After six months of top quality U18 football, we are left with two teams who are set to fight it out to become the Victorian Premiers at Etihad Stadium on Sunday night. This year is set to be another battle between Country and Metro with a Sandringham Dragons outfit, aiming for back to back flags, facing off against a Geelong Falcons side making their first Grand Final in 17 years. With the game providing the last opportunity for many players to demonstrate their worth before this year’s draft, it shapes to be a thrilling contest. Billy Higgins and Dan Batten take a look at the two teams’ road to the final, and highlight their pick of the players to watch.
GEELONG FALCONS vs SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Sunday September 24, 7.35pm @ Etihad Stadium
FOX Footy: Broadcasting from 7.30pm
GEELONG FALCONS – Dan Batten
For the entirety of the TAC Cup season, it has been Geelong and Oakleigh competing for the number one spot. Oakleigh finished first by the slender margin of 2%, but it is the Falcons who find themselves in their first TAC Cup Grand Final since 2000.
Geelong burst out of the blocks early in the year, winning their first eight matches for the season, sitting two games clear in first with a monster percentage of 190 by Round 8. Losses in the Futures Rounds saw them get overtaken by the Chargers, slumping to 9-3 from their commanding position. However, since their many Vic Country representatives have returned, the rampaging Falcons haven’t lost a game, and come into this Grand Final in superb form.
They booked their place at Etihad with a Preliminary Final win over the Stingrays at Simonds Stadium last week with what ended a comfortable win. They certainly didn’t have it their own way, however, after a poor start littered with errors saw Dandenong take a two goal lead into half time. In the second half though, Geelong certainly looked like they’d had a rocket put under them as they exploded from the long break, kicking four unanswered goals to start the third term. It was the beginning of a five goal switch that saw them take a 21 point lead into the final break, before they asserted once more in the last quarter to run out cruisy 41 point winners.
While the Dragons have several players who weren’t with them for periods of the year, Geelong should come into this match-up as favourites considering their side is littered with talent across the board. Their midfield is one of the best in the competition, and their stringent defence has worked incredibly well as a unit throughout the year. This is without mentioning their consistent spread of goalkickers up forward, led by nippy goal-sneak Gryan Miers.
This won’t be played on their home deck like last week, though, so it will be a tougher challenge for the Falcs against an in-form Sandringham line-up who will no doubt be ready to pounce if Geelong start in the same vein as last week.
Players to watch
Falcons tough nut James Worpel will lead the centre square brigade on Sunday night, up against some fierce competitors in the Brayshaw brothers and Charlie Constable. ‘Worps’ doesn’t need a hell of a lot of the footy to have an immense impact, with a knack for bursting through stoppages and driving the ball long with penetrating kicks inside 50. He is a relentless tackler (7 tackles per game) as well– especially when he gets fired up – and I expect him to be cracking in harder than ever in this one. He was named captain of the TAC Cup team of the year for a reason, as he is capable of driving his side over the line.
Unfortunately, this kid won’t be on an AFL list until 2018, but there is no doubting he would be drafted highly this year. Sam Walsh is an accomplished ball-winner, exemplified by his whopping average of 29 possessions from his 10 games for the Falcons – a fantastic effort for a bottom-ager.
Booted two goals and collected 24 touches in their elimination final win against Gippsland. The 17-year-old will be right in the thick of it on Sunday night, and it will be interesting to see how he fares on the big stage. Looms as a likely top-10 selection in 2018.
Floyd has had a fantastic finals series for the Falcons. The running half-back was best afield a fortnight ago, racking up 34 disposals and going at an elite 90% by foot. He backed that up with 28 possessions against the Stingrays last week.
Floyd’s pace will be crucial on the outside, coupled with his class and delivery out of defence and inside 50. The Falcons will look to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, and if he is allowed to roam free on Sunday night, he will do plenty of damage.
Here is the Falcons X-Factor up forward. Possessing one of the best names in the draft pool, Gryan Miers has been difficult to stop this season, booting 43 majors, including six in his two finals to date. Miers possesses a strong mark on the lead for a 177cm forward but it is his crumbing that is most impressive, with the ability to attack contests at pace and find the goals.
The Luke Dahlhaus look-alike will be hard for the Dragons to negate considering the other members of the Falcs’ mosquito fleet – Liam Noble (33 goals) and David Handley (27 goals) – are also capable goalkickers.
It has been a familiar sight seeing Cassidy Parish first to the footy in the clinches this season. The younger brother of Essendon’s Darcy leads the competition for clearances in 2017, averaging 7.2 per game. The contested animal also ranks second for total disposals and first for contested possessions, a credit to his consistent ball-winning season.
He topped the stat sheet last week, collecting 33 touches (including 21 handballs), dishing the ball out to his teammates with his trademark quick hands. Standing at 190cm and 84kg, he is the prototype of the modern midfielder. However, his questionable kick will likely see him fall later in the draft order.
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS – Billy Higgins
New year, new players, but largely the same results for Sandringham in 2017.
It was a vastly different side which took the field in Round 1 to the one which won the 2016 Grand Final from Murray Bushrangers. Last year’s 23rd man Andrew Brayshaw returned with key position players Hayden McLean, Isaac Morrisby and Ari Sakeson as the only premiership players for the 65-point win over eventual minor premier Oakleigh.
Sandringham had a roller coaster season in terms of results. Their premiership defence started strongly, remaining undefeated after Round 4 to be equal-top with Sunday’s opponents. They then dropped four of their next five games to remain inside the top-4 only thanks to their high percentage.
The depth of the Dragons’ list allowed them to string together some strong form through the representative season. The likes of Joel Amartey, Quintin Montanaro, Geordie Nagle, Aaron Trustler and Will Walker thrived in more prominent roles. Sandringham won five straight to again look like one of the form teams in the competition.
A series of narrow losses to quality opposition in Eastern, Oakleigh and Dandenong at the back end of the season threatened to halt the Dragons’ momentum leading into finals. However, they returned to from with a comfortable win over Northern at Ballarat to close the season on a positive note.
The Dragons repeated the result of last year’s decider with a win over the Bushrangers. Their greatest scare came in the last quarter, when confusion over a stretcher on the field led to a head count on the field. No damage was done, and Sandringham ran out 51-point victors, with Hamish Brayshaw, Alfie Jarnestrom and Walker leading the way.
The win set-up a clash with minor premier Oakleigh for a place in the Grand Final, which turned out to be one of the games of the season. Sandringham appeared to be cruising after a Walker goal at the start of the third term opened up a 28-point buffer. The Chargers responded with the next five goals to snatch the lead briefly, before Amartey goaled to put the Dragons on top for good. Oakleigh kept the pressure on for remainder of the game, but were ultimately outlasted by just 10 points.
Sandringham will look to join Oakleigh and Northern with four premierships in second place on the all-time list, behind Calder Cannons with six.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Andrew, the younger brother of Hamish and current Melbourne player Angus, has led the Dragons expertly this season. He acquitted himself well in Vic Metro’s midfield during the National Carnival, averaging over 20 disposals.
Brayshaw is slightly smaller than his brothers at 183cm, but has elite endurance to compensate. He uses his running capacity and football smarts to find plenty of the ball on the outside. He has plenty of scope for improvement as he will only turn 18 two weeks before November’s draft, so is a bolter to keep in mind over the next couple of months.
His midfield battle with the likes of Geelong skipper James Worpel and Cassidy Parish will go a long way to deciding the result of this game, and potentially rankings on draft night.
The 19-year-old returned to the Dragons for another season after being overlooked at the 2016 AFL drafts and is making the most of his opportunity. He led the Morrish Medal count at Round 8 after four best-on-ground performances, before spending most of the remainder of the season with Sandringham Zebras in the VFL. He returned to the TAC Cup in Round 18 with 30 disposals, 11 tackles and another three votes.
Brayshaw has led all Dragons by averaging 26.7 disposals in his 9 home & away games. He also proved to be a threat on the scoreboard, with 18 goals for the year.
Ben & Max King
You won’t need to search too hard for these twin brothers’ 200cm-plus frames on Sunday night. Both will likely be taken off the draft board very early in 2018 if they continue to flash the potential they have this season. Both brothers were included in Vic Metro’s squad during the national carnival, though they will have to wait until next year to make their debuts.
Sandringham’s coaching staff have been kind enough this season to play the twin towers at opposing ends of the ground; Max in attack, Ben in defence, in order to avoid confusion.
Ben figures to match up on Geelong spearhead Tom McCartin, but must also be wary of affording opportunities to the Falcons’ horde of crumbing forwards, so his intercept work will be crucial.
Meanwhile, his brother will be looking to exploit Geelong’s lack of height in defence. Max has shown signs this year but is yet to explode for a bag of goals in a game. Sunday night’s stage would be the perfect opportunity to announce himself as a blue-chip draft prospect for 2018.
Walker has the size AFL recruiters crave at 187cm. He has played primarily as a forward, booting 25 goals for the season, but has shown he is able to play quality minutes in the middle too. Walker may be asked to spend more time in the midfield on Sunday depending on how affected Charlie Constable is after an injury sustained in last week’s preliminary final.
Walker was one of the Dragons’ best during the representative season and has continued this form through to the back end of the season, headlined by his 25-disposal, 4-goal effort in the elimination final against Murray.
Williams isn’t the biggest name in this Sandringham outfit, nor is he the biggest in stature at 179cm. He is, however, a pure footballer and an important cog in the side. He suits the run-and-carry game employed by coach Jeremy Bernard perfectly, possessing great speed. He leads all Dragons in handball-receives (11.9) and is second in uncontested possessions (16.5).
With Geelong expected to be superior on the inside, the ability of Williams and his team mates to get off the leash in space will be key for Sandringham’s quest for back-to-back flags.
B: 17. C. Stephens, 43. J. Jaska, 26. J. Walters
HB: 30. O. Brownless, 39. C. Idun, 19. M. Ling
C: 13. E. Floyd, 38. J. Worpel, 22. S. Walsh
HF: 7. H. Benson, 46. A. Garner, 8. E. McHenry
F: 4. G. Miers, 41. T. McCartin, 1. L. Noble
R: 49. D. Hollenkamp, 42. C. Parish, 16. D. Handley
Int: 11. M. Chafer, 44. S. Conway, 40. H. Elliot, 5. J. Henderson
Emg: 31. C. Cartledge, 12. B. Cockerill, 27. C. Francis, 9. F. O’Gorman
23rd: 36. C. Sprague
In: F. O’Gorman, B. Cockerill, C. Francis, C. Cartledge
B: 2. G. Nagle, 33. H. Persson, 37. B. Smith
HB: 6. C. Constable, 70. B. King, 74. N. Murphy
C: 22. Q. Montanaro, 8. W. Walker, 10. A. Styles
HF: 15. A. Jarnestrom, 30. H. Mclean, 5. S. Williams
F: 1. L. Harris, 61. M. King, 20. K. Owens
R: 29. J. Amartey, 9. A. Brayshaw, 11. H. Brayshaw
Int: 3. L. Barrett, 24. S. Cameron, 13. J. Gorman, 12. J. Hille, 25. M. Lohan, 28. I. Morrisby, 26. S. Sofronidis, 7. A. Trusler
23rd: 58. A. Richards
In: N. Murphy, S. Cameron, M. Lohan, I. Morrisby, S. Sofronidis
Out: E. Newman (suspended)