Vic Country fell just short of securing its first NAB AFL Under-18 Championships title since 2015 at Marvel Stadium on Wednesday, losing a thriller to Western Australia by five points in what was effectively the carnival’s grand final.
Country trailed by 31 points midway through the second quarter but fought back to hit the lead for the first time in the match with less than three minutes of play remaining, before WA’s Regan Clarke nailed a set-shot goal with the last kick of the game.
Both teams finished the Under-18 Championships on three wins, but WA claimed its first title since 2009 thanks to Wednesday’s head-to-head victory.
Head coach Leigh Brown’s Country team previously defeated Vic Metro by 13 points, the Allies by 97 points and then reigning champion SA by one point – when Brodie Kemp (Bendigo Pioneers) also sealed victory via a final-kick major – before this loss, with co-captain and Gippsland Power midfielder Caleb Serong subsequently named its MVP of the Championships.
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Country was made to pay for a lacklustre first half against WA, which was dominant at stoppages, clean with the ball moving forward and full of defensive intensity without the ball. If it wasn’t for the intercepting ability of Sam De Koning (Dandenong Stingrays) in the back line, Country’s 18-point deficit at quarter-time could have been much greater.
The trend of the game continued early in the second stanza until Ned Cahill (Dandenong) slotted Country’s first goal of the match 15 minutes into the term, with the drive from defence of co-captain Lachlan Ash (Murray Bushrangers) meaning WA was unable to fully capitalise on its control of the contest before half time.
A classy crumbing goal to Cody Weightman (Dandenong) shortly after the resumption of play threatened to be a momentum-shifter. With Brock Smith (Gippsland Power) winning key contests in defence and Sam Flanders (Gippsland) doing so through the middle, Country started eating into WA’s lead. Two set-shot majors to Kemp helped reduce the margin to 11 points at the last change.
Despite fatigue setting in during the final term, Country continued pushing forward with Serong, Hayden Young (Dandenong) and Isaac Wareham (GWV Rebels) stepping up as key playmakers. Among several missed chances inside 50, goals to Charlie Comben (Gippsland) and then Cahill saw Country edge in front, only for Clarke’s hammer blow to snatch the glory back for WA.
In the second leg of Wednesday’s Marvel Stadium double-header, the Allies fought bravely but ultimately couldn’t recover from a poor first half in a 17-point loss to South Australia. The Allies trailed by as much as 34 points in the second quarter but twice reduced their deficit to under two goals in the second half, only for SA to steady each time.
The Allies finish with one win from their four Championships games – against Vic Metro by two points on Friday – and head coach Luke Power named tough GWS Giants Academy midfielder Tom Green as his team’s MVP after Wednesday’s defeat. SA finished its campaign with a record of 2-2 and was the only team to beat title-winner Western Australia (an 11-point triumph in Round 2).
Vic Metro completed its 2019 Championships last week with one victory – over South Australia by 17 points in Round 3 – and three losses, with versatile tall defender Fischer McAsey (Sandringham Dragons) taking home the team’s MVP award.
This year’s AFL Under-18 All Australian Team will be announced on Thursday.
VIC COUNTRY 0.3 1.4 4.6 6.10 (46)
WESTERN AUSTRALIA 3.3 5.5 6.5 7.9 (51)
Vic Country: B. Kemp (Bendigo) 2, N. Cahill (Dandenong) 2, C. Weightman (Dandenong), C. Comben (Gippsland)
- S. Flanders (Gippsland): 24 disposals, five marks, seven clearances, six tackles
- L. Ash (Murray): 22 disposals, eight rebound-50s
- H. Young (Dandenong): 22 disposals, five tackles, three rebound-50s
- B. Smith (Gippsland): 18 disposals, three rebound-50s
- J. Rantall (GWV): 18 disposals, three clearances
- B. Kemp: 17 disposals, five marks, five inside-50s
- S. De Koning (Dandenong): 16 disposals, five marks, three rebound-50s
- C. Serong (Gippsland): 16 disposals, 11 tackles, three clearances
- R. Sparkes (Gippsland): 15 disposals, five marks, three clearances
- E. Hollands (Murray): 14 disposals, seven tackles, four inside-50s
- C. Wild (Murray): 14 disposals, four inside-50s
- I. Wareham (GWV): 13 disposals, five marks
SOUTH AUSTRALIA 3.3 6.5 7.10 9.12 (66)
ALLIES 1.1 2.2 5.5 7.7 (49)
Allies: N. Cumberland (Brisbane Academy) 2, M. Rosas (Northern Territory) 2, E. Gulden (Sydney Academy), C. Budarick (Gold Coast Academy), M. McGrory (GWS Academy)
- T. Green (GWS Academy): 23 disposals, seven tackles, six clearances, three rebound-50s
- A. Crossley (Gold Coast Academy): 22 disposals, six clearances
- C. Budarick: 21 disposals, eight tackles
- N. Cumberland: 18 disposals, four inside-50s
- M. O’Neill (Tasmania): 16 disposals
- S. Thorne (Sydney Academy): 15 disposals, five tackles
- H. Oea (Gold Coast Academy): 15 disposals, six tackles, five inside-50s
- W. Martyn (Brisbane Academy): 13 disposals, five marks
- L. Parks (Sydney Academy): 12 disposals, three rebound-50s
- J. Lucas (GWS Academy): 12 disposals, seven tackles
- B. Jungfer (Northern Territory): 10 disposals, seven tackles, four inside-50s
- B. Kelly (Murray): nine disposals, 29 hitouts