EFL: Hungry Norwood sends Tigers running

Norwood players fend off a Balwyn attack at Bayswater (photo: Davis Harrigan)
Norwood players fend off a Balwyn attack at Bayswater (photo: Davis Harrigan)

In the biggest game of Eastern Football League action for the year, Norwood came out looking confident from the first bounce.

On a day where thousands from around the community, along with club supporters, media and players flocked to Bayswater Oval, the Wooders put on a spectacle, winning 14.16.100 to Balwyn’s 7.7.49.

After the traditional grand final pleasantries, including the presentation of the match ball, flown in by the Channel Nine News helicopter, Norwood took charge and never let up.

Former Melbourne Demons forward Matthew Bate slotted one through early, before a Leigh Williams brace in quick fire succession had Balwyn scratching their heads.  Rhett Jordon was perfect in his execution in lining Williams up in the forward 50 for his first.

Twenty one points down and without a score on the board, Luke Barker’s hands of velcro found the ball in the Tigers forward 50 and put Balwyn’s first major on the board, 15 minutes into the first quarter.

Stuart Hill and Jesse Newman ran riot in defence to curtail Balwyn’s scoring, and at quarter time, the 11 point (29-18) margin in favour of Norwood was not indicative of just how much pressure they were applying on Balwyn.  Trying to play keepers on the ball in the defensive line was extremely costly, and Norwood pounced.

There was plenty of tough contested ball, but Shane Tregear was able to break through early in the second to bring the margin back to only five points.  With the tables ready to turn, Norwood once again pounced.  Nineteen year old Connor O’Sullivan picked the middle of the goals, and then Williams, with his sharp boot, sent through his third for the first half.

Run and carry through the middle was all important in driving the ball forward, and Norwood executed this to a t.  Balwyn simply could not break the relentless work from Zac McCubbin and Matthew Aver.  A 31 point half time margin had the Norwood fans chanting.  The highlight belonged to Jayden Kroussoratis with his pivot snap from 40 metres out, sending the players into a frenzy.

Blake Broadhurst (two goals) and Jeff Gobbels had little answer to Norwood’s clean intercepts and second efforts at the ball.  Despite Tigers fans pleas for holding the ball and free kicks, any opportunity given was quickly quelled.

It took less than 30 seconds for Williams to add another to his tally, and it was all but sealed.  Workhorse Matthew Jessop and Matthew McCormack turned into what was really becoming a celebration.  Williams was not only sticking marks, but keeping his opponent out of contest and executing goals from every which angle.

The capacity crowd loved every minute of the atmosphere.  Young Matthew Sheppard put through a superb major in the goal square after breaking the pack, but a 39 three quarter time margin was going to take a lot of reeling in by Balwyn.

Further compounding the situation was Balwyn skipper Kris Pendlebury taken off the ground with an injury that would see him take no further part in the game.  A hole opened up in the field, one that the Tigers desperately tried to close, but were unsuccessful.  Calder, Jessop, McCubbin and Jordon sent the ball down the middle, while the Tigers were forced out to the flanks, where Norsemen were waiting in an often 2-to-1 contest.

An incredibly passionate speech from Tigers coach Daniel Donati had the players and supporters at the three quarter time huddle revved up, however Alex Calder rubbed salt into Balwyn’s wound early on in the fourth quarter.  Behinds weren’t enough to reduce the margin at the start, and the Norsemen were home.

It marks an incredible journey for the 54 year old club, climbing through the ranks from Division Four and being eliminated in the 2013 EFL semi-finals.  Blue ribbon medallist (Best On Ground) Leigh Williams said that it’s the clubs proudest historical moment.

“Being the first Division One premiership for the club, it’s massive.  We’ve seen the rise from Division Four to Division Three, and this means a lot to many people, not just the 22 who played today.”

There was belief the team could hoist the trophy way back at the start of the pre-season, and the players have been one of the most important aspects of the club, Williams said.

“With the inclusions of Matthew Bate and Jordan Gysberts, and even Dean Poynton coming back from the SANFL, there was a bit more belief around the club.  In reality, we gained more than what we lost, and we had that chemistry from 2013 as well as a younger group of players.”

While Williams said it was an honour to win two medals in one day, the award could have gone to the likes of Poynton or McCubbin, indicating the nature of the incredible team performance to be able to take home the silverware.

Norwood coach Denis Knight re-iterated Williams’ words with enthusiasm for the entire club.

“I’m just so happy for everybody involved…I’m really proud of the players for their efforts, but just so happy for the Norwood family.

“We were really confident going into the game that we were the best side, and just had to execute on the day.  I’ve been involved in a few grand finals but never seen such a level of excitement.”

Knight, as a player and coach, has been involved in 16 grand finals, with a success rate of 100%, which is no small achievement.  It was a simple matter of staying with the game plan, said Knight.

“It’s cliché really, everybody had to play their role.  Even guys who were limited with their time had a really good influence.  John Holmes was magnificent, our back kept the so-called best forward line in the competition down to seven goals.”

Finishing first on the ladder, eight points clear of Vermont, the signs were ominous well before Norwood took to the field at Bayswater.  There is depth throughout the whole side, and the addition of some big elite names gave the edge on experience.


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