By Nick Creely
Warning: The Magpies are swooping.
And with full head of steam, Narre Warren is ready to pounce on its next challenge.
The Magpies advanced to its third straight senior football grand final, shaking off a gutsy Beaconsfield in the Premier Division preliminary final to set up another chance against the powerful Berwick on AFL Grand Final eve, 16.5 (101) to 11.11 (77).
But Matt Shinners’ group had to do it the hard way, with the fight and determination to change the game in the blink of an eye incredible impressive, working its way to back from a hefty early deficit on a picturesque and lightning quick Healesville Football Ground.
Beaconsfield were electric early, clearly relishing the conditions on a wide ground similar to their home deck at Holm Park, and despite the Magpies’ urgency to move the ball quick and not be stagnant in their ball movement, the Eagles settled much quicker and more importantly were able to put it on the scoreboard.
Eagles star Damien Johnston made the Magpies pay on the turnover deep in their defensive half, strolling into goal to slot the first major of the game, before precision by foot, and a combination of some elite pressure, saw the Eagles add another goal not long after.
With champion big man Scott Meyer clearly winning the territory battle with his dangerous taps to space from stoppages, the Eagles were blistering, and added a third to the scoreboard when Riley Verbi converted his set-shot and a three-goal lead.
Youngster Lachie Benson provided a spark for the Magpies to kick a much-needed major, and despite Shinners’ side managing to hit the scoreboard two more times, the Eagles surged out to a 21-point quarter time lead, with Sean Dwyer marking and converting right before the siren.
It was a devastating patch of football from Leigh McQuillen’s youthful and energetic group, with Verbi starring in the opening exchanges with his class in the midfield and ability to drift forward and make something out of nothing, while the likes of Meyer, Lachie Modica and Jake Bowd were providing plenty of drive.
A moment of magic from Meyer early in the second caused even further headaches for the Magpies, with the dominant ruckman bursting from a stoppage, taking two bounces and delivering a searing pass to Team of the Year forward Matthew Johnson, who marked strongly and extended the margin to a worrying 27 points.
But that’s when things changed, and like the flick of a switch, the Magpies had a sudden urgency, and began to get certain aspects back on their terms.
It came down to winning the ball in the contest, spreading hard from the stoppages, and more importantly getting in quickly to their nimble forward line to give them enough chances.
In a stunning burst, the Magpies came hard at the Eagles, with a turnover in the goal square seeing Daniel Jackson hit the scoreboard, Liam Myatt kicking a ripper off the deck and ball magnet Brad Scalzo converting a simple chance from a 50 metre penalty.
Despite the Eagles continuing to be brave, take the corridor option and look to play on at every opportunity, the Magpies found the lead for the first time of the afternoon on the stroke of half-time when star Trent Cody converted his second with a searing burst through the centre.
As they did at the start of the contest, the Eagles settled quicker in the early exchanges of the third, with a brilliant pass from Modica setting Cameron up for his second goal, but another moment of ill-discipline saw Cody convert his third goal from a 50 metre penalty, and with plenty of feeling in the contest, the Magpies lifted to another gear.
With Ryan Quirk intercepting everything in defence, and the likes of Scalzo, skipper Dylan Quirk and Nathan Foote starting to get their hands on it enough inside, Josh Tonna and Matthew Soroczynski providing the outside class, the Magpies were starting to motor.
Liam Myatt was also gradually asserting some dominance, with his combative style a real weapon for the Magpies.
Thomas Toner got the two-goal break in third that the Magpies needed, but a cracking goal from Modica – in the midst of an excellent game – got the Eagles back within touching distance, and the game went up another notch.
A Lachie Benson goal once again the Magpies back into a comfortable position, but the Eagles were pressing.
But that was until one of the Magpie stars – who had been relatively well held until then – provided a moment that changed the game.
Mitch Cox (four goals) – a player that can impact a contest despite not winning massive amounts of the footy – brilliantly used his body in the marking contest, getting goal side and running into an open goal, giving his side a 15-point advantage with just one quarter left to play.
And Cox did it again in the opening moments of the final quarter, strolling into the open goal to make it an extremely tough mountain for the Eagles to climb, showcasing his trademark goal celebrations once more as the momentum mounted up.
As they did all day, the Eagles refused to give in, taking the game on at all costs, but the class of the Magpies was ultimately overpowering, with Trent Cody kicking his fourth and sealing the result, almost fitting considering the immense impact he had for four quarters.
On a day where clean skills, and an ability to convert were paramount, the Magpies just had too much class, and bounced back from kicking 7.16 in last week’s final to an incredible 16.5, a major factor in the result.
For the Magpies, Cody was once again superb to stamp himself as one of the big game performers of the competition, Ryan Quirk played a blinder down back, while Josh Tonna and Tom Miller were clean and full of run.
For Leigh McQuillen’s side, who were brave until the final siren, Scott Meyer proved that his best is still as good as any going around, Matthew Johnston provided a target all day, while Riley Verbi, Lachie Modica and Sean Dwyer each played strong games and provided some exciting moments.
But the big challenge now awaits Matt Shinners and his group, with Berwick an almighty task on the huge occasion of Friday’s public holiday, not only in shutting down its glittering of stars, but from a mental perspective, with the Wickers trumping the Magpies in the last two grand finals, and in each of their three encounters this season, including in the semi-final only a week ago.