A GRADE – PENOLA 12.9 (81) d KANIVA LEEOR UNITED 9.11 (65)
BACK to near full strength, Penola’s A Grade football team claimed a hard-fought win over Kaniva Leeor United at McCorquindale Park on Saturday.
The Eagles welcomed back Simon Berkefeld, Brad Merrett and Jacob Pfitzner from injury, while Adam and Scott Merrett returned to the side after serving state football duties.
However, you would not know they had been away from the nest and all played a big part in the 16-point win.
Berkefeld had been absent for several weeks, but tore up the midfield in his usual fashion to be named as Penola’s best.
Brad Merrett also rose to the occasion to bang through a game-high six goals, with strong hands and accurate finishing in the tough encounter.
“I was really happy to come away with the win,” coach Matt Tilby said.
“It was certainly a tight contest and Kaniva are a quality opposition.
“To be able to grind out a 16-point win at the end was really pleasing.
“It was a very hard-fought last quarter, but to the guys’ credit, they put their heads down and had a real crack.”
The game was an arm wrestle for the full four quarters.
Up by a straight kick at the first change, the Eagles were hit with a five-goal term from Kaniva to trail by 13 points at the main break.
However, the Eagles’ trademark tackling pressure and accurate kicking helped them back to a two-point lead heading into the final stanza.
“I think early on in the game we probably did not use the footy as well as we would have liked,” Tilby said.
“We probably could have had a little bit more score on the board.
“But the pressure from Kaniva was good as well, so we certainly give them credit there.
However, Tilby said he never questioned the intensity of his side, especially in the second half where it found another level to grind out the win.
“Our tackle count got right up there which showed the desperation and showed the guys were keen to get the result,” he said.
“We had 13 tackles inside our forward 50 on Saturday, which was huge for us.
“I was really stoked with the pressure the guys in the forward line put on and across the ground as well.”
Berkefeld was not alone through the midfield, with the likes of Scott Merrett, Brad Bryant, Jordy Galpin and Brock Egan joining forces to drive the ball forward.
“Those boys were fantastic for us – they were really impressive through the middle,” Tilby said.
From there they found the reliable hands of Brad Merrett, who rose to the challenge against Kaniva defender Cameron DeVisser.
“Brad had DeVisser on him all game and it was a very good contest,” Tilby said.
“DeVisser made him earn it, but to his credit Brad stood up and took some big marks and finished off well in front of goal.”
Adam Merrett was another option up forward, chipping in with two majors.
Berkefeld capped off an impressive return with a goal of his own, while Luke Walker, Will Clayfield and Bryant also contributed singles.
Galpin was named as second best, with Sam Klemm and Alex Moore also earning a mention, while Scott Merrett rounded out the list.
With just two rounds to go in the Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara football season, Penola faces two tough encounters before gearing up for finals.
“That was the first of three tough games,” Tilby said.
“We have Mundulla this week, who are always hard to beat up there and then we finish off with Border Districts in the last round, who are in the mix for finals as well.
“It is certainly a solid way to finish, but I think it is a great way to finish.
“The competition all around this year has been really tight up the top end and even the sides which are not going to play finals have certainly shaped the way things are.
“It has been a hugely successful year for the footy league and we are going to have a hell of a fight on our hands this week.”