“WE want to finish top three.”
They are the words Dennington coach Ben Parkinson has uttered all season as his side chases grand final redemption — and with good reason.
Parkinson, despite only rejoining the club this season, knows the impact trying to win a flag from the elimination final has on an already weary playing group.
The Dogs have finished fourth or fifth the past two years. They’ve been the form side in finals yet fallen short of the ultimate prize both times.
Their 2012 season ended with defeat in a high-scoring preliminary final against Panmure, a 32-goal thriller decided by just two points.
They went a step further in 2013. But, battered by three knockout finals in three weeks, they put up little resistance in the grand final against Panmure.
Undoubtedly, the Dogs — more than any of their 11 rivals — know the importance of finishing first, second or third after the 18 home-and-away rounds.
To that end, they’d be content but hardly ecstatic with sitting fourth with a month to go in 2014, one match behind Merrivale and Allansford.
But a glimpse at the contenders’ runs home should brighten their outlook. Third spot is a realistic possibility for Parkinson and his men.
Tipping winners is never that simple, of course. But an analysis of the final four rounds suggests they can navigate a tricky month and secure third spot.
Their opponents are Russells Creek (round 15), Kolora-Noorat (round 16), Merrivale (round 17) and South Rovers (round 18).
The Power and Lions could cause the Dogs headaches. But it’s victory against the Tigers which will be critical to their fortunes.
That’s because Merrivale must also play ladder leader Panmure (round 16). A loss there will open the door for Dennington the following week.
Securing a double chance looms just as critical for the Tigers — they haven’t won a final since 2011.
If they finish third, a qualifying final against Allansford is the likely outcome. And they’d fancy their chances on a firm deck with wide-open spaces.
Dropping to fourth, however, will leave them vulnerable to Old Collegians, who are all but certain to finish fifth.
The Warriors have the toughest run home of any of the contenders, playing Panmure, Allansford and Merrivale along with East Warrnambool.
A top-three spot is a possibility but would require a monumental effort from coach Daryl Beechey and his men.
Of the others, Allansford is all but locked into second or third thanks to its soft run home. Get through this weekend and they can start planning for late August.
But whether any of them can unseat Panmure remains to be seen. The Bulldogs are better positioned to win the flag than either of the past two seasons.
A three-peat, achieved by only West End (1948-55) and Kolora-Noorat (2009-11) in WDFNL history, is on the cards.