliminary Final and unfortunately came away with a narrow loss, thus putting them out of the Premiership race for 2017 in a season that showed so much promise. Ultimately injury and availability of players would prove to be their downfall, as well as failing to take their chances in consecutive finals decided by small margins.
The Woodies took the field full of confidence, but met a strong Sandgate outfit keen to put a ‘hoodoo’ to rest. Both teams were particularly tall, and Sandgate in particular fielded a brutally strong midfield and were able to bully the Woodies off the footy early. Despite this, the Woodsmen started well – winning the opening clearance when a Thomson kick fell into the hands of in-form full-forward Jay Baker for the opening scoring opportunity. Unfortunately the shot sailed wide and this was the tail of the tape for the Woodies in their finals campaign.
With injury to Paul Eaton the previous week, and Tim Green returning from a 5 week injury layoff – Lochie McDonald was tasked with the job on the dangerous Sandgate spearhead. A job he performed well once before, however another year older and another year slower – he opted not to go on fast leads but instead stay in the goal square and outmuscle his opponent – leading to Sandgate kicking the opening 2 goals of the match from just a handful of forward entries, while the Woodies finished the quarter with just 2 behinds and sadly, important defender Sam Long was out for the rest of the night with a back injury.
Missing from the Woodsmen forward-line were playing coach and league goalkicking winner, Chris Mihalopoulos and the electric Jake Fuentes who were both unavailable. This would time and time again prove particularly crucial throughout the match as the Woodies pumped the ball forward repeatedly only to see it marched back out with ease due to a distinct lack of pressure at ground level.
With Lachlan Woods and Ben Ness also missing from the midfield rotations, there was a distinct danger the Woodies on-ball division would tire – so a strong 2nd quarter effort was needed to steady the ship. Things started positively with the Woodies camped in Sandgate forward-line for the opening 5 minutes of the quarter before Sean Toohey snapped truly to kick the opening goal. Disappointingly, the Hawks struck straight back with a quality goal straight from the centre clearance with the Woodies midfield asleep at the wheel. An arm wrestle ensued, with Sandgate enjoying their strongest period of the game in terms of possession and field position with their big brute midfield getting on top around stoppages and locking the ball up.
However, Gerard Moore was starting to put on a show across half-forward for the Woodies and was a shining light in the match with his impressive work-rate and marking power – pulling down grab after grab to get the Woodies out of trouble. Eventually ‘Big G’ took things into his own hands as the Woodies didn’t even look like scoring from forward 50 entries with a long bomb from outside 40 to close the margin to just 1 goal just 2 minutes before half-time. However, Sandgate were rewarded for their strong 2nd quarter efforts with a late goal before the siren to take a 12 point halftime lead in a low scoring affair.
The Woodies re-assessed their matchups at half-time desperately looking for a bit of extra speed out wide, deeper forward entries and a makeshift small forward. Sam Curtis had been well held in the midfield and was pushed forward, while Lochie McDonald was moved to a more customary wing position as Davis was assigned a tagging role on a quick and dangerous Sandgate opponent who was having a strong influence. While the McDonald and Davis moves worked, Curtis was out of sorts deep forward and the experiment was quickly abandoned. McDonald provided extra run around the ball and was able to get the ball deeper into the forward line with his penetrating kicks. This allowed the Woodies to lock the ball forward and re-set, as Sandgate had repeatedly dropped a man back for intercept marks and waltz the ball out of their defensive 50 without pressure.
Unfortunately Sandgate were able to kick the opening goal of the half within just 1 minute after a questionable free kick at a centre stoppage. The Woodies were able to re-set and then set about dominating the 3rd quarter, but sadly for little or no reward. Hockley kicked truly from the pocket, while Moore kicked another big goal to close the margin to just 1 goal. McDonald then set sail from 60 out and the ball either bounced through for a goal, or was kicked through by Baldwin on the line to put the Woodies in front for the first time. However, inexplicably the on-field umpire overruled the goal umpire from more than 40m away to overturn the decision!
The Woodies then again had 2 easy set shots from directly in front well within kicking range, only to register minor scores before a rare forward entry from Sandgate showed their forward-line efficiency when it resulted in a grubbered goal from the pocket to go into ¾ time with a 9 point lead.
The final quarter started positively when Hockley and Thomson combined to get the ball to Moore, who again outmarked several opponents and kicked truly from 50m just 30 seconds into the final quarter. The match turned into an armwrestle across the Woodsmen half forwardline before a further 2 behinds from relatively gilt edged chances close the margin to just 1 point. Sandgate again pushed the ball forward where their full forward was able to mark strongly and push the margin out again to a 7 point lead with 15 minutes to play.
Despite there being 15 minutes on the clock, a sense of panic spread through the Woodies outfit as their inability to edge in front became a reality check as their season was slipping away before their eyes. Davis was doing a quality lockdown job, while Moore continued to dominate the game – almost single handedly keeping the Woodies grand final hopes alive. Hockley was battling manfully one out as his midfield teammates were soundly beaten, while Thomson was clearly struggling with a hip complaint but started to get on top around the ruck contests as the game wore on. After yet another arm wrestle on the Oxley Road wing, with several repeat stoppages – Kerma and Baldwin were able to combine to push the ball forward where Moore again provided a strong contest, Baker was able to pick up a loose ball where he found Thomson at the top of the goal square who had pushed forward hard from the contest. The resulting goal put the Woodies again within just 1 point and a mountain of 2nd half momentum it seemed inevitable would take them to victory with over 10 minutes still on the clock and the Woodies well on top around the ground with Moore marking everything that came his way.
Davis was continuing his lockdown job, but his opponent was pushed deep forward and the Woodies were unable to sacrifice his presence around the stoppages so the tag was abandoned. This was a great move by Sandgate as a tiring Woodies backline couldn’t lock down on the threat and he quickly earnt a free kick from a superb chasedown tackle before cooly slotting what turned out to the match-winning goal from the boundary line in what was a clear equal best on ground display with the Woodsmen’s Gerard Moore.
10 points down with 7 minutes to play, the Woodies were able to again create further scoring opportunities to give themselves a chance – but were unable to take their chances. A running shot from Verma slid across the face for a behind, before another last minute opportunity went begging – perhaps due to panic more than anything else.
In the end, Sandgate played a quality game and took their chances to win 8.5-53 to 6.8-44 and the Woodies were bundled out in disappointing fashion to kill their 2017 Premiership hopes.
Best: Moore, Thomson, Hockley, Davis, Bell, T.McEvoy
Goals: Moore 3, Thomson, Hockley, Toohey 1