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Another thriller was expected, and Maffra and Leongatha delivered.

Maffra claimed its ninth Gippsland League football senior premiership on Saturday at Traralgon, overcoming Leongatha by eight points.

The Eagles led by 15 points at three-quarter-time, but the Parrots weren’t giving up their premiership title without a fight, and the lead changed hands four times during the final term. The Eagles kicked the final two goals of the match to win 10.10 (70) to 9.8 (62) and claim its first flag since 2016.

Mitch Bennett kicked five goals for the Eagles, and was given the Stan Aitken Medal after being adjust best-on-ground by radio commentators, while John Butcher received the AFL Victoria Medal, as voted on by the umpires.

For the first time in league history, the same two clubs have contested four consecutive senior grand finals. After the Eagles won the 2016 grand final by 21 points, the next three were decided by single figure margins.

After the match, Maffra coach Wayne Butcher said the clubs each winning two grand finals was a “fitting result”, with little separating them the past four seasons.

Butcher paid tribute to his players for lifting this year, and overcoming the disappointment of losing the past two grand finals.

“We’ve lost two grand finals, it’s pretty tough to come back from that, but the boys all stuck together,” he said.

“They didn’t give in, didn’t go away, they wanted to keep going till we won another one – and we got it.

“This group is probably the greatest group I’ve ever coached.”

Making Saturday’s victory more remarkable was a last ditch appeal against Jack Johnstone’s suspended sentence.

After pleading guilty, Johnstone was last week given a four-week suspended ban after striking a Leongatha player during the second semi-final, allowing him to play in the grand final.

However, the league appealed the penalty given by the independent tribunal. The appeal to AFL Victoria in Melbourne via videolink, began at 9am on Saturday. While the appeals panel upheld the original penalty, having the hearing hours before a big game was the last thing the Eagles wanted to contend with.

Maffra did make two changes from the side which defeated Leongatha in the second semi-final a fortnight earlier, with ruckman Kieran Jones and defender Sam Walker replacing James Whelan and Josh Davis.

Leongatha included co-captain Hayden Browne, and forwards Cade Maskell and Jackson Harry.

The first quarter was tense, but Maffra had the better of play.

The Eagles kept the Parrots score-less in the first term, but were missing their own chances, managing six behinds.

The Parrots’ first score came after hitting the post in the second minute of the second term. Two minutes later, they kicked the first goal through Cameron Olden to take a one-point lead.

Maffra’s first goal came in the 11th minute when Danny Butcher received a 50 metre penalty. Two minutes later, the Eagles led by 12 points after a Bennett kicked his first major.

A goal from Matt Borschmann reduced the margin to five points

A late bump after Harry marked the ball led to a 50m penalty and a goal, putting the Parrots back in front heading into time-on.

Leongatha had the chance to extend its lead when a free kick was awarded in its attacking 50, but the free kick was reversed after a Parrot remonstrated. This eventually led to John Butcher taking a strong mark in front of Maffra goal, he kicked truly to put the Eagles back in front.

The Eagles led by three points after a tight first half, with their errant kicking for goal in the first term preventing a greater margin.

The Eagles began the third quarter intent on taking control of the match.

A goal from Alex Carr in the fifth minute extended Maffra’s lead to eight points, before majors from Sam Pleming and Bennett put the Eagles 20 in front within the first 10 minutes.

Cameron Stone kicked a goal for Leongatha, before Bennett made the most of a Parrot spilling the ball in defence to boot a major.

A Chris Dunne goal for Leongatha reduced the margin to 15 points by three-quarter-time, keeping the Parrots in the game.

Tom Marriott booted the opening goal of the final term for the Parrots, then a minute later, Olden kicked a goal to get within two points.

The Parrots had the lead when Marriot crumbed a centring kick into the goal square and booted his second major.

It took the Eagles 13 minutes to get a meaningful forward 50 entry.

Working against the flow of the match, the Eagles pushed the ball forward. In a pack of players in the goal square, Bennett managed to get his boot to the ball and give the Eagles back the lead.

Heading into time-on, Marriott got free on the changerooms wing and sent the ball forward, ending up with Josh Hopkins, who goal put the Parrots four points ahead.

The Parrots didn’t enjoy the lead for long, as Pleming rose to the occasion to kick a goal for the Eagles in the 22nd minute.

With the Eagles happy to lock down the ball, the Parrots were struggling to get the ball forward.

Somewhat fittingly, Johnstone played a role in the goal which sealed victory for the Eagles.

After the umpire ruled a Parrot didn’t take a mark in defence, Johnstone gathered the ball and handpassed to Bennett in the goal square.

Leading by eight points, the Eagles again held strong in the final three minutes.

After such a thrilling match, the end was anti-climatic – few heard the final siren, which was faint. Many didn’t realise the match was over until they saw John Butcher throw the ball into the air.

Forwards John Butcher, Bennett and Pleming were outstanding for the Eagles, they stood up when they were needed most.

Alex Carr and Michael Coleman took the match up to the Parrots’ strong midfield unit, setting up chances for the forwards.

James Huts was integral to an Eagles’ defence which restricted the Parrots for most of the match. Keeping the Parrots’ key forwards in check was a major factor in the result.

Tom Marriott stood-out for the Parrots in the midfield, working well with Olden, Stone, ruckman Ben Willis and Hopkins, who also contributed in attack. Colin Sanbrook did well in a Leongatha defence which was under attack.

David Braithwaite - Gippsland Times

The Maffra Eagles secured their ninth premiership since 2002 after beating the Leongatha Parrots by just eight points in an extraordinary game where the Parrots came within an inch of winning in the last term.

Maffra led at every break in the clubs’ fourth consecutive grand final clash before the Parrots turned up the heat to boot four goals in the last term. At one stage, the Parrots were leading by five points – the strongest lead they had experienced all afternoon.

Technical issues plagued the final minutes of the game, including a temporary scoreboard blackout and the final siren scarcely being heard.

But one of the most contentious moments was the final goal of the game by Maffra to secure their eight-point win.

With less than three minutes on the clock, Maffra’s Kade Renooy took a mark in the midfield to boot it into a pack of half a dozen players where the Parrots thought a mark was paid. But the whistle didn’t go and Maffra’s Jack Johnstone picked up the ball and sprinted, handballing it to Mitch Bennett in the goal square to kick it through the big sticks just a fraction of a second before Tim Sauvarin had the chance to intercept.

But from the start, both teams struggled to make a dent on the scoreboard. There was only a light breeze and the rain had cleared, making for perfect conditions for the grand final.

The Eagles kept the Parrots scoreless for the first term, but Maffra didn’t do much better missing six shots at goal.

They dominated territory, but the Parrots kept the pressure on to stop them from getting too far ahead early on.

A scoring opportunity opened up in the last minute of the quarter, with a boundary throwin seeing Jackson Harry soccer it to James Lloyd who went for a goal on the run – but it went out on the full.

The Parrots picked themselves up again, dogged to make their presence felt on the scoreboard after taking 13 grabs in the first term. Cam Stone went for goal within the first few minutes of the second quarter but with no luck. But the Parrots didn’t have to wait long for another scoring shot, as Josh Hopkins was awarded a free kick for tackling a Maffra opponent holding the ball.

He wasted no time in quickly booting it over to Olden to try again inside 50 and sure enough, he made it from about 40m out to secure their first goal of the game.

And boy, did the crowd go wild with the Parrots now in front. The grandstand of mostly Parrots’ supporters at the old oval end were cheering like they had won the premiership. But it didn’t take long for the Eagles to catch up, with Danny Butcher slotting the first goal for Maffra – subsequently followed up a major by Bennett.

The Parrots regained control to see Matt Borschman put one through the big sticks, while Jackson Harry was awarded a 50m penalty for a late bump in a marking contest to put another on the scoreboard.

With just a few minutes left on the clock for the second term, Maffra’s Sam Pleming took a mark at 50m. He booted it to Butcher who had a straight shot for the Eagles to finish the half three points up.

At the change of ends, Maffra came out firing – with Alex Carr kicking off proceedings from 30m out just as the breeze began to pick up. The Parrots had a brief moment of glory after Stone snapped another, but he was outdone by a major to Bennett. The Parrots’ Chris Dunne then topped off the third term with a major to trail by 15 points going into the last term. Maffra took nine marks inside 50 in the third compared to the Parrots’ 2.

So, it was all or nothing in the last term, as Parrots coach Paul Carbis reiterated the importance of the game at the final break. “They’re absolutely buggered, so it’s gonna come down to work rate. “Boys, there’s a massive prize in history if we work harder than what they do.” And with those final inspiring words, the Parrots leapt into action with a breeze in the final term.

Marriott was off to a flying start, booting two goals in the first ten minutes alongside another to Olden to hold a three-point lead midway through the last quarter. It was back and forth as the Eagles retaliated through Bennett. Josh Hopkins slotted his first for the match to maintain a four-point lead with ten minutes on the clock. But it’d be the last goal for the Parrots as the Eagles’ Pleming and Bennett each sent one through the big sticks to secure the premiership cup, eight points ahead.

South Gippsland Sentinel Times

Another chapter in the rivalry between Leongatha and Maffra has been written into Gippsland league history with the Eagles fending off a late Parrots comeback to snag the 2019 flag, 10.10 (70) TO 9.8 (62).

“Four years, two and two is a fair result I reckon,” Maffra coach John Butcher said.

“They’re a great side, we’re a good side and it would have been disappointing if we had have lost today.

“We played some good footy and we had to play some good footy to beat a quality side and our boys dug deep.”

The Eagles had complete run of the play in the opening stages of the game but had nothing to show for it by quarter-time with six behinds to Leongatha’s no score.

It was the Parrots who pounced nine minutes into the second term for the first major of the day through Cam Olden before quickfire back-to-back goals from mercurial pair Danny Butcher and Mitch Bennett gave Maffra an 11-point lead.

Leongatha answered with consecutive goals of their own but John Butcher had the last laugh with the last score of the half to give the Eagles a three-point lead at the main break.

The Eagles sing the club song around their reserves and seniors cups and C grade cup.

Down by 15 points at the last break, the Parrots had a mammoth task ahead of them and rose to the occasion.

With shades of last year’s final-quarter premiership efforts, Leongatha hit the front with three unanswered goals to start the final term.

But two late goals on the back of some clean play to Bennett and one to Sam Pleming helped the Eagles stave off the comeback and seal the premiership.

“We looked gone there for a little while in the last quarter and we just came back,” Butcher said.

“At three-quarter-time I said I just wanted them to give 30 more minutes, I said to them these last 30 minutes are the toughest and that’s exactly what they gave me.”

Mitch Bennett finished with five goals for Maffra and took out the Stan Aitken Medal for best on ground while John Butcher took out the AFL Victoria Medal.

Latrobe Valley Express

Just one year ago, Leongatha came from behind to steal the Gippsland League premiership from Maffra, and they nearly did so again this weekend, just falling short.

The Parrots kicked three goals on the trot at the start of the final term to take a slim lead but could not hold on as the Eagles regained the lead late and took out the 2019 flag.

Coach Paul Carbis was happy with his team’s resilience despite the heartbreaking loss. “I thought we showed great character,” he said.

“We knew we were still in it and this group would never give up, which we proved last year. We kept pushing but sometimes things don’t go your way, that’s grand finals.”

The game saw a slow start from both sides, with the contest tough and the tension high. Maffra put together some good chances but were wasteful, kicking 0.6 in the first term, while Leongatha were completely shutout and held scoreless.

The side responded in the second term though, and while Maffra was able to put three goals on the board through Bennett and the Butchers, the Parrots also slotted three.

Cam Olden and Josh Hopkins were igniting the team and were part of many attacks in the second, with Olden snagging one of their three. “There was a good mix of performers throughout the whole team,” coach Carbis said. “Hoppy (Hopkins), Marriott and Olden were good again, big Ben (Willis), Verboon and Sanbrook were strong too and kept us in it.” The third term was a different story, with Maffra repetitively winning the ball in the contest and capitalising on turnovers to give their forwards good looks.

As a result, Bennett kicked two, Pleming kicked one and Carr added another, ensuring the Eagles booted four goals to ‘Gatha’s two to take a 15-point lead into the last term.

“A couple of times we chose the wrong option instead of getting it in deep,” coach Carbis said.

“When we got it in deep, we were dangerous but when we hesitated, we turned it over.” With tensions high, Leongatha responded in a big way in the final quarter.

The team took over the contest and moved it quickly to create multiple chances in front of the sticks.

Marriott was dominant, crashing packs hard and also kicking two in a row to give ‘Gatha a four-point lead.

Bennett also kicked two in the term however, including the sealer from a Leongatha turnover in their defensive 50, giving his side an eight-point win.

While his Parrots could not win the flag, their comeback effort was admirable for coach Carbis. “We just didn’t take our chances and they did,” he said.

“It’s difficult to lose but I’m super proud of the way the boys responded.”

The Great Southern Star


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Gippsland Times match review written by David Braithwaite. To view original article in full online click here.

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