By David Nagel

Relentless and ruthless domination has been the signature move of the Berwick Football Club in 2017 and the hallmark of its 47-point victory over Narre Warren at Holm Park Reserve on Saturday.
Grand final day provided rookie-coach Stewart Kemperman and his side with the perfect opportunity to rubber stamp an unbeaten season in the style it knows best – by sucking the life out of everything!
And it didn’t waste the occasion, producing a performance that showcased its eternal legacy of suffocating every living morsel in its path.
The Wickers squeezed the life out of the most potent attacking force in the competition, rendering it useless against the best defensive unit in the 13-year history of the league.
Some have come close, but no team has bettered the Wickers average concede of 44 points per game this season.
Narre Warren, well it had the better of the opening exchanges, looking sharp early, taking advantage of its red-hot form and the Wicker’s initial rustiness after a week off.
Stewart Scanlon led the way in the pressure stakes for the Magpies, who hit the scoreboard first through Dean Kelly.
But Berwick responded, and responded in the fashion of a great team, kicking the next eight goals and keeping the Magpies under wraps for close to an hour.
Tim Gunn launched the assault with two long bombs, aided by the breeze, followed by Jarrod Kemperman and Bryce Rutherford, before Will Arthurson’s goal made the biggest statement of the first term.
Not only did it kick the Wickers out to a 22-point lead, but space was found far too easily – the squeezing was starting to take its toll.
And Berwick’s second quarter, against a fading wind, was typical of its overall versatility this year.
Just as they did against Cranbourne in the second semi-final, the Wickers turned their attention from an open style of play to a more circumspect method around the stoppages.
Gun midfielders like Madi Andrews, Bryce Rutherford and James Magner absorbed the Magpies best shot, helped by the ruckwork of Kemperman and Andrew Morozoff, while defender Michael Johnson was starring in defence.
In the absence of the injured Michael Riseley – Johnson’s value was immeasurable.
Berwick kicked 2.3 to 0.3 in the second term to extend its margin to 35 points at half time and then began to tick down the clock to just the eighth premiership in the club’s history.
Rutherford went bang, answered by two quick salvos from Hayden Stagg, before Gunn and Ash Smith had the engravers ready and waiting.
Smith’s signature goal – clinical from long range at the 21-minute mark – broke the Magpies spirit, with goals to Arthurson and Harry Money finishing off the job. Gunn finished with four, and Money three for the winners, while skipper Andrews was a thoroughly deserving winner of the best-on-ground medal.
The last quarter, well it was the longest of Narre Warren coach Heath Black’s career.
“It was a great effort to get there but that last quarter was the longest quarter of my life,” Black explained.
“We tried to get a great team to stumble, we tried to apply external pressure, but their ability to absorb the pressure of going in unbeaten, to stick to their systems and defeat an opposition over 120 minutes, well it was very impressive to say the least.”
Black said several things stood out for him about Berwick on Saturday.
“We felt like we had our fair share of possession in the first half, but their defensive net killed us, they played an open game and built a lead before turning it into a stoppage war, and with two minutes to go they were still screaming at each other in the back line,” he said.
“A great defence, the ability to score, great structures and a willingness to work hard … what more can you say.”
As for Stewart Kemperman – well he thoroughly deserves the last word for the season.
A premiership in his first year of coaching, the moulding of a team that averaged 99 points for the season and conceded just 44 – eerily similar to Saturday’s scoreboard.
And only twice did they have 10 goals kicked against them this season – by unlikely sources in Doveton and Pakenham – while their two biggest challengers could kick no more than three goals against them in a quarter.
Statistically … the Wickers are as good as any team of the last 13 years.
“The defence is probably my little baby, but the credit goes to the players for buying into it,” Kemperman said.
“They’ve worked hard and they’ve brought it to life. I view this group extremely highly, that’s my internal view, but I want everyone external to the group to view them that way as well. It was a really good opportunity today to show people how great they are.”
The premiership coach said the loss of Riseley was disappointing, but sort of exemplified the importance of the team-first mentality that had been nurtured at the club.
“It’s a real shame for Riser, because he’s such a star as you say, and he certainly would have added some real value to our team,” Kemperman said.
“But throughout the year we’ve had a real team ethos on everything we do, the way we defend, the way we attack, it’s all built on team. Our job as coaches has been to give clarity to as many players as we can because at any given time you could be called upon to play a role … and that’s the boat Joey (Jo West) found himself in today.”
And the final message from the coach to his players?
“I could go through every player at the club, I couldn’t be prouder of them all,“ Kemperman said.
“And all the support from the club and my family, I’m forever indebted because all the hard work, from many people, has paid off. We’ve won a premiership together … and it feels fantastic.”


BERWICK                   5.1       7.4       13.8     15.9(99)

NARRE WARREN      1.2       1.5       3.6       5.12(42)

Berwick Goals: T. Gunn 4, H. Money 3, W. Arthurson 2, B. Rutherford 2, L. Jellyman-Turner, J. Kemperman, L. Sheppard, A. Smith. Best: M. Andrews, J. Magner, T. Gunn, B. Rutherford, A. Morozoff, M. Johnson.

Narre Warren Goals: H. Stagg 2, M. Soroczynski, J. Flannery, D. Kelly. Best: H. Stagg, D. Jackson, A. Hunter, M. Collins, J. Tonna, D. Quirk.

Best on ground medal: Madi Andrews (Berwick).




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