Thunder strike twice at Subi’s swansong
Peel held on to beat Subiaco by 16 points in an absorbing WAFL grand final in the last football game at Domain Stadium on Sunday. A Thunder side boosted by a big Fremantle Dockers contingent were too good in the wet, with Luke Ryan taking the 2017 Simpson Medal.
The State’s youngest league team has farewelled WA football’s grandest ground in style after Peel won their second consecutive flag in the last match at Subiaco Oval.
While most of the 18,180-strong crowd were urging Subiaco to see off their century-old home with victory, Peel’s strength under pressure proved critical in the 16-point result.
Peel’s 11.6 (72) was the lowest winning grand final score since East Perth scored one point fewer in 1972. But the inaccurate Lions kicked themselves out of the match by scoring 7.14 (56).
Peel president Bob Ryan said the match was the perfect way to see off Subiaco Oval given the intensity of the contest, in which the lead changed four times in the last term.
“It was the best game played here in a long, long while,” Ryan said after 109 years and 2053 games at WAFL, AFL, State and national league level at the ground.
“When people remember Subiaco Oval, maybe they will remember the last match played here.
“And the second win is always harder because you have everyone coming at you, as Subi did today.”
Peel coach Cam Shepherd praised his players for making a choice to stand up when they were challenged strongly by Subiaco in the third term.
The Lions were looking to build on a 13-point lead late in the third quarter, but a stunning defensive display from young Docker Luke Ryan, who won the Simpson Medal as best on ground, helped Peel resist the surge and regain the premiership momentum.
Ruckman Sean Darcy also had a remarkable match in which he delivered a WAFL record 73 hitouts.
Ryan was one of 15 Fremantle players in the team, a cohort of AFL talent that provided the most contentious issue in the WAFL this season. But Shepherd said it was a mark of the quality of the disparate playing groups that they gelled so well and ultimately delivered the club another flag.
“We are one united group,” Shepherd said.
“We are a young footy club but we merge well together. We were down on personnel today, we were down on the scoreboard and down on inside-50s and we had the opportunity to make a choice — to either dig in or choose to let things go.
“The beauty of this side is that they continually choose to dig in.”
Zac Dawson’s senior career ended on a mixed note after six years with Fremantle during which he became one of the game’s most polarising players.
Dawson kicked the first goal of the last game at Subiaco Oval but soon damaged an ankle and finished the opening half and his career on crutches.
His absence robbed Peel of rotations but the slack was picked up by his teammates, who refused to buckle and remained unbeaten in the finals series for the second successive season.
Veteran Rory O’Brien, Peel’s games record holder, said the win was sweeter than last year. O’Brien almost did not take his place in the game. His wife Ebony was due to have their third child last Wednesday and the veteran rover would have withdrawn if she went into labour before noon yesterday.
“We had a 12 o’clock cut off but she hung on,” O’Brien said. “The second flag is much sweeter.
“Everyone wrote us off and said we would never go back-to-back, but we did.”
Peel pair Traye Bennell and Gerald Ugle celebrate in front of dejected Lion Leigh Kitchin.