Demons will be a common enemy when Yarram meets Churchill in the 2018 AGL Loy Yang North Gippsland Football Netball League Grand Final.
The Cougars will be up against those of the home and away champions Yarram, who will be battling their own inner demons lingering from last year’s grand final defeat to Sale City.
Yarram went into that game as slight favourites, having topped the ladder and progressed straight through to the grand final with victory in the second semi-final.
This time around the Demons are even firmer favourites and coach Matt Scholz, who joined the club this season, said that tag was neither a burden nor a curse, but merely came with the territory.
“On one hand it’s nice because you’ve worked hard all year and on the other a lot of people do like the underdogs,” Scholz said.
“The boys have definitely used the experience from last year to better themselves and you could see the fire in the belly early on. They’re keen to go one step further and you always need something to drive a team forward.”
Sixteen of last year’s starting 22 played in the second semi-final win against Traralgon-Tyers United two weeks ago, with two others – Jake Anderson and Josh Swift – among those hoping to force their way into the side from the reserves.
But while the personnel is much the same, a new coach with fresh ideas and some slight tweaks in mentality and positioning ensure this is not the same side as last year.
The rapid development of Jake McFarland into a dangerous forward at senior level, despite still being eligible for thirds has been a bonus, while the decision to move defender Jack Moore forward has boosted Yarram’s pressure inside-50.
Yarram’s strength, though, lies in its depth and balance.
The Demons regularly boast a spread of goalkickers, rather than relying on too heavily on any individuals, while presence of the club’s reserves team on grand final day shows the Scholz has reliable and hungry options at his disposal if required.
In Churchill, Yarram faces a team capable of taking a game away its opponent in a short space of time.
A similar blitz ended Sale City’s two-year premiership reign at Woodside two weeks ago, when the Cougars unleashed a 10-goal-to-two third term to turn a four-point deficit into a 48-point lead that proved too big a gap for the Bulldogs to bridge.
Scholz was in the crowd when the Cougars upset TTU in last week’s preliminary final but was not surprised with what he witnessed.
“I knew if TTU gave Churchill a sniff they were more than capable,” he said.
“TTU was superb in the first quarter and Churchill couldn’t really get it inside 50 but the second quarter Churchill played a different brand of footy and you could see them get the sense it was going their way.
“Chris Williams is good in the midfield and leads them from the front, their backline is pretty well structured so we need to make sure our forwards are doing their jobs and they have some dangerous forward as well.”
Cougars coach Chris Williams said his side’s ability to deny the opposition time and space proved the key to last weekend’s win and would be crucial again on grand final day.
“TTU structured up well and we struggled to move the ball as we would have liked early on but we applied better pressure on their ball carriers after quarter-time,” Williams said.
“That high-pressure game is the key and keeping it man-on-man as much as we can.”
Like Yarram, Churchill boasts a balanced line-up.
Leading goalkicker Blake Slater, veteran Brendan Holt and Ben Kearns, who has kicked 13 goals in the past two games, are all capable of doing damage inside-50 and provide threats in the air and at ground level.
The midfield battle between key Cougars Williams, Brendan Mason and Travis Brighton and Demons stars Griffin Underwood, Chris Bruns and Louis Rodaughan will be great to watch.
Clearances will be key and much will depend on the fitness of Churchill ruckman Nathan McRae, who sat out much of last week’s win against TTU.
Should McRae be unavailable reserves ruckman Chris Williams comes into calculations, while Dillon Leys would likely take on more of the stoppages against powerful Demons duo Dan Vardy and Dirk Mulholland.
The Cougars are otherwise unlikely to ring too many changes, unless 2014 premiership swingman Allan Chandler becomes available.
Chandler is one of 11 players from that premiership team in the mix, with nine almost certain to be selected, ensuring the Cougars have plenty of experience on their side.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this matchup is how relatively unfamiliar with one another the two teams are, with both previous meetings sporting an asterisk of some kind.
They first squared off in round one with both sides understandably far from the finished product, while for the Queen’s Birthday clash in round 10 – their most recent encounter – Churchill’s line-up included former AFL star and cult figure Ivan Maric for a one-off appearance.
Yarram won on both occasions but needed a late goal from Louis Rodaughan to take the points in round 10.
Both coaches said the focus would be on their own game, rather than taking too much notice of the opposition.
“We had a look at them in the finals series against TTU but we’ll go in and back ourselves to play our game,” Williams said.
“Yarram deserve to be favourites, they have been the benchmark all year but we know once you’re there on grand final day anything can happen.”
Yarram will also be vying for glory in the reserves, with the Demons taking on Heyfield.
It provides something of a selection headache for senior coach Matt Scholz, who may have to look to the thirds for an emergency, rather than deny a reserves player the opportunity to play in a grand final for the unlikely scenario of stepping into the senior side at the last minute.
The reserves decider promises to be a great contest, with both sides having lost only three games for the season.
The problem for the Kangaroos is that while they took out the minor premiership, all three of their losses have come at the hands of the Demons, including the second semi-final, by an average margin of 39 points.
Stopping to supply to Demons forwards and dual league leading goalkickers Josh Swift and Michael Lush will be key for Heyfield.
However, the Roos boast plenty of class and experience in the likes of Brenton Dinsdale, Ryan Bean and Trent Anderson.
Churchill will be in action in the thirds as the talented young Cougars side takes on TTU.
Spoils were shared during the home and away season, with Churchill winning by 70 points in round nine, before the Bombers hit back with an eight-point win at Tyers in round 18.
The Cougars finished on top of the ladder and overcame Glengarry in the second semi-final to book their spot in the decider, while TTU bounced back from a 44-point humbling in the qualifying final to beat the Magpies by 11 points in the preliminary final.
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This post was written by Michelle Kyle