Koo Wee Rup skipper Tim Miller has spoken about the surreal circumstances that led to his side qualifying for the 2019 Alex Scott & Staff finals series.
The Demons started the final day of the home and away season in seventh spot on the ladder, but a 62-point defeat of Warragul Industrials, coupled with results elsewhere, proved enough for them to rise to fifth and keep their premiership dream alive.
Fifth-placed Nar Nar Goon’s loss to Phillip Island opened the door for Koo Wee Rup or Bunyip to take their place and while the Bulldogs boasted a superior percentage at the start of the day and claimed the four points against Korumburra Bena, the 13-point margin saw them slip below the Demons and squeezed out of the five.
So scant was the final margin separating the two sides – 0.38 per cent – that confirmation of the final standings was not known until some way after the final siren had sounded.
“It was a weird feeling walking off the ground and singing the song without knowing if we had done enough,” Miller said.
“A heap of the boys had the calculators out on their phones trying to add it up. We found out after the song and before Beno (coach Ben Collins) spoke to us that we had made it.”
Miller said throughout the game the focus was only ever on what was in Koo Wee Rup’s control and that was ensuring they won as comfortably as possible to give themselves the best chance of progressing.
The Demons will now meet Inverloch Kongwak at Cora Lynn Recreation Reserve in Sunday’s elimination final and Miller said his club was approaching the game full of optimism.
“After just scraping in we could look at it one of two ways but we just want to make the most of the opportunity,” he said.
“They knocked off Cora Lynn a few weeks ago and Tooradin on the weekend so they’re playing good footy at the right time of year but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Demons won the only head-to-head matchup between the two sides this season, snatching the points at the death in a four-point thriller on the Sea Eagles’ home turf in round eight.
The Demons go into the game with one of the healthiest squads in the competition, with Joel Gibson making his return in place of developing tall Nick Prowd last week to give coach Collins an almost full list to select from.
Key defender Brodie Yapp is also available, after being found not guilty on a striking charge by the WGFNC tribunal on Wednesday night.
Inverloch Kongwak has endured a torrid run of injuries, with Brendan Iezzi and Josh Clottu the latest casualties ahead of last week’s clash with Tooradin Dalmore.
Michael Eales returned to the side, while premiership player Dan Houston was recalled.
The Sea Eagles warmed up for finals with arguably its most impressive showing of the season – a 28-point win against Tooradin Dalmore in which they held the visitors to one goal to three-quarter-time.
Lewis Rankin, Josh Purcell and Dan Reid were among the standouts, while skipper Tom Wyatt booted two goals in second game back from a 10-week absence due to hamstring issues.
The winner will live to see another week and face a date with the loser of Saturday’s qualifying final between Cora Lynn and Tooradin Dalmore at Koo Wee Rup Recreation Reserve.
Both sides have some injury concerns ahead of their first meeting since the season opener way back in March.
The Cobras welcomed back Brayden Weller and Billy Thomas for the round clash with Dalyston, but lost forward Troy Tharle and defender Shaun Sparks, while Brendan Pullen made way for VFL-listed star Jaxon Briggs, whose availability will be decided at the Casey Demons selection table ahead of their crucial final round fixture against Frankston.
Meanwhile Tooradin Dalmore was without Rory Hillis and Brad Lenders for its trip to Inverloch, but regained Jake O’Donnell, while handing Tom Bethune his first senior game of the season.
Cora Lynn secured a 45-point win in the only meeting between the sides this year – with its speed and height proving effective weapons against a Seagulls side finding its feet on its WGFNC debut – but given how long ago that was, it’s doubtful either side will take too much away from that clash ahead of this weekend.
The Cobras have enjoyed an outstanding campaign but suffered their only two losses of the season in the last weeks – against elimination final combatants Inverloch Kongwak and Koo Wee Rup – to suggest an otherwise unsighted vulnerability.
The Seagulls’ form has also been difficult to read, having got within two points of a famous result against imperious flag favourite Phillip Island in round 17 before succumbing to defeat against Inverloch Kongwak last time out.
The benefit of finishing in the top three is a second chance, but given the threat posed by Inverloch Kongwak or Koo Wee Rup on their day, both sides would undoubtedly prefer an early crack at the Island over a do-or-die fixture.
Phillip Island will enjoy the week off, having celebrated its minor premiership with a 24-point victory over Nar Nar Goon, and will welcome to opportunity to rest some sore bodies.
The Goon finished the season seventh.
Bunyip was the best of the rest, with its final day victory against Korumburra Bena enough to secure sixth place, if not the finals place it craved.
The Giants landed ninth, three games behind Garfield which rounded out its campaign with a disappointing defeat to Kilcunda Bass.
The Panthers were fantastic, led by Jake Smith (four goals), Hayden Spierings and Taylor Gibson, while the Stars were best-served by Jayden Goumas, Sam Batson and James McKellar.
The win lifted Kilcunda Bass to a credible 10th, ahead of Dalyston and Warragul Industrials, who finished the year with two wins apiece.
In the A Grade competition, Tooradin Dalmore finished the season undefeated but not without an almighty scare from Inverloch Kongwak in a thrilling 48-48 draw.
The Seagulls had to fight back from 11 goals down at three-quarter-time to pinch a share of the spoils and break the hearts of the Sea Eagles who would have finished fifth had they held on.
As it were, Bunyip held onto fifth place, despite falling short against Korumburra Bena 32-28.
Nar Nar Goon also booked its finals spot, albeit in more convincing fashion, with a 52-35 win against Phillip Island to finish fourth.
The Goon and Yips will go head to head in Sunday’s elimination final at Cora Lynn, with the winner to take on the loser of Saturday’s qualifying final between two-time reigning premier Dalyston and its great rival Korumburra Bena.
In the other games, Dusties recorded arguably its best result of the year, with a 50-31 win against Koo Wee Rup to leapfrog the Demons into seventh place.
Cora Lynn finished eighth, despite going down to Dalyston, which warmed up for the business end of the season with a 71-28 win.
Kilcunda Bass downed Garfield in a terrific contest to win its second game of the season which left the Stars without a win for the year.
In the other grades, Tooradin Dalmore secured minor premierships in the Reserves, B Grade and C Grade competitions, Phillip Island showed its future is as bright as its present with top of the ladder finishes in the thirds, fourths and 17-and-under grades, with Dalyston and Cora Lynn finishing first in the 15-and-under and 13-and-under divisions respectively.