Can there be a more inhospitable place than Birallee Park on an early winter’s day ?

Or more particularly, near the Public Bar, where the congregation of Wodonga Raiders supporters are among the most biting, raucous and biased in the League.

They’re up and about this year, the boys in Red and Blue. After a couple of super-lean years, the advent of new coach Darryn Cresswell and a swag of recruits has given them a fresh lease of life.

Today they brought in former Sydney Swan Paul Bevan and the quaintly-named Yarran Jaffer-Williams from Sydney University. The Border-Mail’s six experts plumped for the home team. Seemingly the Rovers had little chance.

But I liked the great Leigh Matthews summation during the week……………”Even if you’re a 1,000 -to 1 chance, you’re still a chance”…

And after the first 10 minutes, the Hawks’ odds had rapidly blown out towards three figures.

With big Dean Heta reigning supreme at the centre bounce and ramming the ball down the throats of their eager mid-fielders, the Raiders  had three goals on the board almost before the Rovers had ventured inside the 50-metre arc.

These ‘inactive’ periods of 10-20 minutes have proved costly for them this season, as opposition sides have wrenched the initiative away from a young group.

But suddenly, a change came over the game.

I reckon the main factor was that the Rovers collectively lifted in their attack on the ball and man. Their tackling was frenzied and, I think, surprised the Raiders with its intensity.

It was to be well over a quarter before the home team scored a goal. In that time the Hawks booted four and found a couple of tall targets near the goal-mouth.

Shane Gaston, who had moved down forward, marked strongly and kicked truly. Ryan Cobain was also conspicuous with a couple of timely grabs.

That ‘Gatto’ had been able to be spared from the ruck was because second-gamer Chris Knowles was providing a contest in his stead.

It’s a bit of a quirk of mine that I see the mannerisms of old stars in the new arrivals. For instance, 19 year-old Tyler Lowe reminds me of recently-departed Johnny Conroy.

And I see a lot of Barry ‘Satch’ Sullivan in young Knowles’ palming of the ball and general work around the packs. Might I add, not many people would be in a position to argue with this, as ‘Sully’ was a premiership ruckman of 50 years ago.

At half-time the margin favouring the Hawks was seven points. They were again being tirelessly served by Sean O’Keeffe, whose left boot sent them forward time and again. ‘Okey’s’ uncanny ability to read the play and bring others into the game was on display today.

Another factor in the revival was the contribution of Alex Marklew, who found form with a bang. Freed from the pressures that accompany being ‘the man’ up forward, he roamed the wings and flanks and picked up a swag of possessions.

Dale Martin, who is playing the best footy of his 86-game career at present, was assisted off with a nasty-looking ankle injury, which, of course, restricted options on the bench. It was a telling blow.

After the Hawks had kicked a couple of goals clear in the third term, the Raiders pegged them back and it was anyone’s game at three-quarter time.

It really boiled down to which side could assume control. Neither appeared likely to yield.

The Raiders finally regained the lead in the dying stages of the game and looked a real chance to cling onto it. The Hawks’ intensity had probably dropped off a bit and the little breaks had started to go the R’ way  of the home team.

In one of the final, telling acts of an engrossing game, a Rovers forward thrust ended with the ball in the hands of Cam Bishop, 45 metres out from goal.

‘Bish’ had spent the last game in the Reserves. Whilst not entirely contented with his form this season, he was grateful to be re-instated to the seniors and happier still that he was lining up for goal.

The pressure was on the tall, slim, number 25 . His side trailed by a point.

He threaded it through and had guided the Hawks to a thrilling five-point victory.

There were plenty of heroes for the Rovers, but it was exciting to see that all of the youngsters stood up in a tight contest.

I liked the poise and creativeness of Dylan Stone…the telling possessions of James Smith…the ease with which Tristan Lenaz and Chris Knowles have adapted to senior football… the improvement shown by Nick Henderson and Brad Collihole.

So the intrigue of season 2015 continues. Just two games separate the Third and the bottom-placed teams and upsets come by the week.

There are no cheap games in O &M football.












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