Monday, October 4, 2010

Quebec Saints win the OAFL Grand Final

OAFL Division 2 Grand Final 2010

After a season on the road which included seven round-trips to Toronto and two to their “home” venue in Ottawa, the Quebec Saints have repeated as Division 2 Premiers in the Ontario Australian Football League. The kilometres travelled were well worth the celebration as the Newest Club in Canada – sporting a roster containing only five of last year's premiership players – convincingly outplayed the Central Blues in what proved a hard-fought and remarkably intense encounter.

Both teams made several changes for the Decider. For the Blues, tall midfielder Carl Hastrich proved the major inclusion while the Montrealers welcomed back four who missed the Semi-Final due to injury: the erratic but athletic Nico Pouessel, tough-as-nails defender Lachy Trumble, playmaker Kyle Graham and big man James-Robert Theis.

The Blues, who began the season on paper as many's tip to win the Division, were ultimately unable to repel the forward-sweeping forays of the Saints. Early in the first term it became apparent that the Saints were more adept in the wet, greasy conditions and were playing high on confidence after their ten-goal Second Semi Final win against Central. Even with the Blues playing a loose man in defense for the majority of the quarter the ball remained in the Blues' defensive half with the Saints half-back line pushing up and preventing the ball being moved into the Blues forward zone; with Trumble and “Eddy Baby” Duff marshaling the defence, the Blues forwards looked overmatched and unable to stamp their influence on the game.

The Saints though were unable to convert their midfield dominance and forward pressure into a sizable lead on the scoreboard; the first goal came at the ten minute mark when Pouessel snapped truly from 25 metres. Although they ended the quarter with only the one major, the Saints looked confident moving into the second term as Darrin Haverhoek was typically effective at the contest and able to get free into open spaces in order to use his devastating footskills. As per usual, Ryan Oxley set the tone for the Quebec side with his willingness to put his head over the ball and make the extra handpass.

The second quarter was astonishingly similar to the first. After his sublime performance as a leading forward in the Second Semi, captain Mat Wilson found himself subdued early by the double-teaming Blues defenders. This in turn left Theis and the late-arriving Cam Beaman single-covered and the half-forward line became the strength the Saints set about exploiting. Big Jim was superb in retrieving the contested ball and while Beaman didn't take the marks that have made him among the Division B&F's top vote-winners, he provided a strong body and won the ball often at ground level, while frequently being the target of several high contacts. Excellent forward pressure came from Dan Barker and Mark Morin, while Duff, Greg Bretiere and Jason Hodgson in the backline had the measure of their Central opponents. Again the Saints were inaccurate – and occasionally selfish – in front of goal but they managed another major through Theis and the favourites went into half-time up 2.6 to 0.1.

The Premiership Quarter belonged to the Province of Quebec. The Blues tried valiantly to even up the midfield matchups in the third quarter, but to no avail. Although coming off a down year, ruckman Matt Wood used deft touches to bring Graham, Pouessel and Haverhoek first use of the ball. They found the mad Irishman Ronan Shaughnessy and Oxley willing targets on the wings who then proceeded to tear the Central defence to shreds with raking, accurate entries into the forward 50. Confident they'd quelled Wilson, Blues coach Jaye Macumber chose to double-team the dangerous Beaman and almost instantly the Saints found Wilson leading strongly three times for two Captain's conversions. Shaughnessy then kicked the goal of the day while trapped in the right forward pocket, slotting it through after shrugging off two tackles. After weeks of stressing the importance of shepherding and protecting the ball carrier, the Blues were clearly unable to cope with the work ethic of a Saints team who for most of the season have looked much more comfortable offensively than defensively. The Premiership Quarter produced five Saints goals to one.

As the teams broke for three quarter time, the Blues were obviously rattled. They'd kicked one goal for the match via a 50-metre penalty and were looked very ragged. One of the Saints' bright hopes for the future Lagace came into the game in the second half as a sweeper and was able to produce run and stability from half back. As the minutes ticked away, the Saints coaches were able to relax until the final siren sounded with the Saints victorious 9.7.61 to 2.1.13. Haverhoek tireless performance on the ball saw him voted the Best on Ground, while retiring Coach and Administrator couple Luke and Dani Anderson were fittingly, charmingly chaired from the field.

Quebec Saints AFC 1.4 2.6 7.7 9.7.61

Central Blues AFC 0.0 0.1 1.1 2.1.13

Best: (Que): Haverhoek, Oxley, Duff, Shaughnessy, Poussel, Graham, Beaman.

Best: (Cen): Macumber, Gibson, Hastrich, Monero.

Goals: (Que): Wilson, Haverhoek, Shaughnessy 2, Oxley, Pouessel, Theis.

Goals: (Cen): Monero, Fraser.

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