The Box Hill Hawks defeated Sandringham by 37-points in commanding fashion on Saturday, in a game of old fashioned, wet weather football at an arctic Box Hill City Oval.
A Hawks engine room boasting nine players with 20 possessions or more, dominated Sandringham by 15 in clearances and 40 in contested possessions, to drive its side to victory in the 20thAnniversary of the Blue Ribbon Cup.
The lights were turned on for the first bounce, but it was lights out not long after for youngster Changkuoth Jiath who was knocked out from a knee to the head in the opening minutes of play.
Defender Damian Mascitti found himself in unfamiliar territory early, pouncing on a loose ball forward and sending a scrappy kick through the goals for his first in the brown and gold.
The Zebras responded immediately, with Robbie Young making the most of a free kick and slotting his set shot from 40-metres to level the scores.
But as the clouds briefly parted, Box Hill’s running play began to shine.
Harry Jones, a figure almost unidentifiable to any team due to the thick layer of mud covering his entire frame, rose from the trenches to collect a loose ball and nail a goal from just inside the 50-metre arc.
Meanwhile, immense forward half-pressure gifted Vincent Aduddi the football with a ribbon on it, as he ran into an open goal to close the term.
The reigning premiers had come to play, and a three-goal term ensured the Hawks held a 10-point buffer at the first break.
Although both teams ranked in the VFL’s top four for average kicks and marks this season, it was clear that whichever team fought tooth and nail in the scrap would ultimately prevail.
And the Hawks did just that in using waves of numbers to force a football, resembling a bar of soap, forward in thrusts.
Jackson Ross opened the second term with a strongly contested mark directly at the top of the square. Celebrating his 20thbirthday in style, Ross made no mistake with the set shot as goal number 24 for the season took him to the top of the VFL goal-kicking leader board.
He again got involved, creatively picking out the leading Conor Nash inside 50. Nash, just like Ross before him, executed the set shot to perfection.
The highlight of the day then came from the mercurial Ollie Hanrahan. With the ball sprawling around deep in Box Hill’s attack, Hanrahan remarkably threw his boot at it in mid-air, with the ball sailing through the goals at post height.
When speedster Will Golds worked tirelessly to receive a handball running into the easiest of goals, Box Hill had accumulated a seven-to-two goal first half and led Sandringham by a threatening 31-points at the main break.
It had been 720 days since his last match, but it was still the same old Grant Birchall patrolling the half-back line.
The veteran gathered a controlled 10 disposals, six marks and a tackle in the first half, before putting his feet up for the day.
Even with two players down for the match, the Hawks continued to lead every statistic.
A dominance of 192-99 in disposals, 50-18 in marks and 31-15 in inside 50’s could largely be put down to the Hawks’ superiority in the ruck, with big men Marc Pittonet and Ned Reeves up against makeshift Sandringham ruckman Sam Rowe and Kai Owen.
Mitch Lewis made the most of a free kick at the top of the square to open the scoreboard for the second half.
While Damian Mascitti continued his hot streak forward with a scintillating running goal from 40 metres, doubling his Box Hill goal tally in the process.
But Sandringham began to display why they were a Top 8 side, stepping up the pressure and forcing the game to be played on its terms.
Goals to Same Rowe and Robbie Fox, the latter a 50m penalty due to an undisciplined James Cousins shove off the ball, sliced the margin down to 33-points.
But for all their momentum and hard work, the Zebras could not eat into the half time margin of 31-points at the final break.
As the rain pelted down to open the final term, it seemed so did any chance of a Sandringham revival.
Instead, it was party time for Ollie Hanrahan.
The sharp-shooter cut off a wayward switch kick, and nailed the set shot directly in front for the Hawk’s tenth goal of the match.
While his seventeenth possession for the day, a flying boot at a loose ball in attack, rewarded him with a four-goal haul.
A brilliant snap from the classy Luke Meadows, the ninth separate Hawk goal-kicker for the day, sealed the gruelling Round 12 victory.
A hard-fought four-quarter performance from a team bathed head to toe in mud, proved a just reward for effort over a season littered with close losses.
James Cousins thrived in the old-school football conditions in his return to Box Hill, amassing 30 disposals, six tackles and four marks winning the Silk-Miller Medal as best player on the ground.
Harry Jones produced his best performance for the season, racking up 29 disposals, four marks and four tackles, while Daniel Howe flexed his influence in the inside midfield gathering 21 disposals, five tackles and three marks.
Skipper Andrew Moore led his troops from the front in his return to the side from a shoulder injury with 20 disposals and eight tackles, while the resolute David Mirra led a miserly Box Hill defence with 20 disposals and five marks.
Box Hill Coach Max Bailey spoke glowingly of his sides ability to adapt its game style to the trying conditions post-match.
“I’m just really proud, the fact that they did that in those conditions,” Bailey said.
“It’s not the style of football we want to play, but that’s what we had to do today.”
“We ended up winning contest ball and clearances, which was always going to be the battle.
“I thought James Cousins, Harry Jones, Daniel Howe and Andrew Moore were a pretty strong inside mid group, and those guys proved to give us an edge over Sandy.
“We’ve come so close in a few games, to get a win in these circumstances can hopefully fuel some self-belief for us.”
Box Hill’s victory sees it leapfrog Sandringham into seventh position on the VFL ladder.
Box Hill will travel to Casey Fields to take on the eleventh placed Casey next Saturday at 2pm.
BOX HILL HAWKS 3.2 7.6 9.8 12.11 (83)
SANDRINGHAM ZEBRAS 1.4 2.5 4.7 6.10 (46)
Box Hill Hawks: Hanrahan 4, Mascitti 2, Jones, Nash, Ross, Adduci, Lewis, Meadows
Sandringham: Fox 2, Owens, Rice, Rowe, Young
Box Hill Hawks: Cousins 30, Jones 29, Kipatrick 22, Greaves 21, Howe 21, Golds 20, Mascitti 20, Meadows 20, Mirra 20
Sandringham: Joyce 21, Coffield 18, Fox 18, Paton 17, Seccull 16