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Preliminary pain for Wallan Magpies

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By Colin MacGillivray

A season that began with a wellspring of optimism ended in pain for Wallan’s senior footballers, with the Magpies upset by Diggers Rest in the Riddell District Football Netball League preliminary final on Saturday.

The Magpies had waited two years for redemption following a grand final loss to Rupertswood in 2019, with COVID-19 derailing all of the 2020 season and the 2021 finals campaign.

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They entered the preliminary final as comfortable favourites after beating the Burras twice in the past three weeks – by 28 points in the final round of the home-and-away season and 93 points in the qualifying final.

But from the opening bounce at Macedon’s Tony Clarke Reserve, it was clear the contest would not be smooth sailing for Wallan.

Diggers Rest transitioned quickly through the middle of the ground to find Jamie Lobb for a goal less than two minutes into the game, showing decisiveness that was notably absent from the previous encounter between the sides.

Burras spearhead Mitch Jensen then got free behind the Wallan defence twice to run into an open goal, giving Diggers Rest an 18-0 lead in the blink of an eye.

Wallan stabilised and eventually goaled late in the quarter through Sean Morris to draw within 11 at the first change, but it was clear that goals would be hard to come by for the Magpies.

The second term offered early signs of hope for Wallan supporters, with league-leading goalkicker Matt Perri booting the first of the term to bring his side within a goal.

Midfielders Ricky Schraven and Jarryd Bonello did their best to find targets in space and Steven Boyall provided his trademark run, but the Burras were able to close down leading lanes for the Wallan forwards until Brodie Gilchrist again found Perri for Wallan’s second of the term.

Corey Grindlay followed it with a major of his own to again bring Wallan within five points, but a spectacular high mark and subsequent conversion by Jensen re-established a 10-point lead for Diggers Rest at the long break.

The third term was a sour one for Wallan, with the Magpies only able to muster a single behind as Diggers Rest took control of the match.

Wallan ruckman Patrick Mahoney went down with what appeared to be a serious leg injury during the quarter, leaving Will Brock to ruck singlehandedly for most of the second half.

Facing a 29-point deficit at three-quarter time, Wallan coach Daniel Nolan urged his players to ‘win your patch’ and chip away at the lead in five-minute increments.

Wallan started the fourth quarter with plenty of desperation, but Diggers Rest was able to slow the pace of the game, with the likes of Tom Schwarzenberg and Steven Fogarty working hard across half back.

When Jensen again ran into an open goal for his fifth major, Wallan’s hopes appeared all but dashed.

Quick replies to Morris and Boyall on the run brought some urgency back to the contest as Wallan trailed by 24 with 15 minutes remaining, but Jensen iced the game with his sixth goal.

Jensen’s game-breaking performance was a far cry from the qualifying final, when he kicked only one major.

For Wallan, Boyall ran hard until the final siren, Brock rucked admirably in Mahoney’s absence and Jake Layley was combative across half forward, but there were few individual winners.

Wallan’s Jake Layley attempts to burst through a pack with ball in hand. ​

The Magpie changerooms were silent after the game, with players, coaches and supporters reflecting on the loss.

But while the seniors were disappointed, the club has two grand finals to look forward to on Saturday, with its reserves and under 19.5 sides both competing for premierships.

The under 19.5s won a thrilling preliminary final against Romsey on Saturday, downing the Redbacks 10.4 (64) to 9.8 (62), with Alex Crnko booting five goals.

Wallan’s under 19.5 side will play Riddell in the grand final, while Wallan’s reserves are set to face Diggers Rest.

In the senior grand final, Diggers Rest will advance to take on minor premier Riddell.

Diggers Rest’s Steven Fogarty consoles Wallan forward Corey Grindlay after the final siren. ​

RDFNL grand finals
Sunday, September 11, at Romsey Park

Football

Seniors, 2.30pm
Riddell v Diggers Rest

Reserves, 12pm
Wallan v Diggers Rest

Under 19.5, 9.30am
Riddell v Wallan

Netball

A Grade, 1.30pm
Woodend Hesket v Diggers Rest

B Grade, 12pm
Macedon v Diggers Rest

C Grade, 10.45am
Western Rams v Macedon

19 and under, 9.30am
Western Rams v Macedon

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