Titans’ maiden top flight triumph a ‘stepping stone’

Kayden Buselli celebrates one of his three goals with his Berwick Springs teammates in Saturday's win. 409034 Picture: ROB CAREW

By Marcus Uhe

The monkey is finally off the back for Berwick Springs.

It took seven weeks, but the Titans have broken through for a maiden win in the Outer East Football Netball Premier Division, sneaking home by three points against Olinda Ferny Creek, 6.6 42 to 4.15 39.

Executing for four quarters has been the Titans’ Achilles heel in 2024, with each game seeing them drop the ball for a detrimental quarter, resulting in a winless opening to the season.

Two weeks ago on the same venue, they led for the duration of the afternoon before a final quarter collapse saw Mt Evelyn make the trip back up the hill with the four points.

Post-game, a frustrated Hayden Stagg lamented a deviation from the game plan and structures that netted his side the early lead, and delivered some ‘hard truths’.

While back in round one, a 20-point lead as they turned for home against Gembrook Cockatoo finished a stunning eight-point loss, as the fitter Brookers powered home with a brilliant last quarter.

The spectre of heartbreak loomed again, with the Bloods taking a slender lead into the final term, and with momentum at their backs, thanks to a third quarter in which they kicked three goals to Berwick Springs’ one, as the Titans’ forward pressure fell away.

But this game was different, and coach Hayden Stagg refused to let them relinquish this opportunity.

“We said that today’s the day we’re going to play four quarters and stick to the game plan,” Stagg told his troops at three-quarter-time.

“It was very good during the quarter, the boys kept sticking to it, but when there were times that they weren’t going towards the game plan, we got out there and made sure we got to every line to promote our game plan and keep going to it.

“It will be a great stepping stone for the club to show that we can be a part of this league, and we can be not just a rollover team.”

A tense final term saw the visitors kick six behinds, while Kayden Buselli and Jett Kearney held their nerve with two decisive goals that saw the Titans regain the lead twice.

It made for tough viewing for Stagg and his co-coach Chris Johnson from the sidelines, but only intensified the elation upon the final siren.

“I was just thinking, ‘don’t kick one, please’”, Stagg said.

“Some of them were quite good quality shots – on any other day they might have kicked them it would be a different story but on the day it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I think sometimes points can be contagious really, it’s a snowball effect.

“I wouldn’t say we’re lucky, but at the same time, we’re lucky.”

A spate of injuries has forced the rookie coaches to dig deep into their bag of tricks, spinning the magnets and throwing players into new positions to fill gaps.

Award-winning key defender Riley Hillman was thrown forward, kicking one goal and giving another route to the big sticks, taking pressure of Kearney and Buselli, who kicked one and three goals respectively.

Matthew Soutter-Smith, another lynchpin in the backline, was thrown on ball, in the absence of Stagg, Johnson and Justin Markulija.

Both were critical to the win, and gives the coaching panel another string to their bow later in the season.

“He (Soutter-Smith) was the next name up in that midfield group and he did very well in the Wandin game,” Stagg said.

“He showed some promise as well during the preseason games and it was something we always had in the back of our mind that we could go to if we needed to.

‘Hilly’ (Hillman) was an idea that we toyed with last year but we never executed.

“Now that we’ve done well recruiting down back, it’s allowed us to actually play him up forward.

“We tried that and we all believe it worked quite well.”

Taking a win off a side pushing for a spot in the top four, on the back of Emerald’s victory last week in similar circumstances against Upwey Tecoma, provides yet another reminder of the fine margins in the Premier Division.

Stagg hopes the win will instill belief in the side, and with reinforcements expected after the log weekend, in Johnson and Markulija, there’s optimism for the second half of the season.

“If you look back at the results and the ladder, there’s not much between fifth and the bottom, it’s only one or two games.

“There’s some good teams out there and we’ve still got a lot to work on, but you always want to have that promise and you want to have that belief in the boys, for sure.”

Stagg and his Titans head to Kalora Park on Saturday to tackle Narre Warren.