Finals footy brings out the physicality, and at the spacious Jubilee Park on Sunday, Balwyn and Blackburn brought just that; tough, possession footy interspersed with plenty of fire.
Balwyn’s eventual 11.8.74 to 7.10.52 victory was one of true fight, having been completely stunned by the Burners early aggression and bone-crunching tackles. Heath O’Farrell and Jake Hammond hammered home three goals before the Tigers even had a look in, but with it came same heated exchanges and push-and-shove tactics from both sides.
Balwyn coach Daniel Donati was screaming from the sidelines for the Tigers to find their man and space, and right before the end of the quarter Jeff Gobbels and Marc O’Regan slotted majors to have Balwyn 17 points down at quarter time. Kyle Matthews, Aaron Hatton and Renwick Watts were all wanting a piece of each other, as plenty of free kicks were paid to the Burners, much to the disappointment of the Balwyn crowd.
Asking the Tigers to stick to their structures and not surge forward, Donati’s words paid off. Blackburn found it much harder in the second term to make a scoreboard impact, as young Matthew Sheppard and diligent worker Shane Tregear made the Burners defence work. Blackburn Captain Ben Fraser was the workhorse in the attacking 50, but Balwyn kept pressing with Tregear’s second bringing the half time margin to ten points.
There was enough of a breeze at Jubilee Park to assist the team kicking to the grandstand end of the ground, and Balwyn used it nicely despite kicking just two for the term. It was, however, the catalyst for the turnaround. Blackburn kicked 1.3 for the quarter, and hung on at three quarter time by a thread. Balwyn knew they had a chance, and wanted to seize it.
Peter Banfield emphasised to the Burners that they had to keep the defensive pressure on, with Balwyn having driven the ball through the centre in the second half. It became an even tougher test when Jackson Weatherald levelled the scores, and the game turned on its head.
The atmosphere was electric, and as O’Regan and Tregear extended the margin, Blackburn’s chances diminished. Anthony Fagan and Tyler Faulkner worked like well-oiled machines to create opportunities into the attacking 50, but Kris Pendlebury, Jarrad Wright and Taylor Gilchrist all combined to send the ball back the other way.
Wright took the highlight of the second half with an incredible mark on the grandstand wing that had everyone at the crowd yelling and subsequently cheering. By the 20 minute mark of the last term, Balwyn had extended their lead into double figures, and simply stopped Blackburn from scoring any more.
Having fallen agonisingly short against the Tigers in round one, Blackburn simply could not keep up the first quarter pressure. Balwyn used the ball better at the end, and decision-making was sharper.
The entire Balwyn team remembered their late teammate, Shaun Bergin, who three years ago, at the same ground against the same team, was critically injured in a contest and passed away two weeks later in 2011.
Donati highlighted that the two goals the Tigers kicked at the end of the first was the kickstarter for their game.
“I just thought (those last two goals) were momentum. With the breeze going down our end in the first quarter, I told the boys that if we needed to keep to our structures and not go bombing it long with the breeze.”
Lots of free kicks were paid during the match, but it was the second half where they favoured Balwyn, said Donati.
“It was just carelessness and being second to the ball (that killed us). I thought the second half was the opposite, and we were first to the ball. And if you’re second to the ball, you’re going to give away free kicks.”
Facing Montrose next week, Donati has already had a look into Balwyn’s opponents, having attended the game where Vermont sent Montrose into the semi-final. For Blackburn, season 2014 has come to an end, but it is a huge leap and jump from the bottom of the ladder in 2013.
Balwyn 2.0, 5.2, 7.2, 11.8 (74)
Blackburn 4.5, 6.6, 7.9, 7.10 (52)
Blackburn: Hammond 3, Fraser, O’Farrell 2