Port Melbourne is through to a Preliminary Final showdown against Williamstown after overcoming Footscray by 20 points in an epic at Fortburn Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In a similar trend to the sides’ only meeting of 2017 back in Round 5, this match was one for the ages, as momentum changed hands all day before the Borough got on top very late in the final term.
Despite Anthony Anastasio snapping the first goal of the day, the Bulldogs certainly got the jump on Port – as Box Hill did in the Qualifying Final – and kicked the next four in succession.
A couple of late goals had the Borough back within 3 points at quarter time, but the first change was best known for an authoritative Toby Pinwill sprinting his way over to Footscray big man Tom Boyd to ‘remind’ him of a shanked after-siren set shot; which had players from both sides remonstrating.
Symbolically, Pinwill seemed to be doing his best to rouse his troops, who looked flat early and were being beaten far too often around the ball.
His gesture seemed to work, as the Borough put through four straight of their own during a stirring patch in the second-term; before Declan Hamilton kept Footscray within 7 points at the major interval with a classy snap from the pocket.
In his first Senior game in eight weeks, midfielder Mitch Wooffindin’s effort around the ball was inspiring. He had 15 possessions in a massive second quarter, and was a huge reason why his side were able to generate sufficient scoring opportunities.
The third term was quite simply a wonderful exhibition of Finals football.
After an initial arm-wrestle, two goals to the Bulldogs had them in front once more, as onlookers pondered if they were finally beginning to exert some somewhat-deserved scoreboard influence.
Still the Borough hung tough though.
Blake Pearson went off the ground, before Robin Nahas bent one through on the run and Jordan Lisle got goal-side just as the three-quarter time siren sounded.
The enormity of that Lisle goal couldn’t be undersold, as it meant the Borough took all the momentum into the final quarter in front of their adoring home fans.
Anastasio continued to impress in the Finals pressure cooker, as he stormed into an open goal within one minute of the bounce in the last term, which suddenly handed the side a 16-point cushion.
The two sides continued to trade blows, until three more in succession to Lisle, Nahas and then Shannen Lange finally sealed a passage through to the Preliminary Final.
It sent the fans into raptures, but all in attendance still had the chance to pay their respects in bidding farewell to Footscray stalwarts Jordan Russell and Matthew Boyd before entering the rooms for a boisterous rendition of their famous song.
Unlike the previous week against Box Hill, individual winners were pleasingly a lot more widespread across the ground on Sunday.
Reigning Jack McFarlane Medallist Brody Mihocek was the man entrusted with the defensive job on Tom Boyd, and he performed with aplomb to be named the side’s best.
The underrated Luke Tynan just continues to perform each week. He amassed 27 possessions across the back half, whilst fellow flankers Damian Mascitti (25 possessions) and Dillon Viojo-Rainbow (25) also won plenty of the ball.
Lisle (four goals) and Anastasio (three) formed a dynamic forward duo, whilst the midfield drive came from the likes of Lange (26 disposals), Wooffindin (26) and Pinwill (25).
The 20-point victory ensures the club has now made the best of its top 4 and ‘second-chance’ position to enter the Preliminary Final weekend match-up with the Seagulls.
Whilst Williamstown finished as the minor Premiers and enjoyed the refreshment of a week off, Port will once again enjoy an opportunity to play on their home turf of Fortburn Stadium; and can take confidence from the closeness of their low-scoring loss to the ‘Gulls in Round 14.
Unfortunately, it was a disappointing full stop on Port Melbourne’s history in the Development League competition, as they fell short against a hungry and hardened Williamstown outfit in the curtain-raiser.
Despite finishing in second position, the young group didn’t quite translate their home-and-away form across to their two Finals – and let slip a last-quarter advantage en route to a 28-point defeat.
Oakleigh Chargers-listed youngster Callum Searle was unlucky to be left out of his Senior 23rd Man position, but responded strongly to the demotion by being named as the side’s best.
Josh Tynan was named as the side’s stand-in skipper for the day and also tried hard, whilst Mitch Golby joined Searle in contributing two goals to the scoresheet.
The loss means an official end to the Reserves/Development League chapter of the Borough’s history, with the competition coming to a close following next Sunday’s Grand Final between Williamstown and the Casey Demons.
The Seniors will play off for a Grand Final berth at 2:40pm on Sunday at Fortburn Stadium, with the game also set to broadcast live by Channel 7.
Port Melbourne 4.5-29 8.8-56 11.9-75 16.11-107
Footscray 5.2-32 7.7-49 9.11-65 12.15-87
Goal Kickers: J. Lisle 4, A. Anastasio 3, C. Cain 2, R. Nahas 2, L. Waddell, S. Lange, B. Pearson, S. Dwyer, D. Conway (pictured, above).
Best Players: B. Mihocek, L. Tynan, D. Viojo-Rainbow, M. Wooffindin, A. Anastasio, D. Mascitti.
Port Melbourne 3.1-19 5.2-32 7.8-50 9.10-64
Williamstown 4.0-24 6.5-41 8.6-54 14.8-92
Goal Kickers: C. Searle 2, M. Golby 2, M. Hayes, S. Clarke, B. Hogan, W. Goss, S. De Soysa.
Best Players: C. Searle, J. Tynan, M. Hayes, A. Urban, W. Goss, S. Clarke.
Image credits: Con Sakis / VFL.