By Matt Fotia
For the past 24 months Berwick have owned the big moments against them.
The likes of Tuck, Smith, Magner, Andrews and Money have constantly stood up and taken the game away from them. All of this season they’ve had their number. But when it mattered most Narre Warren were ready, and in front of a 4,500 strong crowd at Toomuc Reserve on Friday, the Magpies swooped in to win in the inaugural AFL Outer East Premier Division crown, 5.6(36) to 4.3(27).
It signals the beginning of a dominant era for the Magpies, who also collected the Reserves Premiership by one point over the Wickers, and look set to go from strength to strength in the near future with such a strong core of youthful talent at the heart of this underdog victory.
Like all Grand Finals a handful of big moments – whether they be instinctive decisions, bone crunching tackles, 50-50 battles or inspirational goals – determined the result, but perhaps due to the low scoring, those moments became even bigger, with the rain – combined with the firm surface and cross field breeze – ensuring that goals were at a premium. And almost every big moment was won by the Pies.
The first moment came around 16 minutes into the first quarter.
Narre Warren had kicked the first through Mitch Cox when he was impeded in a marking contest, but outside of that the game had become stuck in rut, with both sides keen to leave their mark on their opponents – particularly Berwick centre half forward Jordan Andrews who looked hell bent on destroying everyone in his path.
After a number of stoppages in the Narre Warren forward 50, the Wickers finally looked set to clear the danger when Jesse Cirulis manoeuvred the ball into the path of ex Melbourne Demon James Magner. Rather than slapping the ball on his boot Magner composed himself and looked up, only to be faced with an oncoming Lachlan Benson, a wiry under 18 with a large leap.
Magner, who usually has the strength and agility to escape this situation and start a Berwick attack, decided to try and evade Benson rather then hand ball or kick and is buried into the turf by the skinny Magpies greyhound who went back and kicked the Magpies second.
First moment won.
Leading by two goals at the first change is good, but it is never comfortable against this Berwick side, and the Wickers bounced straight back in the early stages of the second quarter when Harrison Money marked in the goal square and got Berwick started.
Money is an enigma. He’s small and diminutive, but plays like a 6’4 centre half forward. When he’s on song he takes high flying marks, kicks miraculous goals and struts around the 50 metre arc without a care in the world. Two weeks earlier he had been in that kind of mood, booting three goals in the Wickers Second Semi Final win, and with that goal he threatened to repeat that performance.
Today however he had Nathan Foote for company, a man who had previously played his football in the back half but had spent his 2019 in the engine room. Foote had already taken some crucial marks on the last line of defence and a few minutes after Money’s goal he won another moment.
Ash Smith had found Trent Thomas on the wing with a delightful around the corner kick and Thomas played on to find Money on the lead with Foote lagging over his shoulder.
Thomas’ kick was perfect, hitting Money on the chest, Money uncharacteristically dropped the mark but bounced up to collect the ball and looked to turn Foote and head towards goal. But Foote was having none of it, diving at Money’s hips and wrapping him up in a strong tackle.
Another moment won.
The next moment came after 20 minutes of ‘footy tennis’ as the ball pinged between the 50 metre arcs.
Travis Tuck was standing up for his side once again, clearing the danger on countless occasions, only to see it continue to come back. With half time in sight, Berwick would be beginning to smile. They’d kicked the only goal of the quarter and could begin to play on the mental scars they’d left the Magpies with on so many previous occasions.
With the ball on the Wickers half forward flank, Magpie skipper Dylan Quirk put his body on the line, gathering the slippery sherrin as Jesse Cirulis closed in. The big ruckman fell into Quirk’s back and the Magpies were set for another reprieve.
But that reprieve soon became an opportunity, with a 50 metre penalty moving Quirk from half back to half forward. The skipper then handed it off to his deputy, Trent Cody, who launched a high ball to the hot spot.
A contest ensues. The ball falls forwards and Peter Gentile sharks it, gets his arms free in the tackle and finds swingman Jake Richardson, who is running across goal. With no time to steady Richardson goes with the outside of the boot and skids the ball through the middle to give the Magpies their third major and more importantly all the momentum at half time.
A third moment won.
Berwick would come again, and via a Travis Tuck clearance Jordan Andrews was able to give the Wickers the first of the second half. It kickstarted a period of territorial dominance from the minor premier who were threatening to gain the ascendancy. The Wickers continued to thrust the ball into attack and the dam wall threatened to burst.
Finally they got the ball on the outside. Trent Thomas had the ball on the logos and went inside 50 to Tim Gunn who had turned Zietsman around and looked certain to mark 20 metres out.
With the ball beginning its descent another big moment was forming. If Gunn marks and goals the margin is back to under a kick.
A few metres away Nathan Foote is keeping touch with Harrison Money, as are his instructions. But instinct takes over. Foote leaves his man and with perfect timing spoils Gunn’s attempted mark, before bouncing back to his feet, gathering the ball and finding Tom Toner on the wing.
Another big moment won.
But this moment wasn’t over. Toner goes down the line to Daniel Jackson who brings it to ground. Bodies collide, the ball bobbles free and Dylan Quirk pounces, scooping the ball up and hand-balling to Tom Miller all in one motion. Miller flicks it Jack Toner who steps inside Will Arthurson and sends the ball to half forward where Trent Cody is set to battle Lucas Jellyman-Turner.
Jellyman-Turner, like Foote at the other end, brings the ball to ground, but unlike the Magpie he can’t follow up. Cody protects the ball with a shove to Jellyman-Turner’s chest, turns to pick the ball up and in one graceful motion wheels onto his right boot and off two steps launches from just inside the paint to give the Magpies their two goal buffer back.
Two moments won, back to back.
Cody kicks the next goal too. This time Brad Scalzo opens up the ground with an incisive pass to Peter Gentile, who finds Cody out the back. Cody allows Arthurson enough time to think he can save the day, before sliding home his second and making the Magpies dream seem a reality.
His goal seems to spur Berwick to life. Their run is back. So is their dare. They get a goal through Jordan Andrews, whose low key celebration showcases the enormity of the situation for Berwick.
They continue to come at the Magpies. Mitchell Dempster lays a tackle on Joshua Burgess. Money misses. The Magpies are out on their feet, their structures are crumbling. They’re holding on for dear life.
Money finds his second like Cody found his second – running into an open goal – and it’s back to eight points. Gentile misses with a flying shot at goal. Time ticks away. Berwick come again. Surely they won’t pinch it. Not again.
Ash Smith hooks one back into the corridor to find Jordan Andrews. Magpie heart rates climb – if he kicks this it’s back to three points.
But he doesn’t kick it. He doesn’t take his shot. Jordan Andrews instead sinks to the turf instead, as the siren sounds around Toomuc Reserve. Chaos ensues around him, as Narre Warren faithful celebrate around the depleted Wickers.
Speaking after the game Narre Warren President Stuart Stephenson praised the Magpies young brigade, who had followed their coaches orders to perfection.
“It means a lot, we’re wrapped today with how all of the young blokes followed instructions all day,”
“We’ve got a good young group – I think we’ve had 18 debutants this year, including Connor Wilkins who played his first game today,”
“We feel that we’ve been growing and growing – Berwick have set the standard and hopefully we are getting closer to them.”
Stephenson also spoke about the importance of a welcoming culture around the club, which was referenced in numerous speeches, by numerous people post game. He believes that the coming together of the Football and Netball clubs has helped that enormously.
“Having the football and netball together has been fantastic for us, it makes it a nice welcoming club, it means that young guys can get to become part of a family club,”
“The first ten people I saw (after the siren) were ten of the netballers running on the ground just as fast as me.”
Narre Warren 2.2, 3.2, 4.3, 5.6 (36)
Berwick 0.0, 1.0, 2.1, 4.3 (27)
GOALS, Narre Warren :
T. Cody 2, M. Cox 1, L. Benson 1, J. Richardson 1
J. Andrews 2, H. Money 2
BEST, Narre Warren :
N. Foote*, B. Scalzo, D. Quirk, J. Tonna, C. Wilkins, C. McNamara
W. Arthurson, B. Asher, J. Andrews, J. Graham, J. Burgess, L. Jellyman-Turner
*Denotes Best On Ground Medal