HAWKS OUTLAST PIES IN ANZAC-EVE THRILLER

Mark Nolan played 56 senior games with the Wangaratta Rovers as a dependable half back flanker.

However, ‘Pecker’ was no overnight sensation. He spent a lengthy apprenticeship in the lower grades before earning his spurs and cementing a spot; eventually playing a role in the Hawks’ 1994 premiership.

He never harboured any regrets about cutting his O & M career short whilst at his top, and heading out to North Wangaratta, where he starred for many years.

But his heart always remained with the Rovers. When his son Will, who has been showing a bit in the Thirds, was selected to make his debut against the Magpies on Sunday, there was no one prouder than the old ‘Pecker’.

And his heart no doubt thumped a bit quicker when the slender left-footer with the stand-out dreadlocks adapted so easily to the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the ‘Derby’ clash.

In the last quarter, the game was in the balance, as the Hawks fought hard to wrest back the eight-point lead that Wangaratta had established.

They started to get on a roll and reduced the margin with a fine goal. Then, young Will, finding himself in the clear, ran on to a pass at centre half forward and drilled home the inspirational ‘sausage’ that gave his side the lead.

In that moment, Mark Nolan would have experienced as big a thrill as he did when the final siren blew on that blustery day in 1994……..

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Rovers’ 23-point win was a tribute to the persistence and discipline of a young side. But they were aware that a set of circumstances combined to swing the pendulum in their favour.

Firstly, the Magpies lost one of their real hard-nuts – Matty Kelly – before the game. The gritty mid-fielder seems to save some of his best footy for the Rovers, and was sadly missed at the coal-face.

Then, gun recruit Michael Newton went down in the opening minutes with a calf injury. He was to play no further part in the game.

And, as the match was reaching its climax, Chris Zane’s knee-cap popped and he was stretchered from the ground mid-way through the final quarter.

That only added to the drama and intrigue of what had been a rip-roaring contest between the arch rivals.

Wangaratta had been impressive in stretching tough opposition in their first four games. With a bit of luck they could have been sitting second. Instead, with a win and a draw, there was a question mark over their credentials. Were they the real deal ?

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

No more than 10 points separated the two sides for the majority of the game, and the lead was swapped on many occasions. The intensity of the arm-wrestle led to heaps of errors, which, in turn, kept the sun-baked crowd enthralled.

The ‘Pies were, perhaps, surprised that they were unable to shake the Hawks off. Many of their attacking thrusts were launched from deep in defence by the dashing Matt Grossman, with his metre-devouring runs.

But a staunch Rovers defensive six met them with resilience. They were led by the broad-shouldered Michael Clarke, who has been a terrific player in his re-incarnation as a Hawk.

Previously he was recognised as a fleet-footed winger. Now, with the addition of a few kilos and a mature attitude, he sticks tight, punches strategically and gives nothing away. James Smith, in his 50th game, proved a handy side-kick.

There were a few heroes for the Hawks, including another debutant – Isaac Willett – who earned plaudits from his coaches for the way he settled in.

The blond-haired Willett proved earlier this year in another sport, that he was not fazed by coping with a lift in standard. He went from local cricket to Essendon’s District team and handled it with ease.

In a crucial moment in the highly-charged final quarter, he capped his game by running with the flight of the ball on the half-back line, intercepted his opponent’s marking attempt, played on and found a team-mate. The alternative was that, had the ‘Pie marked, he had options galore further afield.

Sharing my vote for best-afield was captain Shane Gaston who turned in another clinker, both in the ruck and around the ground. Even the super-optimistic ‘Gatto’, though, would have doubted his chances of kicking a goal from the Showgrounds-side boundary line in the final term.

The Hawks needed it to stay within touch. He lined up and threaded the Sherrin through. The stuff of a true leader.

Equally as proficient was rangy Ryan Cobain, who continued his good form and exemplified his quality with five magnificent goals – two of them in the six goals-to-one last quarter.

He has a knack of making position well and being able to produce something out of nothing. The inter-league selectors would do well to keep him in the back of their minds if they need players at the last-minute.

Not far behind him was Sean O’Keeffe, who continually mopped up and found a target with his deadly left foot. ‘Okey’ is a father-figure in this youthful side.

But really, it was hard-tackling and concentration which earned the Hawks the points.

Co-coach Sam Carpenter, in lauding his charges in the packed rooms after the game, said : “It’s a credit to you that you really attacked the contest well for 120 minutes. People say that we’re young and inexperienced, but if we play footy like that, we’re going to be hard to knock off.”