A COLD and windswept Davidson Oval produced a day of contrasting fortunes for the finals ambitions of Old Collegians and Nirranda.
The Warriors used their home-ground advantage to stitch up a place in the finals when they defeated the Blues 14.11 (95) to 10.9 (69).
The win was the Warriors’ 10th for the season and has them three wins and a chunk of percentage clear of the sixth-placed Blues with four rounds to play.
It has been a long road back for the Warriors since they last played finals in 2011, which yielded a runner-up finish to Kolora-Noorat.
In 2012 they won four games and last year finished on the bottom of the ladder in a winless season.
While the Warriors can now plan for a premiership tilt, Nirranda’s finals drought will extend for at least another season.
The Blues have made gains this season but would have been disappointed in their performance in such an important game.
They started the game brightly, managing two goals against a strong breeze, while the Warriors kicked four to lead at quarter-time by 15 points.
But the game changed on the back of some individual brilliance from Warriors wingman Jake O’Flynn and medium forward Josh Stapleton.
It took eight minutes for the first goal of the second quarter, which came from a clever mark and conversion from Stapleton, who had also kicked the last goal of the first term.
This meant Nirranda badly needed a goal and it had a loose man on the far wing with the ball heading in his direction. That was until O’Flynn stuck out his boot to intercept the ball in mid-flight and followed up to gather and deliver to a leading forward.
The mark was spilt, but O’Flynn followed up and drove it forward, where Stapleton gathered and snapped truly to extend the Warriors’ lead.
Stapleton made it four in a row with a goal from 10 metres out minutes later to lift his team to a 31-point half-time lead.
There were only four goals scored in the third quarter, all to Old Collegians and three to Stapleton as the Warriors built a 56-point margin.
Nirranda came home strongly in the last quarter with seven goals to one, but it was all too late. Stapleton kicked the Warriors’ last goal, giving him eight for the game.
Old Collegians coach Daryl Beechey said Stapleton, who has kicked 29 goals this season, was an important player.
“He took some contested marks and is very accurate and doesn’t miss many,” Beechey said.
“It certainly makes him a dangerous player. He also gives us an advantage in that other teams might be a bit unsure of whether to match him up with a tall or a small player.”
While Stapleton put the cream on top for the Warriors he had some hard-working teammates who were busy at the coalface.
Zac Pickett and Darren Lloyd gave the Warriors a winning ruck combination and they were able to feed a hungry midfield brigade led by hard nuts Nathan Forth and Matthew Lynch.
The Blues also had some quality at the bottom of the packs, with Nathan Couch a standout performer.