AS strange as it sounds, Koroit’s expected qualifying final win over North Warrnambool Eagles posed more questions than answers.
Even Saints coach Adam Dowie thought so after his side’s 20-point victory at Friendly Societies’ Park on Saturday.
Dowie admitted to feeling flat following the 16.11 (107) to 12.15 (87) triumph; his players’ rendition of the club song was too. Maybe it was the unexpected heat or the toll of playing on a rock-hard surface that produced puffs of dust like a leg-spinner’s dream cricket pitch in India.
Dowie said the Saints were far from their best. They fumbled and dropped uncontested marks they would normally take with their eyes closed in a less than impressive first quarter. Was it nerves? Dowie thought so.
The coach, who has overseen three Hampden league flags, believed the Eagles had exposed some deficiencies in his side. “More questions than answers,” he said in an empty change room after his players quickly departed to the beach for a recovery session.
The Eagles, who entered the game with six of their best 21 sidelined with injuries, were given little chance of an upset, having suffered 25 and 53-point losses to the Saints in two previous meetings this season. But the Eagles closed the gap to 20 and really they should have been even closer had they not wasted opportunities in front of goal. They had the same number of scoring shots as the Saints yet kicked four fewer goals.
Eagles coach Bernard Moloney was proud of his players.
After Koroit star Ben Goodall kicked the third of his three goals five minutes into the second quarter, the Eagles outscored the Saints 10.12 to 9.9.
“In the past North would have rolled over but they didn’t,” Moloney said. “It’s a real tick for the boys.”
The Eagles too are facing several key questions leading into the first semi-final. Can they use the ball better in general play and can they find an easier way of scoring goals than relying on flashes of individual brilliance?
The Eagles kicked significantly more than their previous tallies of nine and seven goals against the Saints but they persisted in bombing the ball long and high to a forward line lacking height.
Their lack of a system made it easy for defender Chris McLaren, who was on top of Eagles spearhead Tom Batten for the first half and set up repeated rebounds with the hard-charging Dallas Mooney, who was impressive.
While the first half had a predictable feel to it based on the sides’ previous encounters as the Saints bolted clear, an Eagles challenge midway through the second term seemed to have been snuffed out with two Saints goals in time-on.
The Eagles then opened the third quarter with three goals in a four-minute burst that trimmed the 21-point half-time deficit to two points.
Against the run of play, Koroit skipper Isaac Templeton soccered through a goal before midfielder Jayden Brennan restored a healthy buffer at the 20-minute mark.
The Eagles, through Batten, trimmed the deficit again, only for Saints spearhead Sam Dobson to kick two majors in the dying stages — one after the siren — as they took a 22-point lead into the final term.
The Eagles surged again. Batten missed a snap on his preferred right foot, then nailed a goal with his left and then missed a set shot.
But the Saints, with less forward entries, were more efficient, kicking 1.1. Saints veteran Joe McLaren then sealed the result with a snap from a stoppage that floated through to kick the margin back out to 25 points.
The opening 10 minutes of the final term summed up the game. The Saints took their chances, the Eagles squandered theirs.