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18 September 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
Minyip-Murtoa can put its recent finals history to rest, while Southern Mallee Giants have a chance to create history of their own when they meet in Saturday’s Wimmera Football League grand final.
The Burras have been the class of the league, finishing the home-and-away season undefeated with a percentage of more than 180.
A victory at Horsham City Oval on Saturday would help assuage the pain of grand final defeats in 2016 and 2017 and give Minyip-Murtoa supporters a first flag to celebrate since 1998.
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The Giants are playing in their fourth straight grand final after winning back-to-back flags in the Horsham District league before joining the Wimmera league in 2018.
Last season ended with a grand final loss to Horsham and the Giants are keen to cement their place in the league with a maiden premiership.
The Burras should have a mental edge after a 27-point win in a second semi-final at Stawell that sent them straight through to the grand final with a week’s rest.
But coach John Delahunty said that result would count for little in the heat of a grand final.
“They’ve got some good foot skills, so they can move the ball from one end of the ground to the other reasonably quickly,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on our pressure, and in a grand final that will have to be right up there.”
Delahunty admitted there would be some nerves, but backed his players to rise to the occasion.
“We’ve got our playing list nice and healthy and they’re all primed at the right time of the year,” he said.
“We’ve got some strong characters in the group who pride themselves on hard football.”
The Giants had to earn their grand final berth the hard way, downing Ararat 16.19 (115) to 9.12 (66) in Sunday’s preliminary final at Dimboola.
The game was tight for a quarter before the Giants got rolling in the second, effectively ending the contest with seven goals to two.
Blake Marshall ran hard off half back and kicked a goal, Reece McNally gave his midfielders first use in the ruck, Sam Weddell supplied his typical piercing ball use along the wing and Josh Webster dominated marking contests up forward, only to finish with an errant 2.8.
Coach Coleman Schache lauded the performance but said his players would need to elevate their games even further in the grand final.
“We have worked hard and given ourselves an opportunity at a premiership,” he said.
“Minyip-Murtoa deserves to be undefeated the way they’ve played all year, but we’re looking forward to the challenge and getting another crack at them.
“They’re a well-drilled team and we’ve been too inconsistent with them.”
Ararat coach Shane Fisher, who will step down next season, said he was proud of his team for making a second straight preliminary final.
“We had a lot of effort, but at the end of the day they had our measure,” he said.
“We’re disappointed, but to be honest I still thought we were one or two players short of being a top side.
“I think Minyip-Murtoa and the Giants are a class above everyone and that’s why they’re playing this week.”
The grand final could be dictated by which side is able to move the ball more effectively.
The Giants are renowned for their accurate foot skills, using the likes of Weddell and Sam White to rebound quickly off half back, while McNally, Schache, Lou White and Tyler Lehmann form a dangerous onball division.
If Webster can convert more of his opportunities in a dangerous forward line that also contains his brother Ben and full forward Riley Lehmann, the Giants have a real chance to kick a winning score.
Aiming to shut down the Giants will be the league’s best defensive unit.
Co-captain Luke Chamberlain is likely to get the job on Riley Lehmann, while assistant coach Tim Mackenzie could be a match-up for Josh Webster.
Delahunty can also roam across half back or through the midfield, giving the team flexibility.
The Burras’ midfield boasts newly minted Toohey medallist Ben McIntyre, with his brother Tim also running through the middle or pushing forward to kick goals.
Giant defenders Sam White and Riley Cook will have their hands full with an imposing forward line boasting key talls Brad Inglis, Jae McGrath and Brayden Ison, while co-captain Angus Trethowan adds another dimension to the Burras’ attack.
On for the volunteers
Schache said four straight grand final appearances across two leagues were a testament to the dedication of Giants volunteers.
Delahunty said club volunteers were also at the forefront of the Burras’ minds.
“We’re doing it to hopefully win a premiership for all the volunteers and people who have put in a hell of a lot of work to keep our club going,” he said.
“Our motto for the past couple of years has been, ‘a small club doing big things’. I think that’s proven to be the case again this year.”
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