By Russell Bennett
HEART. Spirit. Unflinching belief. The ultimate pride in the jumper and what it represents.
These things are immeasurable, but somehow the boys from Nar Nar Goon have them in spades.
There was a sense even before the first bounce at Spencer Street earlier today (Sunday) that another unforgettable chapter was about to be written into the story of Nar Nar Goon’s rivalry with Kooweerup, but nobody could have expected what was about to unfold.
The two sides, which have two of the largest, most diehard supporter bases of any club in the Ellinbank and District Football League, fought out a tense and physical elimination final at Buln Buln last season, and in their one and only game in this home and away season Kooweerup found a way to edge ahead by the smallest of margins – a single point.
This unforgettable do-or-die semi-final produced the same margin, this time the Goon’s way – 7.8 (50) to 7.7 (49).
Much like the Goon’s clash with Neerim Neerim South last week, this was a genuine scrap – a low-scoring arm wrestle. It was also one hell of a battle of attrition, and it was gripping until the very end.
Star Goon forward Luke McConnell injured his knee in a contest near the boundary late in the second, and soon after as he converted a shot on goal it gave way completely. He has been sensational for his side this season – buying in to the spirit of the group almost instantly along with a host of other new faces, but this injury looked nasty. He won’t take any further part in the Goon’s campaign, and the same fate looks to await the side’s stand-in skipper, the vitally important and much-loved Chris Adams (dislocated shoulder).
The Goon – particularly in their defensive half – were under huge strain for large parts of the contest, but they stood strong.
The Demons were brave in their own right but lacked composure when they needed it most in key stages, and when they had the bulk of the possession for minutes on end struggled to convert that into genuine scoreboard pressure.
Matt ‘Yogi’ Cameron – in so many ways the heart and soul of the Demons – was enormous for his side, even more than his physical stature would suggest. After Scott Houghton was knocked out in a tackle early in the third quarter, Cameron almost refused to be beaten. He seemed like a man possessed and left every single ounce of energy he had out on that ground. Tireless key defender Craig Dyker – another in that heart and soul mold – was also inspirational, but so too were the likes of youngsters Travis Bindley and Liam Hetherington in a particularly encouraging sign for the Demons’ future.
One of the most telling moments in the contest was an ankle injury to the Gippsland Power’s Nathan Voss late in the second quarter. The young Kooweerup star loomed every bit the game breaker for his side, and with him off the ground and unable to take any further part in the game, the Demons lacked that x-factor on the outside. Both sides lost two key pieces to injury, but it was the Goon who were able to cope better.
Voss’ Power team mate Trent Armour was enormous for the Goon, particularly in the second half. His line-breaking run and clean disposal was absolutely vital for his side, while centre-half forward Matt Stevens showed what an unbelievable work rate he has for a man his size. He was matched up on one of the best key defenders in the league in Brodie Yapp – who also had a real impact for his own side – and Stevens kept fighting tooth and nail for the boys in blue and white. Tyler Payroli was tasked with arguably the toughest job in the league – trying to quell the influence of man mountain Mitch Collins (three goals). Despite being outsized, he refused to be outworked and his efforts were brilliant. Tough as nails midfielder Josh Grant, the full of run Jarrod Mills-Franklin and key back Jesse Cribbes were also instrumental along with the likes of Nick Henwood, Trent Noy and player-coach Kris Fletcher – who was almost at a complete loss for words to describe his side’s effort in emotional scenes in the rooms after the game as he paid tribute to McConnell and Adams in particular.
The colossal task of a fired up Bunyip awaits the Goon next week, and it’s one that – logically – seems insurmountable. But that’s the thing with this group – nothing really is. Never write these boys off.
Click below for two videos – the first of the boys from the Goon belting out their song in front of their adoring faithful, and the second of coach Kris Fletcher’s emotional speech to the room.