From the Press Box: time to roll the dice, finals fever is taking hold

From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan
From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan


MAYBE it comes with the sunshine that is creeping back across the state, awakening tactical genius.

Or maybe, it comes with preparation, belief in team structures and depth in the list, creating invaluable flexibility.

Possibly a mix of both.

You have to expect the unexpected in finals. And adjust.

The pressure and intensity can make heroes and break challengers.

But playing it safe and relying solely on what has always work does not always cut it.

There is the looming possibility of letting slip a chance to play next week. Stumbling so close to glory.

Triple North Ballarat Roosters' premiership coach Gerard FitzGerald dispels what he says is a "bit of a myth" that you want a settled team for finals.

It is neither practical nor realistic.

FitzGerald said a team would not want sweeping changes but the best team this week will rarely be the exact same best for the next finals hurdle.

There are juggles with injury and match-ups.

Sometimes it is the calculated risk of an unknown element.

Waubra launches its Central Highlands senior football final series with six changes to the line-up.

Five inclusions are top-line players back from injury and unavailability ahead for a qualifying final against Bungaree.

One is Gerard Roney. He steps up for his first senior game this year.

It is a little like Ballarat's Andrew Hooper, who in 2010 became the first player in 25 years to make his AFL debut in finals.

Hooper added spark and a raw hunger to impress in Western Bulldogs' AFL line-up, let alone a semi-final - he was unproven, untested and hard for a rival to gauge at this level.

The unknown element can also be in a player already expected to take to the field.

In 2009, Sunbury wanted a big scalp to both stake its spot in finals and sound a warning to rivals. Two weeks out from the Ballarat Football League finals series, they did just that.

Lions' full-forward Lee James started the match at full-back on the competition's leading goalkicker Dan Jordan.

James attacked the ball like he was leading out in front of own goals and East Point was floundering.

Lions coach Mark Power moved his man up forward to kick with the breeze in the second quarter and repeated the process in the second half.

They pummelled East Point by 91 point, reinforced a top-six spot and knocked the Roos from first to fourth.

The Lions may have played their cards a little early, they did not linger long in finals, but this surprise tactic worked to get them there.

Key to the Lions success that day was commitment to their running style and team structure.

James was essentially stepping into an on-field role. It was just unexpected that he would be the one swapped about.

Finals pressure intensifies on the training track.

The vibe is exciting, the weather is usually a little finer and warmer, and every player wants to be part of the action.

Finals contenders are still playing because they are the competition's proven, most consistent best.

That counts for little once play starts. Upsets happen.

So much of finals comes down to the team that wants the win more.

You can tell by the way a team walks into the playing arena, and the way they warm-up, how that team will start the match.

You can see it in their eyes.

Motivational music and pep talks only last so long. Once play is well underway, the slightest shift in momentum can open up a game.

This is what makes finals football so thrilling.

A whole season's work is at stake.

This goes for Central Highlands footballers and netballers, to the junior netballers at Llanberris, to our city's marquee basketball team Ballarat Miners in Dandenong, who all start final this week.

This also applies to the tight battle for the last finals spot up for grabs in the Ballarat Football League seniors and to North Ballarat Rebels who, while guaranteed finals, have one chance left to claim a double-chance and TAC Cup top-four spot but must win against competition leader Oakleigh.

How much is your team willing to risk?

As long as a team is flexible, players have confidence in structures and each other, and a little tactical genius then in finals, anything could happen.


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