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By David Nagel

SOUTH EAST FOOTBALL NETBALL LEAGUE
REVIEW – PRELIMINARY FINAL – SENIORS
Narre Warren is peaking at precisely the right time of year and will fancy its chances against Berwick in this week’s grand final after a 48-point demolition job of Cranbourne in the preliminary final at Pakenham.
The Magpies turned around a five-goal loss to the Eagles in the qualifying final, a loss that saw coach Heath Black question whether his team was quick enough to match it with the big boys of the competition. He answered by making some brutal decisions that put his own neck on the chopping block.
“I told a few people in the box that day that we would not be returning with the same side when we played them again … I knew that during the game,” Black explained after Saturday’s big win.
“It was a massive week for me after that, to call my brother (Jace Kelly), Col McNamara, Sam McLean and Troy Mengler all in the space of 45 minutes, it made me dry reach in the toilet, that’s how hard it was for me.
“People don’t see that shit, and that’s what it was, it was really difficult for me. But it came down to what I needed to do as coach, I didn’t want any exterior help, I wanted to do it myself and if it went wrong it would all be on me.”
The Magpies, who will be chasing their first premiership since 2013, played a scintillating brand of long and direct football, smashing the Eagles aside with a seven-goal-to-one first quarter.
The Magpies had six on the board in the blink of an eye, with Dylan Quirk, Aaron Wilson, Michael Collins, Luke Cody, Jack Soroczynski, and Cody again, capitalising on a free-flowing conveyance of the Sherrin.
Luke Bee-Hugo finally answered for the Eagles before Collins – who was clearly best afield in the first term – put the icing on the cake with a clinical finish from outside 50.
Cranbourne’s resilience is unquestionable, but their expected revival never eventuated – the Magpies building their 38-point lead at quarter time to 43 at the main break before extending to 59 at three-quarter time.
Black was understandably excited after hearing his club’s theme song belted out in front of a packed change rooms after the match.
“The club was definitely challenged on field earlier in the year and to see that many people in the rooms, with that much passion, it just means a lot that we’ve given ourselves a chance to do something special next week,” Black said.
Collins was absolutely magnificent for the Magpies, desperate for a seventh premiership as he enters the twilight of his career.
“When you’re the other side of 28, you have the desire and passion that an 18, 19, 20-year-old just doesn’t have,” Black said.
“The young blokes expect that it will come easy, the opportunity to play in grand finals, but the reality is they come along sparingly. Collo’s had success before but he knows how hard it is to get back to grand final day.
“I still give him little things to work on. I gave him one thing to work on today and he went out and did it fantastically. He’s an old fashioned, six foot three bloke with a 103 kilo frame … what an absolute gun.”
Freakish midfielder Josh Tonna was also superb for the Magpies, while Hayden Stagg and skipper Quirk benefitted greatly from the work of Trent Papworth in the ruck.
And Wilson, well he went where no man has gone before, kicking four goals to have the better of Cranbourne champion Brandon Osborne.
“He’s the in-form forward of the competition and I see him, if he hung around in local footy, as the next (Marc) Holt, and I really mean that,” was Black’s lavish praise of Wilson.
“He’s got speed, his kicking at goal probably needs to improve a little, but he flies for his marks and he is definitely in red-hot form right now.”
And another key feature of the victory was the closeness of the Magpies backline, with Andrew Hunter taking on a leadership role, encouraging his team-mates both during the game, and at all three changes of ends.
“We all take the micky out of Hunts, and every team needs someone like that, but when it comes down to it he’s a competitive beast who hates to get beaten,” Black said.
“And yes, he holds his team-mates accountable; he gives them a spray, which means I don’t have to do it.”
The Magpies had winners all over the park, knocking Cranbourne out of a season before grand final day for the first time since 2010.
Zak Roscoe was lively, and Dillan Bass capped off a great season with some penetrating runs from half back, but that was about it for the Eagles, who miss will star forward Marc Holt for the first two weeks of 2018 after he was reported for striking Quirk.
The Eagles are done and dusted, but for the Magpies a first-ever grand final confrontation with Berwick awaits.
They’re playing their best football right now … bring on the big dance!

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