Port Melbourne has won through to their first Grand Final since 2012 after overcoming Williamstown by 23 points in Sunday’s Preliminary Final at Fortburn Stadium.
The enormous achievement marks the fourth occasion in Gary Ayres’ ten-year tenure at the club that the Borough has won through to the ‘Big Dance’, where they’ll now take stock and aim for their 17th Premiership cup.
Ayres put on a coaching masterclass in the memorable win over Port’s oldest and fiercest rivals.
With a clear strategy in place to try and blunt the influence of the Seagulls’ damaging outside runners – no mean feat – Ayres’ troops were able to perfectly execute their tactics for the majority of the game.
They jumped Williamstown with a four goal-to-nil opening term, a lead which was often threatened but never surrendered.
Whilst Khan Haretuku, Chris Cain and Tom O’Sullivan all hit the scoreboard early, the first quarter was highlighted by a staggering ‘fend-off’ by ex-Seagull forward Dylan Conway, before he slotted a long, bouncing goal in front of a raucous Borough crowd.
The 24-point quarter-time lead was cut on numerous occasions by an honourable Seagulls outfit, but perhaps the day’s most defining moment came right on the three-quarter time siren.
With ball in hand on the wing in front of the jam-packed Norm Goss Stand, veteran Chris Cain gleefully accepted a 50-metre penalty, which took him to within set-shot range.
His cool-as-a-cucumber shot sailed through with the aid of a slight breeze, which took the Borough to a game-high 31-point advantage.
Even then though, Williamstown responded with the class you’d expect from a Minor Premier by slotting two goals within five minutes of the final-quarter re-start; and subsequently sending a few nervous chills through those fans wearing red and blue.
As they have done all year though, the Borough’s defence stood firm amidst the press, and went back the other way for two goals of their own which sealed the passage through to an Etihad Stadium showdown with Richmond.
The first of those was a magical snap from the pocket by the in-form Mitch Wooffindin (pictured, below).
Ironically, it was Conway and fellow ex-Willy Premiership player Anthony Anastasio who then linked up for a hand in Port’s last goal through young gun Ash Krakauer.
Individual heroes were everywhere across the ground for Port, with midfielders O’Sullivan (31 possessions, 9 tackles & a goal), Shannen Lange (26 possessions & 8 tackles) and Eli Templeton (25 possessions & a goal) named best, whilst the back line, led by the likes of Hugh Sandilands, Luke Tynan, Damian Mascitti and Brody Mihocek, was immense.
Cain and Haretuku led the scoresheet with three apiece, however, just like the Semi Final victory over Footscray, goal-scoring contributions were pleasingly widespread.
Amidst the beaming smiles and tears of joy from many of the fans in the rooms after the game, focus quickly shifted to the Borough’s opponent in Sunday’s Grand Final in Richmond.
The two clubs last met in a Final of any description way back in the VFA of 1905, and have only encountered each other once in season 2017 – way back in Round 3, when Port Melbourne got on top late to prevail by 30 points in a thrilling contest.
This spirited Borough playing group has come so far in such a short amount of time, and to make a Grand Final is an achievement of enormous magnitude.
But now that we’re there, let’s go all the way!
The Grand Final will kick off at 3:00pm on Sunday at Etihad Stadium, and we hope to once again see a huge turnout of our loyal and parochial Borough faithful.
Enjoy the build-up, and see you there!
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Williamstown 0.2-2 3.6-24 5.8-38 8.11-59
Port Melbourne 4.2-26 5.7-37 10.9-69 12.10-82
Goal Kickers: K. Haretuku 3, C. Cain 3, M. Wooffindin, A. Krakauer, D. Viojo-Rainbow, E. Templeton, T. O’Sullivan, D. Conway.
Best Players: T. O’Sullivan, S. Lange, E. Templeton, L. Tynan, D. Mascitti, H. Sandilands.
Image credits: Michael Dodge (Getty Images/AFL Media).