THE Chris Keilar show at Mack Oval yesterday was worth the entry fee alone.
Keilar lit up a bumper crowd with a sublime 7.2 as Dennington thrashed Merrivale in the Warrnambool and District league first semi-final.
His efforts roaming the forward 50, and occasionally leaving it to push up the ground, were the biggest factor in the Dogs’ 16.13 (109) to 9.7 (61) win.
More than just kicking goals, Keilar did so at crucial times — a trait of a big-game player who stands tall when his team needs him to.
His first blitz arrived in the opening minutes, the Dennington captain booting two goals to spark a 4.4 to 1.0 first term which sent the Dogs on their way.
But he was at his best straight after half-time — 27 minutes and 49 seconds of football which will go down as “the Chris Keilar quarter”.
Merrivale was on the ropes but far from out of the contest trailing 6.9 to 2.4 at the main break.
It was season over 10 minutes later.
Keilar got the first two majors of the third term after marking lace-out passes from Alex Pye and Nathan Krepp.
He put Jordan Scott clear on goal with a bullet handball for the third and grabbed the fourth after playing coach Darcy Lewis set him up.
Another goal, his sixth and the Dogs’ 12th, came after he marked a running shot from John Vincent on the goal line 20 minutes in.
Sean Barnes, a young utility who has improved in leaps and bounds this season, had the task of standing Keilar for the first half-and-a-bit.
He was admirable but outclassed and didn’t help himself by losing his footing a couple of times.
Sam Green replaced Barnes after Keilar kicked his fifth. Green was a better physical match-up and was deservedly among the Tigers’ best.
But it was game over by then, Dennington through to play Kolora-Noorat in a tantalising preliminary final this Saturday.
Keilar, 26, said he was happy to contribute but would not have minded if he went goalless and teammate Lewis had booted seven.
He said season 2013, which included finishing equal-fifth in the J. A. Esam Medal, had been the best of his career.
“This is the best footy I’ve ever played, definitely,” he said.
“Obviously being at centre half-back at the start of the year was a change.
“And getting the captaincy a couple of weeks in made me realise I have to contribute.”
His efforts won praise from Lewis, who was more in admiration than amazement, already aware of what his teammate was capable of.
“When he wasn’t kicking goals he was pushing up to centre half-forward, gave plenty of yap, plenty of direction,” he said.
“You see a lot of goalkickers kick bags against lower sides. But the ones that can kick a bag in finals, they’re great.”
Dennington was rarely troubled after its early burst of goals.
Dennington won each of the first three quarters and led by as much as 61 points late in the third quarter before Merrivale kicked 5.2 to 4.1 in the last term.
Alex Pye, Brandon Everard and Sam Lewis were prolific through the midfield while Leigh Niklaus broke even with the more athletic Manny Sandow in the ruck.
The defence, led by Kyall Timms and Jono Nevill, was miserly for a second consecutive week although pressure up the ground made spoiling easier.
Al Porter was a clear standout for Merrivale, finding plenty of football and showing dash through the midfield yesterday.
Sam Gleeson was also effective when the game was in the balance while Green was the pick of the defence.
Matt Dowd, Scott Kelly and Josh Sobey could also hold their heads high.
But the Tigers, who were without playing coach Jason Porter, struggled to hit targets going forward and couldn’t match the Dogs for aggression.
Their other failings were evident in the Dogs’ match winner Keilar — they didn’t have a defender to counter him, nor a forward who could replicate his heroics.