” A ONE-EYED VIEW OF THE SEMI……….”

Darcy Wilson was reared in a blue-blooded Rovers family….

His four Grand-parents are Hawk stalwarts………His dad, Mick, and uncles Paul Grenfell, Joe and Andrew Wilson, featured in multiple premierships, as did his mum Michelle, who was a star netballer in her day…..

Their careers were done and dusted well before the 16 year-old saw the light of day, but he would have undoubtedly been dreaming of one day, emulating their heroics in Brown and Gold.

At the 24-minute mark of the last quarter, in Sunday’s riveting First Semi-Final, the opportunity presented itself ……. He pounced on a loose crumb deep in the forward pocket, and snapped truly, across his body, to ice the game for his side………

On a day when inaccuracy was the only thing that marred an otherwise scintillating contest, Hawk fans roared with a mixture of disbelief and delight…………

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PRELUDE

The sides go into the Semi in contrasting form…….Albury, the power combination of the past decade and a half, have been stricken by the injury-stick in the latter portion of the season and have dropped their past four games……..On the other hand, the Rovers have enjoyed a late-season purple-patch, recording four straight wins.

I’m worried about the Tigers, because of their finals expertise ……..but then again, I excruciate over a game of tiddlywinks, so that’s nothing unusual…….What is absolutely crucial, though, is that we get away to a ‘flier’………

Alas, the Tigers are ‘on song’ in the game’s early stages……Their wise ‘old-stagers’, Brayden O’Hara, Jimmy Grills, Michael Duncan, Shaun and Luke Daly and Jake Gaynor have grown a leg and are leading the way – particularly the dynamic O’Hara, who finds the pill and delivers it with the precision of a latter-day Neville Hogan.

My worst fears are realised, as Albury scarp to a 25-point quarter-time lead…..Their leg-speed and pin-point disposal has the Rovers looking ragged.

They’re fumbling and appear overawed…..Their rare treaties forward are met by stout resistance from a defence led by the strong-marking Lucas Conlan and long-haired Jessie Smith.

In fact, the Tigers have taken such a stranglehold that some experts are preparing to declare them ‘certainties’ – as they control proceedings well into the second term. And ominously, the will-o-the-wisp Jeffrey Garlett has produced a couple of magical goals from nowhere.

It’s not that the Hawks haven’t had their chances…….their two key forwards Alex Marklew and Tom Boyd are finding the ball okay, but just can’t locate the big sticks……..3.9 at half-time is enough to shake the confidence of the most optimistic fan…….and make any team-mate queazy when they’re lining up for goal…..

Surely they’ll find the radar after the break, but is the 35-point deficit going to be a bridge too far ?……..

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THE FIGHT-BACK

One of the key figures in the Rovers’ recent spate of form has been the champion No.10, Brodie Filo. You get the feeling that if they’re to mount any sort of a come-back, he’ll be the bloke to inspire them.

He showed, at the opening bounce, what he’s capable of, as he craftily read the fall of the ball, broke clear, and pumped the ball into attack.

Now, with the game on the verge of slipping out of control, he’s just the man to provide the spark…..

The Hawks have obviously received a good dressing-down at the break…….they come out full of intent, and monopolise play in the early stages of the third term.

In an inspired move, ‘Crezza’ has shifted Sam Murray into the engine-room……he responds by breaking clear from the centre with his usual dash and pumps the ball forward several times……..

But still, the boys in Brown and Gold can’t convert…..The majority of the play is in their forward 50 for the first six-or-so minutes, but their reward is four straight points.

And, to rub salt into the wound, Albury relay the Sherrin downfield with a chain of passes…..it’s O’Hara to Shaun Daly, back to O’Hara; then the elusive Garlett gets his foot to one in a goal-square scrimmage…..Goal.

What’s even more heart-wrenching is that the Hawks respond with another two near-misses……they’ve now kicked eight behinds on the trot……It has become contagious, and 3.15 is disastrous result for the increased pressure that they’re now applying.

But is the tide about to turn…… ?

The unobtrusive, but effective, Todd Bryant fires a pass to Tom Boyd, who’s 35-metres out, directly in front. What a sure pair hands the boy from Nathalia possesses.

But have the gremlins taken hold of him ?……After all, he’s had six shots at goal, for five points and one complete-miss.

He cautiously lines up…….. Hawk fans hold their collective breath………Big Tom nails it…..!

Shortly after, Filo, who is in everything, is awarded a free kick, which he converts, for a major……Then Sam Allen, one of several youngsters who are now right in the thick of things, receives a free kick….and a 50-metre penalty, to be lined up straight in front of goal…….It’s now 10.8 to 6.15………the margin has been whittled to 17 points…….

The Rovers are on the charge.

Sam Murray takes the ball under his arm and, with a head full of steam, darts away from another scrimmage. He’s irrepressible when he’s in a mood like this, but the umpie pulls him up for running something like 25 metres.

Jacob Conlan, the match-winning forward, who has also suffered a bout of the yips today, is the recipient of the resultant pass…..Tall Jace McQuade has worn the Riverina lad like a blanket today, but this time he kicks an important major for the Tigers, to stop the rot.

But soon after, Ryan Stone marks strongly, explodes from a pack and nails the reply. After an injury-plagued season, the classy forward has turned in his two best games in successive finals.

What a contest it has developed into…..Only 18 points seperate the combatants and the Hawks must now rate themselves a fair chance of overhauling the Tigers, as the team’s congregate for the lemon-time break…….

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THE FINAL STANZA

There’s plenty for the highlights package in this final term for the ages.

Momentum has certainly swing in favour of the Rovers, but Albury’s many stars are not going to die wondering.

Shaun Daly, who did such a fine stopping job on Yarrawonga’s brilliant Leigh Masters last week, has been swung onto Sam Murray. The veteran has called time on a stellar career, which began at Corowa-Rutherglen, continued to Queensland and has included seven flags with the Tigers.

He’ll be giving everything in a bid to curb the Hawk danger-man.

The tackling is ferocious and the heat is certainly on……Only a minute or so into the quarter, Todd Bryant flips a handpass over to a flying Filo, who dodges a couple of opponents and snaps a left-foot goal…….13 points the difference.

Now it’s Albury’s turn to miss the targets that they were nailing early. Brayden O’Hara is astray with three shots at goal……He’s also caught high, plays on and finds the classy left-footer, Riley Bice……another minor score.

Then Bice receives a free kick for a blocking offence…….He’s 30-metres out, virtually straight in front, but misses again.

A fine player Bice, but he’s kicked four straight points from his 21 disposals today.

Tom Boyd redeems himself for his early discrepancies in front of goal by booting a couple of majors – the second comes after a slick Alex Marklew handpass.

The margin has now been whittled to four points. The game is right in the balance and excitement is at fever-pitch when Marklew gathers another handball.

Who’s there or thereabouts ? ………Filo, of course…….He motors past and kicks the goal that puts the Hawks in front for the first time, at the 20-minute mark of the last quarter.

With the pill deep in defence for Albury, a couple of minutes later, a Tiger defender assesses his options, kicks optimistically to a contest across goal, and Darcy Wilson’s dreams come true………he snaps the major and team-mates come from everywhere to congratulate him……….His side has now crept out to an 11-point break.

But it’s it over yet…….

Not to be outdone, Albury push forward again and Jeff Garlett caps a good day at the office by kicking his fourth.

The Tigers are coming………they continue to attack, the Hawks desperately defend……..the final siren signals the end of a monumental contest, as a dozen players are scrambling for possession of the bobbling footy……….

WANGARATTA ROVERS: 12. 20. ( 92 ) d ALBURY 12. 15 ( 87 )

Best: ROVERS: Brodie Filo, Jayden Bear, Raven Jolliffe, Sam Murray, Todd Bryant, Sam Murray, Ryan Stone.ALBURY: Brayden O’Hara, Fletcher Carroll, Jeff Garlett, Luke Daley, Riley Bice, Lucas Conlan.

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