The sun Melbourne had gifted us on Saturday trailed into Sunday, but it brought with it threats of rain as the day wore on. Showing your allegiance in a club hoodie probably made you too warm, while baring your arms might have sent you looking for the jacket you could have sworn was in the back of the car. But the changes in the weather didn’t bother Emmaus St Leo’s seniors who recovered well from a less-than-fantastic start to their elimination final and held off a Canterbury Cobras outfit to see themselves into a preliminary final.
The Animals seniors may have met the season’s expectations by finishing top 4, but their relatively sluggish start had supporters and coaches alike wondering who it would be to break the line and fire up their teammates. For those following along at home, the scores going into the first quarter break, which had Canterbury up by 18, would have most likely sent a scare through the Animals camp, who were all still riding the high of the reserves’ elimination final win from the day before. Jack Hunt kicked the only goal for Emmaus St Leo’s, providing a bright spark in an otherwise Canterbury-laden quarter, much to the displeasure of Animal Hill, who’d taken up position right beside the scoreboard and would remain there for the match.
Six must be the magic number for the Animals, who came out of the quarter time huddle fired up and piled on 6 goals in the second term to kickstart their finals campaign, if but a little bit late. Hunt added to his tally with a snap kick that sailed through, and Hugh Schaeche was good early, his defensive pressure a thorn in Canterbury’s side, making matters for them worse, and adding insult to injury with a goal of his own. Jesse Collins showed no signs of the sickness he’d had for most of the weekend, slotting two late quarter goals to see his side head into the main break 19 points up. The Animals backline had apparently taken notes from their reserves’ teammates, and denied their opposition any chance at goal, with Canterbury only managing two points in 27 minutes of play. A shining light for Canterbury, particularly in the first half was their ability to win the ball out of the congestion, with players free for the handball receive. But the Animals tightened their defensive pressure in the second, denying their opposition those opportunities.
The rain started at the end of the half time break, and didn’t let up for the last half. But it didn’t deter Harry Wines, whose efforts in the reserves saw him selected for the senior team. He did what he does best, with his midfield work crucial, specifically at the beginning of the third when his efforts began a chain of possessions that resulted in a goal. For Canterbury, it was case of there being two ‘Hills’ high enough to stop them from getting the win, with both Dan Hill and Matt Hill (no relation) hitting the scoreboard for a combined effort of five goals, with three of them coming from third quarter where they were apparently the only ones given permission by the footy gods to score majors for the Animals.
With the rain still tumbling down at Whitefriars College, Emmaus St Leo’s stalwart and captain Chris Beluszar joined the goalkicking party in the fourth, with a key clearance from his Animals midfield allowing him the time to collect, turn, and kick, all in the space of twenty seconds. The celebrations came from everywhere as the Emmaus St Leo’s contingent allowed themselves a tiny moment to believe. Fired up, fellow Animals warrior Paul Baranello launched a kick from 50 out, which failed to make the distance until a shepherd on the goal line from Hill allowed the ball to bounce through, much to the confusion of those taking down stats. In a rare sight, Canterbury had an opportunity to score from straight out, but the Animals went coast to coast quickly and through movement on the wing, making them pay with another goal from Dan Hill. Jesse Collins’ best on ground performance finished with another major, taking his tally to three.
At the final siren, the rain came down harder as Canterbury were left scratching their heads at how they allowed a three-goal, first-quarter blitz to slip through their fingers. They finished 8.8.56 while Emmaus St Leo’s ended on 13.8.86. The Animals’ ability to put defensive pressure, which seemed to be a running theme through the weekend for the Emmaus St Leo’s teams, on each and every player, won it for them.
This weekend, in the preliminary final, the Animals face the Manningham Cobras, who lost to Aquinas in their Saturday semi-final, and will be looking to lock down their appearance in the grand final. First bounce for the seniors is at 2:30pm, after the reserves play Richmond Central in their own preliminary final at 12:00pm. Get down to Donvale on Sunday and watch the seniors hunt!