On Saturday 15 September 2018 the Demon Reserves came up against Minor Premiers Sydney University at Blacktown ISP. Penno undoubtedly went in as under-dogs, but that’s how we like it. After a solid win over North Shore in the Preliminary final, the Demons were looking sharp and would be up to the challenge. On the other hand, Sydney University, after comprehensively beating the Demons in the second Semi a fortnight ago, were likely to be cocky and would be expecting to win. With the week off and the risk of complacency they might just have been at their most vulnerable.
After the H&A season, although Uni finished Minor Premiers, Pennant Hills were statistically the best offensive side in the competition as well as the most miserly defensive unit. The Demons had a great chance to record a memorable milestone.
Some Reserve Grade Grand Final History
Since entering the first grade competition in 1977, the Pennant Hills Reserves have previously played in nine Grand Finals. The first two, 1994 and 1996, resulted in Flags. In every other Grand Final played before today’s match, Penno Reserves have been runners-up. Incredibly, three of those losses (and the 1996 win) were by a single point and the most recent result, was a one point loss to Sydney University in 2015. Uni had finished 5th that year and for Penno, it was the ‘One that got away!’
In this weekend’s re-match of the 2015 Grand Final, there will be eight Penno players who also played in the previous meeting, plus the current Coach, Jason Clarke, and including Jake Gunstone who was Captain of the 2015 squad. Veteran goalkickers Anthony Brawn and Sam Zikman will be lynchpins again this year, as they were in 2015.
So, with the last premiership won in 1996, it was now more than two decades since Penno won a Reserve Grade flag. There’s an urban myth that the Demons Reserves were jinxed (the Silva Monahan curse from 1996?) and certainly many at the Club carry the scars of past battles lost. The time was ripe for the Demons to break this hoodoo. Like their club-mates in the victorious Division One side, our Ressies were up against the Minor Premiers Sydney University. Penno were the underdogs, but the players and Coach Clarke had a plan for beating the odds and there was a quiet confidence that a four quarter effort by all the boys would put an end to the curse that has plagued the club for so long! Redemption was at hand!
Season 2018 – New Horizons
Well before the start of the season Clarkey knew they were on to something special when Slammer Widmer and a number of others came to him early on, full of hope and anticipation for a big year for the Reserves and arguably there would not be a better opportunity to ‘go all the way’ in 2018. This infectious enthusiasm got a hold of Clarkey very early on and the team played with an intent and belief in their ability to be premiers in season 2018.
Director of Coaching, Michael Cousens, was invited to speak to the team pre-game. He exhorted them to ignore the chequered history … forget the past, the seven losses over the past 22 years, you’re not responsible for that and it shouldn’t affect your belief today. For this group of players ‘history starts today!’ Ýou’ve got all the right ingredients for success. Quoting Kevin Sheedy he reminded the boys that ‘it’s all 3 above the shoulders now’ and ‘don’t make it about you, it’s all about the team.’ When it’s over, it becomes about you and your team-mates.
The Premier Division Reserve Grand Final was the first match of Grand Final Day 2018, starting at 10.00 am on Saturday, 15 September 2018. The Reserve Grade GF was played in sunny conditions with no discernible wind advantage. The temperature at the start was 23oC, however, an unseasonably hot day of + 30oC was forecast … ‘Springtime had arrived early in the West!’
A good Penno following was already in attendance and the Demons were destined to play in front of a “boisterous and enthusiastic” crowd. The Students were in their traditional yellow and blue hoops. It was a beautiful day at Blacktown and the weather was being kind for the biggest day in football. Commentators for the Reserves GF were Jono Farr, Ben Eisenhuth and Molly Gray. For Jono Farr, the match was shaping up as a ‘barn-burner, to start things today!’
Demon’s Captain, Pat Witt, won the toss and elected to run to the Eastern Road end in the opening term. Penno’s bench and a swelling crowd of the Demons Faithful were also at the Eastern Road end.
First quarter – Missed Opportunities
Jimmy Carroll took the first tap, starting in the ruck for the Demons. Penno made the first clearance and had the first inside 50 but it was Uni that managed the first score, a point, when a snap from close range cannoned into the post … it ‘cracked off the paintwork … he maybe panicked a bit’. Uni added a second behind from a long range bomb ‘it just trickled through for a behind’ and, after 5 minutes, their lead was 2 points, 2 to 0. The commentators noted that it was a ‘pretty hostile environment.’
In the early going, for Penno fans, there was concern with the ease that Uni were running through the centre and bad memories of the Preliminary final were surfacing. That day, only a short fortnight ago, Uni had run rings around the Demons and Penno was comprehensively beaten. The first priority today, was to stop this happening again. For Molly Gray ‘… Uni have come out firing and are really starting to assert themselves.’
Mitch Trenaman, distinctive in his protective head-gear, did some good early defending, including earning a free for a high tackle from a Uni opponent. Also in the early going, Brandon Buyink earned a holding the ball decision on the far wing and the ball found its way to Pat Witt who kicked a long bomb from inside the centre square. It floated goal-ward, over the pack that had formed just in front of the goal-line, but the ball took an off-break when it landed and slid past the right hand goal post for Penno’s opening score. For the commentators it was a ‘nice looking kick from Patty Witt … he’s kicked it into next week, so keep an eye on him, the Captain of the Demons.’ ‘The Demons are certainly lifting.’
Penno were able to rebound the kick-in which fell to Adam Nixon, but Nixo’s wild kick flew OB in the right hand forward pocket. Already ‘the crowd have been unbelievable and they’ve really picked it up.’ Uni then ran the ball forward but couldn’t quite get the room for a deliberate shot on goal. From a Penno re-bound, the ball ended with a ball-up on centre wing. From the ball-up Penno took the ball forward, ending with a rushed behind. Scores were even and for the commentators, it was ‘absolute end-to-end footy … and I’m loving this!’
With the ‘Demons working it nicely,’ a long bomb by Booker Turner gave Penno a slender lead for the first time at around the 8 ½ minute mark. He ‘sprayed it wide’ for the Demon’s third point. Uni’s kick-in then went out without being touched and from the free kick, Riley Miedler delivered the ball lace-out to Harry Maguire who marked 25 out. ‘Harry Maguire has the chance to kick the first major of the Grand Final.’. Unfortunately, he could only manage a behind, a poster ‘… once again, it smacks off the paintwork, it’s just a behind.’ Penno by 2 points, 4 – 2.
Both teams have had ‘plenty of chances’ but neither team has been able to kick a goal yet. It’s a ‘worrying sign’ for Penno as the Demons had plenty of the ball but hadn’t been able to convert their possession into any goals. Sydney Uni had done nothing but tackle and the commentators were already pondering how Uni would cope with the fatigue later in the match.
From a Uni kick-in Joel Cousens took a great contested overheard mark and pumped the ball back, deep into the Penno forward line. A Uni forward push was then repulsed by some poised Demons defence and Booker Turner provided an easy outlet and kicked wide to the 50. Under pressure from a Uni defender, Harry Maguire dropped a contested marking opportunity on the near-side boundary. ‘It’s been all the Demons for the past five minutes, they really need six points, they need that goal!’
It’s two points the margin to Penno, and the ‘frustration is starting to boil over.’ Then there’s ‘some clever work’ by Sam Zikman to hold the ball in the Demon’s forward 50. Then Uni gets some space and a long bomb from an uncontested mark floated into their 50, before tailing out to the pocket where Mitch Blow delivered an excellent sliding bump to win the one-on-one contest with his opponent, Oliver Wexlar (#37).
The Demons are now under ‘some pressure’. At around the 14 minute mark, Uni’s Luke Freemantle (#29) found space and kicked to a leading Wexlar who marked at around 25 out, pretty much straight in front. Ironically it was Sydney Uni that kicked the opening goal aftersome ‘nice forward pressure from the Students.’ So, the first major of the morning went to the Students and they led it by 4 points. ‘That will really, really hurt the Pennant Hills Demons.’ The scrambling defence of Uni had been rewarded with the first goal … ‘more worrying signs for the Demons!’ With all their possession, the Demons should have kicked two or three goals, but couldn’t even kick one.
Uni got the very next clearance and a shot on goal went wide and out for a throw-in; the momentum had changed and Uni were now looking the more likely to score. Then an inside 50 by Nick Low missed Brawny and ran out for a throw-in in the forward pocket. Shortly after, another inside 50, this time by Mitch Trenaman from a free kick, fell to Adam Nixon, but Adam’s kick went OB for a second time again. For the commentators, if the Demons, ‘keep missing these opportunities, then they’re not going to win the game, let alone go close.’
The rest of the quarter was played out as a stalemate, both teams getting one genuine scoring opportunity. Some ‘great contact by Nicholas Low’ was noted ‘… very physical!’ The final passage of play featured Jake Gunstone (‘Gun-Stone’) executing a textbook smoother on the wing. He was able to run onto the ball and kick it inside 50, but unfortunately his kick went OB just as the siren sounded for quarter time.
Despite the majority of the play in Pennant Hill’s forward half, the Demons just couldn’t find the goals. For the commentators it was the Students ‘scrambling’ defence that was the difference. Penno simply had no room or time to capitalise on their forward dominance. In spite of this, it was an encouraging start for Penno and the deficit was only 4 points. The game definitely remained in the balance and didn’t look like becoming a blow-out either way … so both teams were still in the running.
Quarter time: Sydney University 1.2-8 lead Pennant Hills 0.4-4.
Second quarter – On the board at last, but still behind!
Uni lead by 4 points and won the first clearance of the second quarter … ‘will the Demons spoil the party?’
For Molly Gray … ‘the Demons keep making little mistakes … they’re rushing things and pushing too hard.’
Early on, a minor fracas broke out on centre wing right under the grandstand awning … ‘there’s a bit of push and shove … aw jeez, there was a punch thrown there … Luke Turner, he was ripping and tearing.’ And, Adam Nixon, ‘he’s tough and he’s angry’ and ‘there’s a bit of feeling in this … how good is this?’
Jono Farr, getting into the spirit, acclaimed that ‘… the Blue, the Donnybrook, the Stink … whatever you want to call it … a bit of knuckle in footy!’
After a tight start to the quarter, Uni were first to score, kicking their second goal from a mark 20 out directly in front. The goal was scored by Braydon Pilot (#41) after marking a mongrel punt from team-mate Matt Akehurst (#14). Uni by 10 points.
Then in the 6th minute, the drought broke for Penno when Jake Gunstone (‘Gun-Stone’) collected a loose ball 20 out, ‘with brilliant hands’ grabbing a ricochet off a Uni defender. He had the presence of mind to turn, steady and slotted the ball through for the Demon’s first major … ‘wonderfully worked and listen to that ROAR! They loved every single bit of that goal’. Penno trail by 4 points and ‘it’s what they needed to get into this game.’ (GOAL #1 – GUNSTONE)
In the next passage of play, Pat Witt ran down a Uni defender and earned a free kick just outside 50. He should have got a 50 metre penalty when the ball didn’t get given back to him properly, however, the umpire seemed to miss the indiscretion … ‘Uni got away with one there.’ Unfortunately, Pat’s kick was a mongrel punt and was easily marked by a Uni defender.
A centring kick from Kieren Wright landed in the safe hands of Anthony Brawn who took his first kick at goal from just on 50 metres. With the commentators making ‘brains vs brawn’ jokes, Brawny’s kick went left and fell short in the pocket. Uni’s clearance went straight to Kieron Coaldrake who marked, played on and popped a short pass across at an angle. It went through a couple of hands before landing with Drew Messenger … ‘the kid with three names … Drew Aaron Messenger’ … who neatly dobbed the ball through the goals, kicking across his body from about 30 out in the pocket. ‘The Demons have just come over the top, they’re absolutely flying … they can hear their Tragics, their fans, cheering from the grand stand.’ The Demons lead by 2 points. ‘Hasn’t this game just been turned on its head?’ (GOAL #2 – MESSENGER)
Then, around the 12 minute mark, another inside 50 by Kieran Wright landed with Brawny in the clear in the right hand pocket. Taking possession of the ball, Brawny stepped around his opponent, straightened up and dobbed the ball through for the first of his three goals for the day, on the run from about 30 out. Penno were 7 on a roll and at the 15 minute mark of the second term they had established a lead of 8 points. Penno 3.4- 22 lead Uni 2.2-14. (GOAL #3 – BRAWN)
When Kieron Coaldrake received a free kick from a ruck infringement, he squandered the opportunity for another inside 50 entry when he took too long to dispose of the ball and he was caught holding it on centre wing. One of the Demons then encroached the kicker’s protected zone and Uni received a 50 metre penalty to bring them within goal-scoring range. Kicking from about 40 out, Luke Fremantle tugged his kick to the left, resulting in one point only.
Another free kick to Kiz Coaldrake, this time on our defensive 50, and Penno prepared for another clearance. But Kiz duffed his short pass and the contested ball eventually found its way to Uni’s Seb Trevaskis (#5) who kicked a running goal from about 40 out. ‘The Demons really shot themselves in the foot by going laterally.’ All of a sudden, the tide had turned again, and Penno’s lead was back to only one point, 22 to 21. It was inside the quarter’s red time and ‘Sydney Uni just wont go away!’
Then during a late forward flurry by Uni, Kiz Wright was late with an attempted spoil and was penalised 50 metres ‘… a crucial mistake … literally, on the stroke of half-time!’ It brought Nik Dale (#16) within 20 metres and he kicked an easy goal, Uni’s fourth. Uni had the lead back and ‘you don’t give Uni a sniff in any code!’
Penno then conceded another 50 metre penalty for a late tackle and the free kick ended in the arms of Nik Dale (#16) again, this time in the opposite pocket about 45 out on the angle. Kicking from the ‘difficult corner’, he had an opportunity to kick Uni’s fifth goal, but it went across the face for one point only. Uni by 6 points.
Referring to these three incidents at half-time, Coach Clarke was more dismayed than cross, as the indiscretions were so out of character for the team this season. His message was clear … we had to be more disciplined!
In the dying moments, Penno got a rushed behind and then Pat Witt received another holding the ball free in his favour, ‘a ball’n all tackle,’ just outside the 50. However, his centring kick was marked by Uni. Uni, on the re-bound, got another inside 50 but, once again, the Demon’s sweeper, Kieran Wright, cleaned up. At the main break Uni lead by 5 points.
Half time: Sydney University 4.4-28 lead Pennant Hills 3.5-23
Third quarter – Brawn delivers and Gunner goes BANG!
At the start of the second half, Uni led by 5 points and it was 28oC. ‘Well, haven’t we got an exciting second half coming up?’
Pat Witt got an early free to send the Demons into attack. Adam Nixon, playing in front, took a strong grab inside the first minute about 35 out, directly in front. So far, Nixo’s had two shots at goal for no result. This one, his third shot, slid right for one behind. ‘Good early signs for the Demons,’ nonetheless. Uni so far has been able to capitalise on their inside 50s, Penno has struggled to make the most of their opportunities.