TODD McLean will make a timely return to the Merrivale backline for the Warrnambool and District league senior football grand final tomorrow.
Tigers selectors last night recalled the former coach for the decider against Panmure at Reid Oval after a spider bite ruled him out of the second semi-final.
Sean Barnes, who was a late replacement for McLean a fortnight ago and has played 19 senior matches this season, is the unlucky player to make way.
But Barnes will have his chance to win a premiership medal with the Tigers’ reserves, who take on Dennington in the early grand final.
Merrivale coach Karl Dwyer told Barnes he would play reserves on Monday. Dwyer said the key defender had taken the news with maturity.
“He took it really well. He’s looking forward to going back to the twos and helping them with that,” he said.
“He’s a great guy, has a team-first philosphy. He said ‘thanks for letting me know early’. Obviously he wants us to win and he wants to have a win as well.”
Dwyer said McLean was at full health after the spider bite to his leg.
“It blew right up, it was pretty severe. He’s got on the antibiotics and the infection has gone away, which is good,” he said.
Merrivale booked its grand final berth by thrashing Dennington in the qualifying final and accounting for Panmure in the second semi-final.
The Bulldogs bounced back from the defeat a fortnight ago to post a come-from-behind win against Dennington in the preliminary final.
Panmure named an unchanged side last night, keeping faith with the 22 players who conjured the victory against the Dogs.
The decision meant there were no fairytales for Matt Smith or Dillon Byrne, who were regular senior players during the home-and-away season.
“It’s hard dropping blokes after they’ve played big finals games. We’re very confident in the side we’ve got,” coach Simon O’Keefe said. O’Keefe said key forward Tom White was “100 per cent” right to play.
White limped from the ground late in the preliminary final with what appeared to be a knee injury but will start at centre half-forward tomorrow. At the end of the day, they go in as the favourite, no doubt. The pressure leans on them a little bit more than us,” O’Keefe said.
The grand final will be Merrivale’s first since 2006, when it defeated Dennington. The Tigers also won in 2003, 1996 and 1991. Panmure by contrast is gunning for its third consecutive flag, having beaten Kolora-Noorat in 2012 and Dennington last season.
The Bulldogs also triumphed in 1997, their first season in the WDFNL, and went back-to-back in 2001-02.
They are bidding to become just the third club in league history to complete a three-peat.
Kolora-Noorat achieved the feat in 2009-11 while West End won eight flags between 1948 and 1955.