IN an era where coaches want the lid kept on victories, Camperdown captain Adrian Murray offered a refreshingly frank assessment of his side’s outlook after jumping to the top of the ladder on Saturday.
“It’s a pretty exciting time,” the skipper said after the Magpies’ one-goal win over previous ladder-leader Warrnambool.
“We’ve come a long way, especially our young blokes.
“The Matthew Sinnotts and Chappys (Sam Chapman) are always going to play well but we’ve got our young players up and going, they are out there talking and telling us older blokes to get out of the way and it makes a big difference.”
Saturday’s 12.11 (83) to 11.11 (77) triumph at Leura Oval gave the Magpies a one-game buffer at the top of the table over second-placed Warrnambool and took them three games clear of third-placed Koroit.
A finals double chance is all but secured and the Magpies are now favourites to finish on top.
It’s a far cry from 2010 when the Magpies “won” the wooden spoon.
Murray’s role can’t be underestimated in the Magpies’ rise.
He has been a driving force off half-back this season, leading the rebound but crucially organising the defence, which continues to repel forward lines, including the second-highest scoring side in the competition.
Murray’s excitement is justifyable.
Camperdown (10-2 win/loss record) has beaten every side in the competition in the first 12 rounds, including two wins over Warrnambool.
But leaving Leura Oval in the dark and drizzle on Saturday night, it’s clear there isn’t much between the two sides — one straight kick.
In an entertaining, high-skilled contest, the biggest margin either side could establish was a 12-point buffer in the first three terms and that came in the first quarter when Warrnambool kicked four consecutive goals in seven minutes after Camperdown kicked the first two of the match.
The lead changed hands five times and scores were level on three occasions in the first three quarters as both sides moved the ball swiftly and with precision, although Camperdown seemed to enjoy more freedom and have more run in the third term.
But 46 seconds into the final term, teenager Luke Gordon marked and kicked a goal to stretch the margin to the biggest of the game — 14 points — after star midfielder Sam Chapman drove a long ball from the centre clearance into the forward line.
At the six-minute mark, Magpies’ key forward Nick Bateman converted from a slight angle after being awarded a free kick for a push to extend the margin to 21 points and the game looked over considering the margin in the context of the tight contest.
Warrnambool teenager Jake O’Donnell took a diving mark 11 minutes into the term and kicked a goal but 73 seconds later when Blues midfielder Tim Hunt produced the goal of the day on the run from the boundary line in heavy traffic from a stoppage, the margin was back to eight points.
In a desperate struggle, both sides worked the ball up and down the ground for eight minutes before O’Donnell charged to 40 metres out and with just his full-forward Jason Rowan and his opponent Jahd Anderson in front of him, he fired at goal.
It thumped into the goal post three-quarters of the way up.
While there was still more than five minutes to play, it was the last clean shot at goal for either side in a pulsating finish.
Both sides had fine individual performers but it was the Magpies’ Sam Chapman who was the most decisive.
He racked up 20 quality possessions in the second half and was the driving force behind Camperdown’s charge in the third and final terms.
Murray was crucial off half-back, so too was Charlie Bradshaw, who was moved from half-back where he had been winning his position to the wing in the second half where he was asked to contain Hunt.
They had an intriguing battle with the honours even. Camperdown’s Daniel Baker had been lively in attack in the first half and cool under pressure in defence in the second half while midfielder Luke Clarke was a ball magnet.
The unheralded Aaron Davis slotted two third-term goals.
In the key defensive posts for the Magpies, centre half-back Clinton Fitzgerald, beaten by Travis Graham early, finished the day with the points in his duel, consistently spoiling the strong-marking Graham while Anderson and Rowan waged a battle worth the admission price.
Rowan, the league’s leading goalkicker scored four majors in the first half and registered his fifth and final goal 86 seconds into the third after outmanouvring his younger opponent in one-on-one contests in the goal square.
After that, Anderson stayed off his opponent and used his athletism and speed to outpoint Rowan, making game-saving spoils and runs out of defence.
Again, the honours were even.
Warrnambool had a centre square clearance advantage through ruckman Rob Bright amd midfielders Damien McCorkell and Josh Walters while Darcy Graham on a wing provided plenty of run.
The Blues will lose pacey midfielder Brad Bull for Sunday’s clash with North Warrnambool Eagles after he suffered a hamstring strain early in the third quarter.