The Box Hill Hawks moved to seven-and-three on the season and a place in the competition top four on Saturday afternoon, securing a memorable last-gasp win over a superb Port Melbourne.
A wet, windy and chilly City Oval was the stage for the first meeting of the two sides since 2019 and a strong turnout of Hawks and Borough faithful were treated to a classic to rival the Qualifying Final of 2017 and the Elimination Final of 2018.
In the end it was Box Hill who overturned a 14-point deficit in time on of the last to snatch victory as the siren sounded, with Fergus Greene’s fourth and final goal of the afternoon the difference.
It was a fitting finale to a contest in which the margin never exceeded four goals in open play or a single kick at the quarter time breaks.
As if to illustrate the breadth of the Hawks’ contributors on the day, only two players – James Worpel and James Parsons – had more than 20 disposals, while no one had 30 or more; and every player in brown and gold laid at least one tackle.
In many ways, the nature of the contest, the conditions of the day, sometimes tetchy on-field antics and frantic finish were everything that’s great about state league football; in many ways it was a throwback to the old VFA – mud in the middle, on jumpers and shorts, and the last act under the last light of a cold June afternoon.
Former Cat James Parsons was the Hawks’ best on the day, booting 4.3, winning nine clearances and propelling his side inside 50 on seven occasions.
Wherever the ball was at all times and was utterly devastating in the front half, it was the culmination of an excellent recent run of form for Parsons and unquestionably his finest performance in the brown and gold.
James Worpel was another to have excelled, racking up an equal-game high 26 touches, as well as eight tackles, a game-high 12 clearances – including nine centre clearances – and two goals. Like Parsons he also managed seven inside 50s.
The one-time Peter Crimmins’ Medallist’s ability to win first possession and keep the Hawks either in control of or in the contest was critical; as was his calm head, clean hands and hunt no matter the situation on the scoreboard.
First-year Hawk and Box Hill debutant Connor Macdonald was another fine performer, warming into the game to finish with 19 touches – eight of which came in that frantic final term. He also laid nine tackles and, somewhat crucially, kicked the point which tied the scores late on.
In just his seventh game of VFL football, David Brinker-Ritchie continues to impress. Plucked from Traralgon to fill a void at the ruck position just two months ago, ‘Big Dave’ was the dominant big man on the ground.
He recorded a game-high 47 hit outs, had four clearances and laid three tackles. More, his work at stoppage helped the Hawks to a potentially decisive +9 at centre clearances.
He was ably assisted by Jai Serong, who selflessly sacrificed his own game to be the Shaun Grigg or Jack Silvagni-type second ruck. He finished with five hit-outs, 16 touches, six tackles and five inside 50s.
Forward of centre Fergus Greene was not just the match-winner, but the standout forward on the ground. Of his four goals for the afternoon, number three gave his side a lifeline late on and number four secured the win.
On a wet and oftentimes fiery day he presented well, clunking four marks – three in the last – and finished spectacularly. His four-goal haul moves him three clear of Suns spearhead Chris Burgess in the ‘Frosty’ Miller race, too…
The game itself was as tight an arm wrestle as the scoreboard indicates.
Only once did either side kick four goals in a row – Port’s excellent nine-minute burst in the third quarter to erase a game-high 24-point Box Hill lead.
That run on came after the Hawks surged to a potentially game-breaking lead with three goals in seven minutes to open the second half, with majors from Serong, Parsons and Saunders threatening to cleave the contest open.
But, if the history of this match-up has taught us anything, it’s that neither side is ever down or out.
Despite surrendering the lead nearing three quarter time, the Hawks would hit the huddle at the last change of ends with a five-point lead thanks to Greene’s deft right-footed check side after 32 minutes.
Early goals from Anastasio, Gasper and Holmes in the last quarter looked to have won the day for the visitors, especially when the game ticked into time on without any headway having been made.
Greene arrowed through a difficult set shot with 21 minutes played to give the Hawks hope, before Ben Cavarra found space on the half-forward flank and caught the eye of a surging Macdonald.
The debutant meet a bouncing ball full chested, gathering cleanly and quickly squeezing a kick out to Cavarra, who steadied as he strolled inside 50 and punched a beautiful left-footer into the breeze at the Bolton Street end of City Oval.
Following a heart-stopping period of contested footy played largely between the arcs, Macdonald’s shot tied the scores.
The resulting kick-out went to the outer wing, where Finn Maginness roved the ball off hands and looked inside. He dished off to Cal Porter, who quickly straightened up to find Damian Mascitti moving towards goal.
A former Port premiership player, Mascitti’s right foot kick pierced the heart of the Borough’s defence and landed in the arms of the on-rushing Greene.
With the clock reading 32 and a half minutes and the scores tied at 96-apiece he would almost certainly be kicking for both the lead and the win.
He nailed the shot and when it was all said and done there was only enough time to bounce the ball.
Box Hill had surged to a remarkable victory, one of the Club’s finest in recent memory, and set itself in the top four.
The Hawks enjoy a bye next up, before travelling to the Whitten Oval to face Footscray in a fortnights time.
Best: Parsons, Worpel, Macdonald, Brinker-Ritchie, Serong, Greene
Goals: Greene, Parsons 4, Cavarra, Worpel 2, Serong, Saunders, Brinker-Ritchie
Disposals: Worpel 26, Parsons 21, Macdonald 19, Mascitti 19, Maginness 18