Box Hill and Port Melbourne have finished all square in one of the great games of this – or any – VFL season.
Trading blows for two scintillating hours, the Hawks and Borough waged a war of attrition that left the fans in attendance and watching on television speechless, breathless and in unanimous agreement that this was a match that won’t soon be forgotten.
It was clear from the outset that these two sides would justify the pre-match hype, as the match was played at a breakneck pace right from the off.
Port settled the quicker of the two sides and had a little more fluidity to their play, especially forward of centre, and recorded the first two majors of the afternoon.
After ten minutes a series of repeat defensive efforts from Sam Switkowski caused concern for a pair of Port Melbourne half-backs, creating the turnover at half-forward that lead to the brown and gold’s first of the day.
A kick inside fifty came off hands and was gathered cleanly by Billy Murphy. Murphy stood his ground in a heavy tackle and fired out a superb handball to the waiting Will Langford, who steadied and snapped beautifully on his left.
Port got the reply shortly after to take their advantage back to two goals, before Switkowski answered with his first of the afternoon after some nice anticipation at the foot of a pack left the open goal at his mercy.
The Borough’s relentless and tremendous energy with ball in hand resulted in wave after wave of attack, and after a two well taken goals – one a blind snap from the base a pack, the other a wonderful solo effort from Conway – had skipped out to a handy lead.
But, as has been a wonderful hallmark of the Hawks’ game in 2017, the visitors created and converted two opportunities late on to salvage something positive from a testing first term.
First Nelson Lane took off down the wing and bounced through a long shot at goal, before Tim O’Brien flew highest to mark just twenty meters out directly in front.
With inside mids Langford and Andrew Moore growing in influence around the contest, Box Hill had crept to within touching distance despite the early dominance of the hosts.
The second term produced more fast and furious play, further endorsing the two side’s claims to be the best in the league. In a fine advertisement for VFL footy the game ebbed and flowed from contest-to-contest, with neither side afforded the sort of break their performance would’ve merited against just about any other side.
Tim O’Brien got the Hawks off to the perfect start when he won a free kick hard against the behind post. O’Brien was beginning to be quite the handful for Port, competing and flying for everything that came his way. His curled right footed snap split the middle, recording Box Hill’s third goal in succession.
Port answered, but Anthony Brolic had the perfect response of his own, wheeling around on his right in heavy traffic to curl home an instinctive snap.
Heatherley, Morrison and Glass scrambled to deny Port a certain goal as the Borough peppered the sticks. Their goal would come, with persistent pressure finally paying off, but as tempers frayed and the contest became a little fiery, Box Hill found the ideal reply.
Langford flew courageously to mark forty-five out and was awarded a fifty metre penalty as a result of remonstrations from the Port defence. He kicked his second.
Then, in the highlight of the first half, Sam Switkowski joined Langford and O’Brien as a multiple goal-kicker in the most spectacular of fashion.
Picking off a risky Port Melbourne kick in the centre square, ‘Switta’ took off in pursuit of the loose ball with nothing between him and the goal. Shoulder to shoulder with his opponent, he quickly surged ahead. He soccered the ball off the deck and, again, kept his feet under close attention. Finally, after burning off his man and gathering on the bounce he strolled into an open goal.
So, as the half-time siren sounded we were back to where we started: all tied up.
Switkowski was on the board again early in the third quarter, profiting on the end of the chain of some slick ball movement up field.
Langford cleaned up a potentially dangerous Port attack on the last line of defence, showing a terrific work rate that would see him finish with thirty touches for the day.
As the Hawks began to turn the screws Stewart, Hartung and Lewis all spurned opportunities, before Port struck a blow on the rebound.
Some brave ball movement and strong marking from Moore, Harry Morrison and Anthony Brolic saw the ball end up in Billy Murphy’s hands, and when Billy is running towards goal theres only one outcome. His raking right boot sailed right through the middle and edged the visitors away.
Things got better not long after, when O’Brien was in the right spot at the right time to convert his third, proviing that big men can play front and square.
Again Port kept themselves in touch, this time from a strong mark and textbook set shot, but it was at this point that the show really began.
Step forward Sam Switkowski with two goals in ninety seconds. The first, a snap following a desperate run down and tackle deep inside fifty, was eclipsed only by the second – his fifth of the day – as he hit the ball at pace, receiving a quick handball from Mitch Lewis, and hit a sweet right footed shot that drew right to left and right through the middle.
With the game delicately poised the first goal of the final quarter was vital. As the shadows across the field lengthened Port managed the first three to take the lead.
Box Hill found an important reply when O’Brien showed excellent touch and awareness to gather a tricky bouncing ball, dishing to Langford whose left footed snap never looked like missing.
When Andrew Moore executed a beautifully weighted pass to find Chris Jones retreating back towards goal, all of a sudden the lead was two kicks in Box Hill’s favour.
Port found those two kicks and with thirty one minutes of a pulsating fourth quarter elapsed held a seven-point lead.
Nelson Lane nabbed his second of the day with a clutch finish on the run from thirty five, before Kade Stewart tied things up with a snap under enormous pressure.
Port had an unlikely kick to win it after the siren, but Stewart’s was the final scoring shot.
The league’s best couldn’t be split after two hours. The Hawks remain unbeaten, Port lose no admirers and the footy community awaits the next instalment of a fantastic rivalry.
Box Hill 4.1 8.4 13.7 16.12. 108
Port Melbourne 5.3 7.10 9.15 15.18. 108
Goals: Switkowski 5, O’Brien 3, Langford 3, Lane 2, Brolic, Murphy, Jones
Disposals: Langford 30 (6 tackles, 6 inside 50s, 13 clearances), Moore 27 (7 clearances), Stewart 23 (6 clearances, 5 hard ball gets), Hartung 21 (4 inside 50s)
VFL Vic Development League
Earlier in the day the Borough’s development squad proved too strong for their Box Hill counterparts, winning comfortably.
As was the case a fortnight ago the Hawks fielded a fresh-faced and enthusiastic line-up which battled manfully for the full four quarters, producing some positive footy that should leave them well placed for the future.
Box Hill 1.0 3.2 6.4 11.5. 71
Port Melbourne 4.4 9.7 11.14 15.15. 105
Goals: Horne 2, Hehir 2, Maloney 2, Walker, Williams, Castledine, Davies, Jacotine