Emmaus St Leo’s reserves team may have stumbled into finals, but at Garvey Oval for their elimination final, under brilliant, shining sun and the bluest of skies, stumble the Animals did not. In what was an expert showing, the Animals systematically dismantled a Manningham Cobras side that could barely save themselves. In stark contrast to their last encounter, with conditions touted unplayable and the end result being a low-scoring affair, both teams came out with a point to prove, but it was Emmaus St Leo’s who came out on top at the final siren.

There’s bleeding for the cause, and then there’s two players coming off with the blood rule five minutes into first quarter, which immediately set the tone for the day. Hard, defensive pressure denied Manningham at halfback every time they got the ball through the midfield. Despite their efforts, the Animals only went into the first break five points up after a monster grab from Lachlan Gunn in the square resulted in the only goal of the term.

‘Animals Hill’ was well and truly alive during the second quarter, with Jonathan Greensides seemingly forgetting he was indeed playing football instead of soccer if you were to go by his goal celebration, much to the delight of the Emmaus St Leo’s seniors who’d come for support despite their game being the day after. Flynn Normand also used the support from the sidelines to boost his performance, launching a ball from what was probably outside 50 and goaling. Emerson Lemkau, who starred for the Animals all day, began his scoring efforts thanks to a contested mark and then a 50-metre penalty.

Heading into the main break up by 24 points though Manningham were lucky it wasn’t more, spirits were high, with a subtle feeling blanketing the Animals group of what might be possible.

Hunger and intent had been prevalent throughout the first half, and it didn’t let up going into the third quarter. Despite Manningham getting their first goal of the game on the back of an unfortunate free kick, the Animals revelled in the experience of playing in a final, taking their chances when they presented themselves, and properly earning the rewards they were getting for their efforts. Sean Howard, in the most obvious attempt at selling candy did so, before sending an ugly ball through the big sticks. In two separate moments, Zac Kearns and Greensides, thanks to the work of their midfield, were able to collect ground balls on the 50 metre line and kick running goals, much to the chagrin of their Manningham defenders who had been left in the dust and were nowhere to be found. Tom Birkett’s aerial efforts have always been second to none, and Saturday was no different, with his movement in the forward line finally yielding a scoreboard-result late in the third term after a contested mark, to give his team a 47-point lead at three quarter time.

At the start of the fourth quarter, ghosts of games past threatened to rear their ugly heads with Manningham putting on a three-goal blitz, before the Animals steadied the ship, unwilling to be beaten in the final term and kicking six of their own majors to finish off a stellar four-quarter performance. Birkett and Lemkau both added to their game’s tally with two more each, while Kearns kicked his second and Jason Schink joined the party, toying with the opposition and snapping truly. Proving that you apparently can’t have the good without the bad, Greensides left the field with an unfortunate shoulder injury, though he’d done his job early and contributed two goals for the game.

Those who had to pick best on ground had their work cut out for them, with efforts from every player crucial to Manningham’s defeat. Josh Webb had a day out, crunching tackles and leading from the front with his hard, defensive pressure. Garvey Oval was like Kmart just before Christmas, at least for Manningham, who didn’t have the space to move, with pressure on the ball carrier causing panic and mistakes the rare chance they’d gotten the ball clean. Alex Stokes once again showed his prowess in the ruck, with very Grundyesque ground work allowing his teammates more chances at the ball and earning himself another mention as one of six best on ground. The crowd at Garvey Oval might have possibly seen him spin out of trouble once or twice too. The Animals contingent would be hard-pressed to not be impressed by the backline, who stood strong all game, with their superior positioning allowing them to send the ball straight back out of defensive 50 if by chance it had snuck through the brick wall that appeared to be at halfback. For their efforts, they limited Manningham to 4.12.36 at the final siren, with Emmaus St Leo’s finishing 15.12.102.

Manningham will be left to rue their missed opportunities early, with their first half scoring shots all resulting in behinds. After the second quarter, with the Animals tightening up their defence, the Cobras didn’t stand a chance against a team whose first instinct was to hunt. Next up for the Emmaus St Leo’s reserves is Richmond Central, whose semi-final loss against Aquinas sees them return to Whitefriars College and aim to redeem themselves for a grand final berth. The 12:00pm reserves game will precede the senior Animals taking on Manningham who start at 2:30pm. Get down to Donvale on Sunday and see the reserves sizzle!