The Box Hill Hawks have finished the 2017 Home and Away season in stirring fashion, thumping the Northern Blues by 77-points to secure the all-important top two finish and the spoils that come with it: the double chance and home first final.
The Hawks’ week one opponent had already been determined by virtue of Port Melbourne’s win the day before, but the small matter of who would host the clash was still up in the air.
The equation was simple: a Hawks win and the match would be at Box Hill City Oval. A Hawks loss and it’d be at North Port Oval.
The Northern Blues’ destiny was more uncertain, with the visitors needing a win or, at worst, to escape a heavy loss to take arch-rivals Collingwood’s place in the top eight.
With so much on the line and with conditions highly variable it was no surprise the opening exchanges were tight and cagey.
The Hawks provided much of the early attacking threat, testing the Northern defence with a series of inside fifties that, whilst mounting, were repelled.
At the other end of the field the Blues tried their hand at probing the Hawks defence, providing the scorekeepers their first work of the afternoon in the form of a behind. It would be Northern’s biggest lead of the contest.
The opening six-pointer would come shortly after, and from a most unlikely source.
With leading goal kicker Ty Vickery sidelined by suspension, Chris Newman’s offence was rejigged to make use of more varied and unorthodox avenues to goal.
The first to take his chance was defender Max Warren. Having drifted forward Warren gathered a loose ball thirty meters from goal, steadied and arrowed a right-footed drop punt into the Whitehorse Road end. The celebration was typical of a defender, but who could blame him after just his third goal of the season.
Rhys Palmer restored parity with a raking shot of his own some time later, before Brayden Kilpatrick marked and kicked truly to restore a lead the Hawks wouldn’t again surrender.
Chris Jones and Teia Miles were each denied by a desperate Northern defence deep in attacking fifty, with rushed behinds perhaps less than their efforts to find space deserved.
Reward for a positive and relatively dominant quarter arrived after the siren, when Kade Stewart kicked his first of the day from a potentially tricky set shot.
The visitors wasted little time in reducing the margin upon the resumption of play, with Strachan providing the first of the second mere seconds after the bounce.
Stewart and Kilpatrick steadied the Hawks minutes later, each kicking their second goals of the day via classy snaps to edge the Hawks into a handy position.
The Blues, now four kicks from the lead, attempted to steady themselves in response, but were denied time and time again by a well organised and hard nosed Box Hill back six. If it wasn’t David Mirra it was Andrew Moore. If it wasn’t Moore it was Kurt Heatherley. No matter the task, a Hawk was equal to it.
Mitch O’Donnell and Brendan Whitecross were proving an invaluable tag team around the contest, winning 35-touches between them in a dominant display of bullocking, inside play during the first half.
As we ticked towards time on the Brown and Gold would find four goals in eight minutes to surge to a 40-point lead and virtually end the game as a contest. Stewart kicked a third and fourth, whilst Billy Murphy found the first of what would become four of his own.
The most popular of the lot wasn’t up for debate, however, when skipper David Mirra set sail from fifty-five and kicked just the sixth goal of his illustrious 125-game career – his first for 2017.
Rhys Palmer kicked his third to close the scoring for the half, but the Hawks had been by far the better side and held a 34-point lead at the break.
Goals to Jones, Murphy, Hanrahan and Fisher – his first for the year, also – took the hosts to a near ten goal advantage mid way through the third quarter, before the Blues found a pair of late replies. They were to be merely consolation.
Will Hams, playing his first senior match since round seven’s draw at Port Melbourne, looked like he’d never been away, accumulating a match-high 37-touches in a near best-afield display.
The midfielder’s return will have encouraged his coaches no matter his output, but to be so prominent and so clean off such a long lay-off was a remarkable – if not entirely unsurprising – endorsement of his value to the side.
Conor Nash, Hawthorn’s Irish rookie, lead, marked and goalled to bring up his first of the year early in the final term, showing the craft and technique of a natural forward in the process. Having waited all season for his first he’d add a second for the quarter some fifteen minutes later to suggest he may yet enjoy more time forward before the year is out.
Fisher added his second and Murphy his third and fourth, before Andrew Moore put the exclamation on a fine day.
Job done, Chris Newman and his men will now look to the always enormous challenge of Port Melbourne next Sunday afternoon.
Box Hill 3.3 9.6 13.8 19.13 (127)
Northern Blues 1.1 4.2 6.6 7.8 (50)
GOALS: Stewart 4, Murphy 4, Nash 2, Fisher 2, Kilpatrick 2, Jones, Warren, Moore, Mirra, Hanrahan
DISPOSALS: Hams 37, Whitecross 33, O’Donnell 29, Brolic 28, Murphy 22, O’Rourke 22Hams 37, Whitecross 33, O’Donnell 29, Brolic 28, Murphy 22, O’Rourke 22
murph ran onto one into the open goal, Miz got one around the back and roosted it from 55.
There were fears the day’s curtain raiser might be played in torrential rain when a storm front flashed across Box Hill City Oval during the pre-match warm-up.
Fortunately the inclement weather cleared, leaving only a slippery deck underfoot by the time the opening siren sounded.
After an even opening half-an-hour the Blues threatened to skip away with the contest when they nailed the first two goals of the second term in as many minutes, but goals to Kennedy, Cox and Hehir had Andrew Shakespeare’s men within touching distance at half time.
Northern, without finals footy and playing their final game of Development League, surged out of the blocks in the third and booted three majors in quick time to take a near five goal lead.
The Hawks wouldn’t go away, however, and rallied time and time again to stay in the game, but going goal for goal didn’t suit the Brown and Gold, who weren’t able to close within the two kick margin.
Box Hill 1.2 4.4 5.5 9.8 (62)
Northern Blues 2.3 5.3 8.7 11.8 (74)
GOALS: Hehir 3, Traynor 2, Cox, Kennedy, Davies, Burt