Preliminary Finals, the gate keeper of the Grand Final.

Only success here allows you to go forth to the promised land. Failure leaves you to lament a failed campaign to come so close and yet feel so far away.

Defeat in a Preliminary Final is a pain that burns for 12 months. To come so close, only to fall just before making the Grand Final, for the proceeding 5 months all to count for naught, it’s unbearable.

But the joy, oh the joy. It’s a win which inspires more belief in not only one’s self, but in your team. A sudden burst of inspiration that you are now just one win from the ultimate glory.

For Emmaus St. Leo’s tomorrow, they will go through the rollercoaster of a Preliminary Final twice, successively.

Well executed wins by both Seniors and Reserves mean that Whitefriars College will be turned blue as the Animals journey north to Donvale to have two separate cracks at making the big dance.

Two shots at glory.

To understand why this is so big for the club, you first need to read the words that were spoken by long time Animals Chook O’Connor on Thursday night at Team Dinner.

“Finals don’t come around often, let alone both teams in a Prelim. It’s been a while since we’ve been at this stage. Enjoy it. Enjoy the feeling.”

O’Connor is one of six Animals that saw a seemingly insurmountable lead slip in the 2015 Division 3 Grand Final, and saw the Animals lose their first game of that year.

Chook will run out at Centre Half Back on Sunday for the 150th time as an Animal, joining the recent flurry of milestones Leo’s have been celebrating of recent. The Animals are undefeated in 2019 when celebrating a milestone.

Dan Hill makes it a double celebration, as the crafty small forward plays his 100th for the club. Hill has been one of the surprise packets of 2019, coming in late in pre-season and the season proper to stake his claim as a vital part of a forward line which when firing on all cylinders, has been found to be unstoppable.

One of the sides that have found a way to stop it are the opponents in the Seniors, at least in their most recent clash.

In the vast plains of Koonung Reserve, one of the worst days in Melbourne weather history served to help Manningham shut down the Animals, and the weather report for Whitefriars College doesn’t read pleasantly either for the free running, gun slinging Animals.

“Cloudy. Very high (95%) chance of showers, most likely during the afternoon and evening. The chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon and evening. Possible hail. Winds west to northwesterly 30 to 45 km becoming westerly 20 to 30 km/h in the late afternoon.”

Cheers BoM.

But Manningham will need more than the weather to stop the Animals on Sunday. The return of Harry Davis up front is the only major change going in to the clash. The Co-Captains hamstring coming up the goods before the big clash.

Coach Ian Ledder’s usually shuffling of the magnets between the midfield and the forward line will see Manningham get several different looks from the Animals attack, and potentially some new problems.

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Then there’s the Reserves.

They already dealt with Manningham’s reserve side last weekend, knocking over the more fancied Cobras comprehensively on a beautiful Saturday in Bundoora.

The reward, a revenge date with Richmond Central, a team the Reserves have felt they should have dealt with twice, despite losing both.

The Reserves do lose Co-Captain Adam Athorne for the clash, but regain Fraser Walker, fresh from Senior experience. 

G-Train’s size and strength will be crucial in out-muscling a large Centrals reserve side, who are hellbent on making sure the Monday after at work is a tough slog.

The two’s also see little change, but do see Will Morris clamber on to the bench, with his height set to trouble the Snakes back 6, and also see Ethan ‘Pickles’ Phillips make a return from injury. Pickles was in fine form for the Seniors before going down against Richmond Central in Round 18.

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