A SCINTILLATING start to the finals series has thrust Panmure into the limelight in the race for the 2013 premiership.
Panmure dismantled Merrivale in the qualifying final on Saturday at Noorat, winning by 73 points in a performance that saw the reigning champion back to its best.
The win has set up a mouth- watering second semi-final against Kolora-Noorat this Saturday in the latest instalment of what has become an intense rivalry.
In the corresponding game last year the Power stole premiership favouritism off the Bulldogs with a big win but it was Panmure who had the last laugh with a grand final victory a fortnight later.
In round one this year it was again the Power in a close game but the rematch in round 12 saw the Bulldogs crumble to a 76-point loss.
It has been a slow but steady climb back to form since that loss and on Saturday Merrivale was on the end of the most complete Panmure performance since grand final day 2012.
Merrivale won the toss and kicked to the Terang end which was favoured by a strong breeze.
There was an extra spring in the Tigers’ step as Panmure was forced to make a late change with star forward Gary Robinson a late withdrawal.
As is typical of the first quarter of a final, the opening saw plenty of committed bodies but with skills slightly askew due to the pressure being applied.
Merrivale had a functioning forward line with goals to both Jason Porter and James Fary providing some positive signs.
But it was Panmure coach Simon O’Keefe who was tearing the game apart.
As he has over a long and illustrious career, O’Keefe thrived on the big stage of the finals. His first quarter was one to behold. He won the contested ball and was able to then slice through the traffic, run and bounce and leave opponents in his wake.
And his kicking ability was also to the fore. Few players of his size are able to kick the ball so hard and long and effective, and he used this skill to break through the Merrivale defence and almost single-handedly give his team a two-point quarter- time lead.
The hard work of their coach was not wasted by O’Keefe’s teammates as they set about making the most of the wind at their backs in the second quarter.
They did so by dominating through the middle of the ground with O’Keefe, Shaun Griffin, Taylor McKenry, Jeremy and Jye Bidmade, Shamus O’Beirne and Tommy Jones running riot.
This dominance was transferred on to the scoreboard with a 34-point lead.
The temperature dropped and the rain came in the second half but the Bulldogs kept powering on as they kicked seven goals while restricting Merrivale to just one.
While the Power have rightfully been premiership favourite for much of the season, this performance from Panmure has reminded everyone that at their best the Bulldogs are capable of mounting a serious charge at back-to-back flags.
Panmure can look forward to Robinson returning to the goal square this week after his late withdrawal on Saturday while key defender Tim McPherson was a late inclusion against the Tigers and moved freely to suggest he is well over his injury.
Merrivale coach Jason Porter openly admitted after the game that while his team has been capable of defeating all those below it this season, it is still a fair way from beating the top two.
There were some positives for the Tigers with young key defender Sam Green doing a good job in his role on century goal kicker Chris Bant.
Green held Bant to three goals with two of those coming when the game was over in the last quarter.
One worry for Merrivale is the fitness of star player Todd McLean who left the ground early with a hamstring niggle.
He returned to play out much of the game but left the field late and was noticeably limping after the game.
Porter said the club would monitor McLean’s fitness during the week but was hopeful he would be ready to take on Dennington in the first semi-final on Sunday.