Injuries play a big part in football and the biggest injury story in the Warrnambool and District league this season centres on Merrivale coach Todd McLean. The star forward has missed the past three games with a calf injury and will be keen to get back soon to get some game time into his legs before the finals. In the weeks leading up to his injury, McLean looked to be moving with more freedom than he had earlier in the season when a knee injury looked to have been hampering him. He has kicked 40 goals from 12 games and is undoubtedly a match-winning force when fully fit. While the Tigers are far from a one-man team, McLean is an important part of their set-up. Without him, the Tigers are still in the mix but with him fit and firing they are elevated to a position which has them as capable of winning the flag as anyone else.
The Allansford forward is a rare commodity in football. He is not only one of the most talented players in the league, he is also one of the hardest working. The combination of those two qualities lifts Membrey to a place where he is rightfully considered by both his club and the opposition as one of the most valued players in the competition. Membrey has enjoyed a stellar season at centre half-forward for the Cats. His work rate, pace and beautiful hands have seen him leave a big imprint on the competition, despite the wet and heavy conditions. Given his impact so far, coach James Byrne must be salivating at the prospect of Membrey running amok on the big, dry grounds that possibly await come finals time.
Modern football terminology may have created titles such as onballer and midfielder, but the description of Allansford’s Nick Johnstone is best sourced from days past. Johnstone is a good old-fashioned ruck-rover, a solid six-footer who can cover the ground, provide a strong body in close, take a big mark and drift forward to kick the big goals when needed. A member of South Warrnambool’s premiership team last season, Johnstone has maintained the standards he set and laid down an example which teammates such as Josh Brown and and Ben McLean have been able to follow to lift their own games to new levels. Johnstone is also very hard to match up on, with few players able to match him in all areas.
The Dennington leader wears his heart on his sleeve and spends every bit of what he has to try and get his team over the line. He went to the goal square last week and kicked 10 goals and in the process lifted his team back into the top five. While Lewis would continue to be an attractive option deep in attack, the Dogs would know they need the drive he provides from centre half-forward. Lewis is not only Dennington’s coach but also its best player. He needs his highly-talented midfield to get their hands on the ball enough against the best teams to provide him with enough supply to set up winning scores.
The Demons still have some work to do to make it past the home-and-away season, but any impact they would make on the finals will have much to do with the form of Sam Hickey. Although he has not torn the competition apart, Hickey has been solid for the Demons and last week against Kolora-Noorat he was at his best, taking contested marks and kicking big, team-lifting goals. His aggression is an asset, but at times it has also been a major downfall. If that part of his game can be channelled in the right direction over the next month, he will be an irresistible force that could lead a late charge from the Demons. His form could also have an influence on the team’s other most important player, his younger brother Marcus. If Sam is taking the attention of the opposition’s best defenders, it would make it easier for Marcus to drift forward and sneak through a bag of goals of his own.
The extent of the fanfare which greeted O’Keefe’s move to Panmure this season had rarely been seen before. For a decade, O’Keefe had established himself as one of the best players in country football and he arrived at Panmure as the reigning Hampden league Maskell medallist. O’Keefe has made a good fist of his new coaching venture, leading his team to top of the ladder and getting plenty of the ball himself. O’Keefe was awarded best-on-ground medals in two of his three premierships with Koroit and was rarely, if ever, not in the Saints’ best in their finals. While teams have sometimes been able to cull O’Keefe’s influence a little this season by assigning players to tag him, that job will be a lot more difficult to pull off on a fine day in early September on the Reid Oval.
The man they call the “Big Show” has made a huge impact on the competition in his comeback season. The Panmure spearhead has kicked 82 goals in his 14 games so far and looks a big chance to top the ton by the end of the home-and-away season. His match-winning ability cannot be questioned as he has kicked bags of five goals or more in nine games this season, including two where he reached double figures. Those figures could have read even better if Robinson had converted more, with his accuracy on goal the only part of his game which may need attention. Robinson is more mobile than he appears, but his big strength is his ability to read the ball in the air and get to the right side of the contest, where he can then use his bulk to keep the grappling arms of defenders at bay. As well as his own opponent, Robinson also draws other defenders who try to nullify him, leaving his fellow Panmure forwards on their own.
One of the young gun midfielders of the competition, Blake has all the attributes to shine on the big stage that is finals football. While he is just a teenager, Blake is totally at home in the cut and thrust of senior football and seems to relish the pressure of the contest. He is hard enough to go in and get the ball at the stoppages and is also quick enough to break the lines if he gets it on the outside. Blake has a close tie to the Tigers. This dedication to the cause was on show this year when Blake did a pre-season with Koroit and won a place in the Saints’ senior team for round one. But his love of playing with his mates at Merrivale saw him turn his back on the bright lights of the Hampden league to return to Tigerland.
Clissold is a dynamic player who just keeps getting the job done for the Power. While he is currently out with a hamstring injury, Clissold has already shown this season he has the ability to come back from injury and make an immediate impact. He missed three games in the middle of the season, before returning for a clash with Merrivale. After a quiet first half, he dug his team out of a hole as he booted three goals to get the Power over the line. While Clissold has kicked 38 goals from 10 games this season, he has also spent more time than ever in the middle, where his intelligent reading of the play has made him just as damaging a force on the ball as he is in the forward 50.
At 22 years of age, Sam Moloney has an impressive football career to his credit. He has played in all four of Kolora-Noorat’s grand finals, with the past three of those bringing the club premierships. Each year Moloney has grown in stature as a player and this season the leap in his standing has been greater than ever before. Last season Moloney was named on a half-back flank in the league’s team of the year but this season he has made the move to the forward line and has taken his game to another level. Not only does he have the ability to produce the goods come finals, he also has the experience and the maturity as the team’s assistant coach to ensure the focus stays on the job at hand.