THE first week of the Hampden football league finals series predictably served up one classic contest and one not so memorable game.
It should hardly be a surprise that the elimination final was a fizzer, with North Warrnambool Eagles defeating Camperdown by 46 points last Sunday. The result again underlined the gap that often exists between fifth and those above.
It was the sixth consecutive year the side finishing fifth just made up the numbers. Only twice in the past decade has the fifth-placed side at the end of the home-and-away season won in the first week of the finals.
The numbers only enhance the argument that was made for years — the then eight-team Hampden league should have had a top four.
But now the league has 10 clubs, the argument for a top four is dead.
It’s easy with hindsight to say Camperdown was in a different race to the top four. The Magpies won 11 games for the season, three less than North. The ladder rarely lies.
However, in a way it did in the qualifying final. Second-placed Cobden went down to third-placed Warrnambool by nine points. But there was half a game between them on the ladder after 18 weeks and even less last Saturday. The difference was one quarter, the third, when Warrnambool kicked 3.5 to 1.5 into the wind. If you looked at it more closely, it was only two goals in the last three minutes of the term that had Warrnambool in front on the scoreboard for the first time. If Warrnambool hadn’t scored those goals, the result may well have been different.
Now we are down to the final four — the top four and the best teams in the competition all year. When you look at the ladder, only one win separated first and fourth. There is nothing between them. It could all come down to a fickle bounce, an inspired act, a strong final minute of a quarter.
All four coaches know there is little room for error. September is all about taking opportunities. Who will? Who knows? But that’s the way it should be.