TONNERS ARE PREMIERS
Old Brighton Grammarians confirmed its status as the top Premier B team this season by defeating Old Scotch in the Grand Final on Saturday by 36 points. It was the fourth time the two clubs have clashed this year and this was the best of them. Played in fine conditions at the Trevor Barker Oval, Old Brighton won a tough, desperately fought encounter before an enthusiastic crowd who was unsure of the result until well into the final term. Although leading all day and looking the winners, the Tonners needed a spectacular Pat Liston goal to answer the Cardinals’ late thrust, and an astonishing effort from Moore Medallist, Harry Hill, to seal the match with a few minutes to go. When Harry jumped on a superb piece of ruckwork by Tom King and charged out of the centre, he set sail for the distant goalmouth and launched the ball which was picked up by the breeze, and lifted through for the Tonners’ ninth goal. Minutes later, the dynamic Tonners’ skipper burst from a pack and dashed in to seal the Tonners’ fifth Senior premiership and the first since 2013.
The game opened at a furious pace. An erratic wind had favoured the Frankston end during the Reserves match, but as we lined up with that apparent advantage, it dropped away and if anything, a cooler breeze confronted the Tonner forwards who amassed a disturbing number of behinds in the first term. Michael Dewar and Tom King had sound shots touched on the line, but Harry and Michael Karayannis both missed chances they would have expected to convert. Old Scotch struggled to get past Tom Garner and Dylan Verney who both looked in good touch.
Greg Hutchison had bravely tinkered with a defence that had starved Old Scotch in the Second Semi-Final. He left out Tom Larkworthy and rotated Matt Gadsden through the backline where his experience more than once turned Scotch back, particularly in the critical third quarter. Brock Rawlinson, back from suspension, replaced the unlucky Luke Forato in the mid-field, and when Rawlinson nailed our opening goal, the coach would have been on good terms with his selection decisions. The lively Anthony Zimmerman snagged a badly needed goal when he spun on a sixpence and snapped accurately under considerable pressure. It broke a debilitating run of eight behinds, but when Scotch answered late in the term on a rare move inside their fifty, the Tonners appeared to have worked hard for little advantage.
The Tonners rectified matters with a short burst in the middle of the second term, after the early stages were tightly contested, neither side able to really assert itself. The Tonners’ move came when Daniel Anthony marked strongly on the lead, but had cramped himself on the non-preferred boundary. Nonetheless, he steered it through superbly, lifting the Tonners who then attacked persistently and were further rewarded when Michael Karayannis twice threaded a path to goal and put his side four goals in front. The Cardinals, turned back twice by Verney’s brilliant judgement and sure hands, managed to close the gap but when Michael Dewar’s slick hand pass allowed Ben Jakobi to reply, our handy lead was restored. Scotch players steeled themselves and nailed a fortuitous goal just before the break, leaving the Tonners 18 points clear. In a low scoring game, it still looked substantial. Tom Garner, Luke Healy and Michael Slater had been able to keep the Cardinals under pressure with long, raking kicks from defence, and Jimmy Davis, Andy Dewar and Tom Fisher were working hard in the clinches, making sure that Scotch had no easy way to goal.
The third term was a war of attrition and quite unlike any quarter I’d seen all season. Scotch knew they needed quick goals to get back into the match and could hardly have been encouraged when Harry was freed in close. His first goal threatened to break the game open. But the Cardinals hit back almost immediately when they converted their own free kick from in front. Then followed an astonishing period of almost half an hour, in which neither side was able to construct a score of any kind. The ball was often trapped beneath a swarm of desperate players unable to wrest it free, or unwilling to risk bringing it out into the open. At one stage on the outer wing, the umpire was forced to throw it up half a dozen times before it was scrubbed clear.
The Tonners had lost Stuart Hooy early in the game with a shoulder injury, and Hutchison threw his side around to try to create a move that might seize an advantage. We attacked along the beach side and Dan sat on their heads. It was an astonishing mark. He used to take three or four a match. This one drew our collective shouts of expectation. He kicked it atrociously, out on the full! The gods denied any score. It was tough and tense, as agonising for the supporters as it must have been for the players. Speaking to Tom Fisher and Ben Austen after the match, I learned how exhausted they both felt at the final break. Ben Austen had been his usual stoic self at the back, the Tonners’ defenders maintaining their proud record of keeping their opponents below 50 points, despite the ball being continually pumped in by a desperate Scotch. But the frustration of not being able to score ourselves, kept everyone’s nerves on a knife’s edge.
The Tonners took their places to start the final term with the same 18 point lead they enjoyed at half-time. One quarter to complete their mission. They had won 59 of the 79 quarters they had played thus far, and surely the odds were with them. But they would have to play it hard all the way. No –one must falter. I envied them as I tried to read their body language, to search for any sign of tiredness or doubt. There were none. They tore into the contest, Ben Jarick reaching up to try to win the early advantage. At the boundary contests, he and Tom King grappled to gain first use. Scotch attacked but the Tonners, urged on by the coaching bench, ran back to cover, cut across to pick up any loose opponent, and when in possession, tried desperately to link together and find a way forward. No scores! It must have been forty minutes since we’d seen a goal. Michael Dewar hurled himself at contests, Zimma and Kara skirted the edges, Raury reacted to advice hurled from the side and ran to every loose end to tie it up. Ben Austen marked and sent Scotch back. Again Dylan Verney was in the way to deny Scotch entry.
Then suddenly, Scotch found a way through and kicked their sixth goal to cut the margin to 13 points. My heart missed a beat as the Scotch bench exhorted their players. They had a whiff of a chance. They were coming for the Tonners who would have to answer. On the field, I learned later, a couple of experienced players told Harry he had to do something.
What followed was extraordinary and memorable. Pat Liston had returned from a thigh injury but hadn’t played for three weeks and was struggling. He hadn’t done much, but his moment had been waiting for him. He is a classy player and has been a terrific contributor all year. He marked a short pass deep on the flank, fifty metres from goal with a freshening breeze over his left shoulder a possible ally, if he could calculate the vectors. He hit it magnificently. The ball took a safe line and sailed through post high. It took all the wind out of Old Scotch’s mainsail and lifted Tonner hearts.
The excitement stirred Harry. From the bounce, Tom King palmed the ball brilliantly, Harry seized it and bolted, and he drove it long and high to Dan in the square. The Minstrel wasn’t required, not even to shepherd it through. As he had done at AJAX a month ago, Harry had grabbed the game by the throat and slammed through the winner. The Scotch bench was silenced, a look of pained resignation sweeping across its valiant players. To make sure, minutes later, Harry dashed in for his third and when Luke Healy, drifting down, was freed in front, the score had blown out to misleading proportions. The Tonners, victors in 17 of their 18 matches decided by a clear margin, were winners for the eighteenth time in the match that really mattered. Old Brighton Grammarians won the premiership they deserved for their season, and one they most certainly earned on the day! Our co-captains, Dylan Verney and Harry Hill jointly held the Cup aloft, Dylan rightly wearing the best player medal around his neck.
GRAND FINAL DETAILS
OLD BRIGHTON GRAMMARIANS: 2.9 6.12 7.12 11.13.79
OLD SCOTCH: 2.2 4.6 5.6 6.7.43
Goals: Hill 3, Karayannis 2, Anthony, Zimmerman, Rawlinson, Jakobi, Liston, Healy
Best: Verney, Healy, Hill, Fisher, Jarick, Garner, Jakobi.
Best Player medal: Dylan Verney.