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COMING 1 January 2020

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Sunday, 26 January, 2020,10:42

Fifth spot up for grabs in final round of NFNL Division 1


Fifth spot on the ladder is still at stake entering the final round of the Northern Football/Netball League Division 1 season, with Montmorency in the box seat to play finals for the first time since 2014.

The Magpies have been in the top-five for just two weeks throughout the 2019 season but will break a five-year finals drought if they overcome bottom-placed neighbour Lower Plenty in Round 18.

Macleod looks the only side capable of taking fifth spot from the Magpies, but the only way the Roos can achieve a sixth-successive finals berth is by beating West Preston-Lakeside and for the Magpies to slip up at home.

Northcote Park remains the slimiest mathematical chance to finish in fifth spot but would need to thrash Heidelberg and hope Lower Plenty trounces Montmorency to jump in – with a 230-point swing required to jump the Magpies on percentage.

The game that holds most significance in relation to the top-five takes place at Montmorency Park North Oval, where Montmorency hosts Lower Plenty.

Just one month ago it appeared highly unlikely that Montmorency could figure in this year’s finals series – however road wins at Macleod and Bundoora, along with an outstanding victory over West Preston-Lakeside mean the Magpies have their fate in their own hands entering Round 18.

Last week’s match against Macleod at De Winton Park was every bit an early final and it was the Magpies who lifted at the crucial stage to claim an eight-point win and leapfrog the Roos into fifth spot on the ladder.

Trailing by less than a kick at each of the first three breaks, the Magpies busted the game open with three goals in five minutes early in the final quarter via Patrick Fitzgerald, Stephen McCallum and Brent Fotheringhame. They then managed to hold in the tense final minutes.

Having been the underdog for much of the second half of the season, the role will be reversed for the Magpies this week – who will enter as the hot favourite against an opponent that is playing its final game in the top-flight before being relegated to Division 2.

The Magpies will be conscious of ensuring there isn’t an emotional letdown after last week’s massive win. But they will also have to carry the added pressure of going into this week’s game as the side many expect to win.

Lower Plenty performed admirably against North Heidelberg last week and kicked its highest score since Round 1 in a 13.16 (94) to 19.9 (123) defeat to the competition’s third-placed side.

It was a marked improvement on their previous encounter against the Bulldogs, where they were kept goalless.

The Bears were right in the contest until midway through the final quarter on the back of stirring performances from Tom Blake and Josh Turner – both of whom have excelled right throughout the 2019 campaign.

The form line going into this week’s game certainly favours Montmorency, but despite losing its past nine games Lower Plenty will enter hopeful of putting a major dent in the finals dreams of one of its fiercest rivals.

The Bears famously won the Round 1 encounter between the sides by 36 points, despite conceding the first seven goals of the game. They would love nothing more than to repeat that performance this week ahead of their return to Division 2.

Macleod and West Preston-Lakeside meet at De Winton Park in the second grand final rematch of the season.

Two consecutive defeats have seen Macleod slip from fourth to sixth on the ladder and the Roos no longer have control of their finals fate entering the final round.

They will now need to overcome a side they have lost to in their past three encounters – including last year’s premiership decider – to have any hopes of playing finals for the sixth year in a row.

Despite a strong showing by Coburg-listed ruckman Adam Swierzbiolek in his club debut, the Roos were unable to hold out Montmorency in a nail-biting loss last week. It was a bitter pill to swallow, where a win would have sewn up a top-five finish.

Scoring has dried up significantly recently – with the Roos averaging just 51 points a game over the past five matches. Their highest score during this period is 9.9 (63) in a 10-point win over bottom-placed Lower Plenty.

They come up against a West Preston-Lakeside which is having no such issue – breaking the 100-point barrier in three of its past five games, including the 61-point triumph when these sides last met at J.E. Moore Park in Round 13.

Last week’s 42-point win against Bundoora at Yulong Reserve confirmed the reigning premier’s spot in this year’s finals series. They looks set to reach September in outstanding form, having won nine of their past 11 games. Only ladder-leader Greensborough has a superior record over the same period.

2018 grand final hero Mark Kovacevic made a welcome return in last week’s match at Bundoora. The star ruckman has managed just four games this year but could prove to be a finals wildcard as his side aims to become the first to defend a Division 1 premiership this decade.

Michael Ercolano has also returned to the side over the past fortnight, while Coburg and Collingwood’s VFL campaigns will conclude this week – ensuring Aiden Tilley and potentially Sam Glover become available in September.

The Roosters were victorious in their most recent trip to De Winton Park and although this weekend’s result won’t affect their ladder position, it is impossible to see them flirting with form on the eve of the finals – particularly given how hard they have worked to build momentum in the back half of the season.

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Heidelberg and Northcote Park meet at Warringal Park in the only other game in Round 18 that can affect positions inside the top-five.

As previously mentioned, the Cougars require a miracle to scrape into the top-five. They need to beat the Tigers by close to 20 goals and hope Lower Plenty beats Montmorency by a similar margin. To complicate matters further, the Cougars are also relying on Macleod losing to West Preston-Lakeside.

Form throughout the season would dictate Heidelberg will enter this game as the unbackable favourite, following a campaign which has seen it drop only four matches – all of which have been away from Warringal Park.

Last week’s defeat at Greensborough ended Heidelberg’s five-game winning streak, with the Tigers proving no match for the Boro in the top of the table match. They weren’t aided by an early injury to Eamonn McCuskey – which left the Tigers with only three players on the bench from midway through the first quarter.

Trailing by 56 points midway through the final term, the Tigers managed to boot the final four goals to limit the damage and will hope to start this week’s game they way the finished off last week.

Of utmost importance will be to get through this week unscathed ahead of a clash with North Heidelberg in the qualifying final. The Tigers were without the likes of Jack Blair, Anthony Bonaddio, Josh Gribben, Will Goss, Jordan Sutterby and Nathan Honey last week and can ill-afford to have any others added to the list of unavailable players.

Northcote Park was blown off the park early in last week’s 55-point defeat to Hurstbridge. The Cougars trailed by 10 goals before the half time siren sounded but did at least manage to fight the game out.

A season which started full of promise has petered out since Round 4, although one of the shining lights in a difficult few months for the club has been young forward Michael Amad. The 20-year-old has kicked 20 goals in 12 matches, including a career-best four goals in last week’s loss at Ben Frilay Oval.

The Cougars will need to improve greatly from last week’s effort to send Matt McLennan off as a winner, in what looms as his final game in charge of the club following three seasons at the helm.

Heidelberg was a 65-point winner when the sides met at Bill Lawry Oval in Round 7. The Tigers booted 14 goals to five after quarter time, with Sam Grimley the chief destroyer with six goals.

Bundoora’s season comes to a close when it travels to Shelley Reserve to take on finals-bound North Heidelberg.

The Bulls are out of the finals race and the Bulldogs assured third spot regardless of the result, meaning the major focus will turn to retiring great Gary Moorcroft – who will play his final game in a decorated career.

Moorcroft joined Bundoora in 2011 and has gone on to become on of the club’s greatest players across 171 appearances. The champion goal kicker has helped steer the Bulls to three premierships in his nine seasons with the club, booting 573 goals along the way.

It will be somewhat of a sombre occasion for the Bulls, who have reached the end of an era by missing out on a place in the finals for the first time since 2000 – the same year Moorcroft was part of Essendon’s historic AFL premiership.

North Heidelberg will use the occasion to tune up for next week’s qualifying final – where the Bulldogs will meet Heidelberg for the first time in a final since their famous triumph in the 2005 premiership decider.

The Bulldogs have won their past three matches, which includes last week outlasting a plucky Lower Plenty by 29 points at Montmorency Park. Leigh Gilbert, Billy Hogan and Daniel Harris led the way as their club recorded its 11th win of the season.

Shane Harvey kicked five goals to take his season tally to 60. On a day were one retiring champion goal kicker will be celebrated, it is also worth noting a massive achievement that another is nearing – with Harvey just 15 goals shy of putting through his 1000th goal for the Bulldogs.

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Greensborough and Hurstbridge meet at War Memorial Park, where a closer game is anticipated than their Round 1 outing.

The Boro stormed to a 113-point win in the season opener at Ben Frilay Oval and while they have maintained the rage throughout the season, it is worth noting that Hurstbridge has improved significantly since that clash.

Having now beaten every side in the competition, Greensborough will be looking to maintain its perfect home record this weekend. The Boro have won their eight games at War Memorial Park this season by an average of 55 points.

Last week’s win over Heidelberg was more dominant than the final scoreline suggested. Tom Bell and Charlie Molyneux again excelled in the midfield, while a hybrid forward line was extremely effective – led by seven goals between Ben Fennell and Zak McCubbin.

More than anything, the win last week was a major psychological boost against a side which handed the Boro their only defeat of the season.

With a break in the opening week of the finals, it is unlikely the Boro will opt to rest any of their stars this week. However, they may be cautious of pushing too hard on the eve of a finals series in which they will undoubtedly enter as firm flag favourite.

Hurstbridge will be no pushover this week – with the Bridges playing the best football of any the sides in the bottom-half of the ladder.

The Bridges last week broke a club record, with the triumph over Northcote Park giving them their sixth win of the campaign – their most ever in a Division 1 season.

It was a dominant triumph against a side playing to keep its season alive – with the 11-goal to two first half arguably the best half of football the Bridges have put together in their three-year stint in the top flight.

While there is currently no tougher task in Division 1 football than to travel to War Memorial Park to take on Greensborough, Hurstbridge has finished within three goals of Heidelberg, North Heidelberg and West Preston-Lakeside over the past five weeks.

This week’s clash may give the Bridges the perfect insight into where they sit in comparison to the league’s best – which could be a valuable lesson prior to an off-season where the club will be working hard to ensure they hit 2020 as a genuine finals threat.

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This article was originally published by the Northern Football/Netball League. Read the original article.

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