SOMEONE forgot to tell Merrivale and Dennington that Saturday’s game had nothing riding on it.
With both teams already booked in to meet each other in this week’s elimination final, the game could have been played at practice match pace with both teams keeping their tanks full.
But there was too much pride at stake for these two blue collar clubs, ensuring it was nothing but the real thing on show for their supporters.
The Tigers will take favouritism into the elimination final after coming away from the Dennington Recreation Reserve with a 14.7 (91) to 10.8 (68) win.
But the word on the lips of all at both clubs this week will be recovery, with the frantic pace and physical nature of Saturday’s game sure to have produced some sore bodies.
The match began with joy for Merrivale as coach Todd McLean kicked the first goal against what was a strong breeze.
Just seven days earlier, McLean had limped off with a recurring calf injury and his immediate availability looked bleak. His classy snap showed he was not only playing but moving freely.
But the Dogs soon gained some momentum as they took the initiative and used the wind at their back to kick six of the next seven goals to lead by 26 points at the first break.
While the Tigers were down on the scoreboard, they were still in the thick of the action in general play, matching it with Dennington in the second quarter to trail by 23 points at half-time.
The opening minutes of the third quarter brought bad news for Merrivale, with the first goal of the second half coming off the boot of star Dennington forward Chris Keilar to extend his team’s buffer.
But the all-important midfield battle turned the way of the Tigers as young stars Seamus Blake and Sam Gleeson cut loose and began to get plenty of the ball.
The Merrivale forwards gleefully accepted the increased service as they made the most of their chances to kick eight of the next 10 goals in an amazing run against the wind.
The last of those goals came at the 33-minute mark, when Gleeson won the centre clearance and took on the traffic with a bounce, before combining with Blake to drive the ball into the arms of Sam Dwyer. Dwyer snapped truly to give his team a one-point lead going into the final term.
The last quarter began with both teams again going at each other at full tilt, but it took some more Gleeson magic to give the Tigers the first goal of the quarter.
Gleeson found the ball on the ground at centre half-forward and had the composure to steady and kick the goal from 50 metres to give his team a handy break.
Try as they might, the Dogs could not penetrate deep into their attacking zone and goals from McLean and James Fary were enough to seal victory for Merrivale.
The win made it a perfect record for the Tigers against the Dogs this season, following their 24-point triumph in round nine.
The quality and intensity of Saturday’s game would have league supporters looking forward to Sunday’s re-match in what is shaping as a memorable finals series.