Wan­garatta thirds through to the de­cider from fifth

Wangaratta Chronicle - - Sport - By CAM POT­TER

WAN­GARATTA Mag­pies are into a fourth straight Ovens and Mur­ray thirds grand fi­nal fol­low­ing an out­stand­ing last quar­ter fight back against Yar­ra­wonga yes­ter­day, win­ning the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal by 13 points.

The Pi­geons and Mag­pies split their meet­ings this year, Wan­garatta took the round four match up by 11 points, be­fore Yar­ra­wonga stormed home to win by 14 points.

Yes­ter­day’s match at Bun­ton Park had plenty of feel­ing and after play­ing two elec­tric games of foot­ball so far in this year’s fi­nals se­ries ques­tions were asked if the Mag­pies’ form could hold, and at the start the Pi­geons looked the bet­ter team.

Wan­garatta’s mid­field­ers were caught watch­ing the ball, and the un­ac­count­able play and Yar­ra­wonga’s early in­ten­sity caught the Mag­pies off guard as the Pi­geons skipped ahead to a 5.1 (31) to 2.2 (14) quar­ter time lead.

Mag­pies coach Mark McDon­ald willed his troops to lift their tackle pres­sure, and to be smarter with the foot­ball.

And they re­sponded.

Wan­garatta booted 1.3 to Yar­ra­wonga’s 0.3 but it was the de­fen­sive ef­fort, the spread from the stop­pages and the first op­tion hand­ball that set up the Mag­pies go­ing for­ward.

Head­ing into half­time 11 points down, the Mag­pies were up­beat and after a quick rest were ready to hit the ground run­ning in the third term.

A 3.2 to 2.3 term to Yar­ra­wonga ex­tended the mar­gin out to 16 points at three quar­ter time as the Pi­geons looked to roll on.

Yar­ra­wonga didn’t ex­pect Wan­garatta to find an ex­tra gear in the last quar­ter like they did and through sheer will the Mag­pies burst back into the game.

Wan­garatta to that point of the game had kicked 5.8, and reg­is­tered an in­ac­cu­rate 5.7 in the fi­nal quar­ter while keep­ing Yar­ra­wonga goal­less un­til the last two min­utes of the game to run out com­fort­able 13-point win­ners, 10.15 (75) to 9.8 (62).

“We switched to a smaller for­ward line in the sec­ond half,” McDon­ald said.

“It made us use the foot­baller smarter by util­is­ing the short op­tion and valu­ing pos­ses­sion.

“We just worked harder from the sec­ond quar­ter on­wards as well, our mids re­ally fired in the sec­ond half and our backs were solid.”

Frazer Judd booted two goals, Harry Smart was classy again and nailed two op­por­tu­ni­ties while six other Mag­pies kicked one goal each.

“We had a num­ber of even con­tri­bu­tions but Xav Wales was out­stand­ing around the ground with some very strong marks; he just found him­self in the right po­si­tions and had a fan­tas­tic fi­nal term,” McDon­ald said.

“Lochie Houri­gan was strong all game, he punched the ball hard and then cleaned it up; he kicked the ball cleanly off half back.

“Fraser El­lis’ run and carry was su­perb, he broke lines and was a strong link be­tween de­fence and for­ward.”

Wan­garatta will now take on Al­bury in the grand fi­nal on Satur­day at Lav­ing­ton Sports Ground.

Wan­garatta’s thirds have made it to the grand fi­nal ev­ery year since 2011, ex­cept in 2013 when they lost in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal, and have won four of the six pre­mier­ships con­tested in that time.

PHOTO: Marc Bongers

ON SONG: Lachie Houri­gan was one of Wan­garatta’s best play­ers yes­ter­day.

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