Hill End were making their first finals appearance for 15 years (2004) in the Q-Final against Mirboo North (at Yinnar) on Saturday but it was their first ever Q-Final since final five was introduced in 1995 and it was the first time up against Mirboo North at this stage of the finals. The Hillmen surviving by two points in a heart-thumping match with the lead changing eight times during the tense game with the last quarter producing four changes as both struggled hard. Hill End had to hold onto their close margin for an agonising nine minutes hitting the front at 17 minutes into the final term. Every kick was precious to both teams as they produced one of the best finals for a number of years before a huge crowd.
It was Mirboo North who opened up a two goal lead in the first quarter within the first five minutes through Brayden Wilson and Damien Turner but by 14 minutes Hill End had taken control to wrest back the lead as Lachlan Fanning and Luke Mulqueen goaled for the Hillmen. Hill End defender Rob Fiddelaers was hit by a freight train as players piled on the rugged defender, but the tough defender shrugged it off to play a blinder over the course of the match and also to kick his second goal of the season after two fifty metre penalties. Hill End were getting moving through Jack Hudson who must be a coach’s nightmare, as his style of rugged play puts him in dangerous positions. Two more goals before the siren put the Greeners 13 points up. Chase Saunders scored for Hill End for his second goal but it took eight minutes after the ball went end to end with massive turnovers and stoppages. Players were going in hard with the two Hudson’s clashing, Jack Hudson and Hudson Kerr each riding the bumps. Mirboo North’s Clancy Bennett chipped a clever goal and when Damien Turner posted his second and Daniel Taylor snapped one the Tigers were back in front by a point. It was a crash and bash game with players not frightened to run into a pack, trying to break through. Darryl Mayman Peter Taylor and the 200 game veteran Shane Peters were strong for the Tigers and by the long break they led by a point.
Mirboo North had their eighth goal on the board only four minutes into the third stanza and appeared to take control. The defence of Damien Blackford for the Tigers was good and he had great support from the man with the possum on his head, Tristan Salerno. The ruck duels were fairly even with both the big boys in Justin Fulton and Calvin Rees giving their respective teams plenty of drive. After holding a nine point advantage for over 15 minutes Mirboo North in an act of brain fade gave away a 50 metre penalty which Ben Rotheram converted, the Hillmen were closing in and when Muggzy Mooka goaled the Hillmen were again ahead but Mirboo North refused to lay down and they recaptured the lead on the siren with a goal from Daniel Taylor.
Ben Rotheram produced magic for Hill End and within 45 seconds into the last term they hit the front by two points. It was a struggle for both teams with lots of stoppages and heavy tackles and free kicks were hard earned. Mirboo North missed twice with minors to level the score and the pressure was on every player not to make mistakes. Peter Taylor goaled again for Mirboo North and the Tigers were roaring, hitting the front by 6 points. Players were hitting hard and it was a bruising battle with Hill End forcing the ball forward, a touched behind and a poster saw the margin back to four points but Chase Saunders at 17 minutes with a check side kick notched his third to give Hill End back the lead by two points. Pressure mounted but Hill End were able to hang on to win by that margin. Luke Mulqueen, Ambu Uliando, Jack Hudson and Rob Fiddelaers voted as best while for the Tigers, Clancy Bennett, Mitch Wightman, Darryl Mayman and Damien Turner were given the nod as their best. Hill End will further their destiny by playing league leaders Yallourn-Yallourn North next Saturday in the second semi while Mirboo North live again facing Morwell East in the knockout first semi-final.Laurie Williams
Morwell East with a brilliant first quarter of 5 goals against the wind ensured they had enough in the tank to withstand a fighting surge by Yinnar to take out the elimination final at Hill End on Sunday. Kicking more accurately than Yinnar (5-0 to 4-5) they hung on by one point at the first break. Morwell East ensured that Yinnar would have to fight hard. Using the wind to their advantage the East with pin point accuracy added five goals but importantly kept Yinnar to a sole point and by half time they were in a good position leading by 33 points. Yinnar’s Coach Kane Grinstead-Jones gave his team a spray at the break and singled out players who were not giving their best. The plan worked for Yinnar and they fired up with Matt Coutts (no stranger to the Hill End oval) able to kick three goals as the Magpies surged, the Coach also got into the fray leading by example giving his players opportunity to post goals. Yinnar got within eight points of Morwell East deep in the third but two timely goals by Frankie Marks and Darren Pickett put Morwell East back on track. Brendan Chapman was using the wind to advantage with long raking kicks from defence but Yinnar were still facing an uphill battle as Morwell East held onto an 18 point lead by lemon time. With rain and wind picking up the East were at the advantage of the wind and used it well to block out Yinnar who tried to break their spirit but the East recovered to pepper the goals with nine effective scores while Yinnar were dead in the water managing only one goal. The East hung on to take the game 15-11 to 11-9 to put an end to Yinnar’s season.Laurie Williams
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All match reviews written by Laurie Williams.