HATHERLEIGH has taken the direct route to the Mid South East Football League grand final at Nangwarry on September 16 following its nail-biting eight-point win over Kalangadoo in the second semi-final at Robe on Saturday.
The Eagles worked hard for the maximum result in the blustery conditions but their opponents were by no means disgraced.
The Magpies now have to face a revived Mount Burr in the cut-throat preliminary final at Tantanoola on Saturday.
It will be a match-up of the minor premiers and the reigning premiers.
In the days leading into Saturday’s match at the seaside, a high standard of football was expected.
The seaside oval was in tip-top condition.
The two competing teams had contributed over half of the MSEFL team of the year and had one win apiece in their head-to-head contests in 2017.
However, a strong wind favoured the southern end (golf course end) throughout the day and adversely affected the quality of play as there were many mis-kicks and other errors.
By the time of the start of the A Grade at 2.15 pm, dark clouds blanketed the Robe oval.
The main change to the composition of the two teams since their last meeting at Kalangadoo in Round 18 was the recovery from leg injuries of Hatherleigh vice-captain Josh Wight and rookie coach Jason Faulkner, and the absence overseas of Kalangadoo tall Braeden Ousey.
Both teams were entitled to play an additional player as 22 are allowed in MSEFL major round matches.
It was a handy toss to win and Kalangadoo co-captain James Pratt called correctly.
The physical nature of the game was set in the opening term when hard bumps and strong tackles were to the fore.
Although it was almost four calendar years since they had played a major round game, the Eagles looked more assured in the first stanza.
Kalangadoo registered a behind and then Hatherleigh’s Tim Merrett opened the goal-scoring at the four-minute mark.
The Magpies eventually harnessed the wind advantage and booted four unanswered goals.
The ladder leaders led by 18 points at the first change – a “pass mark” as the breeze was worth about four goals.
With the wind at their backs, the Eagles added three goals, six points in the second term while conceding a solitary behind.
Their advantage at the long break was five points but it could have been more if they had been on target.
Tempers had frayed in this term with Kalangadoo veteran Chris Mules losing his jumper in one of the stoushes.
Superior tactics and play by Hatherleigh proved to be a match-winning advantage in the third term.
Typical of the high work rate of the blue-and-golds was the performance of Matt Faulkner.
At 36, he was the oldest player on the oval but he played well loose in defence and bobbed up for a vital goal in attack.
Brodie Fabris also goaled for Hatherleigh after a fine pack mark while the goalscoring at the other end of the oval was done by Ben Mules, Michael Krieger and Nathan Reeves.
The breeze eased slightly in the third term and Jason Faulkner successfully bottled up play by flooding the backline and cramping the Kalangadoo forwards.
At one stage, the sole Hatherleigh player in his attacking half of the oval was flanker Joe Rayson.
At the final change, Kalangadoo held a four-point lead and the game was set for a grandstand finish.
Although the wind had weakened, it was still worth a couple of goals.
The lead changed yet again when Hatherleigh co-captain Jase Bateman goaled at the three-minute mark of the final term.
The Eagles continued to hustle and bustle their opponents which resulted in an unattractive but ultimately successful brand of footy.
There were only 18 goals scored on the day but arguably the best came at the 10-minute mark.
Eagle teen Lewis Walker snapped successfully from a tight angle and 35m from goal.
A short time later, Bateman pounced on a loose ball and ran into an open goal.
His long and accurate kick sailed high into the cypress pines which line the Robe Golf Course.
This put the margin at 20 points and it was the greatest difference of the contest.
However, Kalangadoo continued to work hard and its players were not ready to easily concede the double chance contest.
Goals to Krieger and Dallas Jeffree cut the deficit back to eight points and three minutes remained on the clock.
Scrambly play followed and then the final siren sounded.
My best for the Eagles were Gerard McGrath, Jed Telfer, Matt Faulkner and Mitch Pulmer.
There was a lot of interest among locals in the form of their former coach and ex-skipper Dylan Coxon who had joined Hatherleigh over summer.
Although he did not dominate the game, his contribution to the victory was significant.
To my mind, the best Magpies were Chris and Ben Mules, James Pratt, Andrew Stone and Nathan Reeves.
Saturday’s crowd paid $10,759 at the gate which pleased MSEFL president Peter Mitchell.
It was only slightly down on the first semi final at Tantanoola which is a venue much closer to the major population centres of Mount Gambier and Millicent.
As the 2017 season unfolded, Mt Burr has showed they would be a powerhouse combination and well placed to defend their title.
The word from inside the Mozzies camp is that all players have recovered from the knocks and strains suffered in the first semi final.
Saturday is the third time they will be playing at Tigerland in 2017 and the reigning premiers are well placed to win and advance to the grand final.