Captain Simon McCartin admits there was a real sense of the unknown at North Ballarat City early in the Ballarat Football League season.
It was a time of change, with new coach Jordyn Burke among a handful of frontline recruits and an exodus of experienced players who had been at the forefront of three consecutive grand final appearances for premierships in 2013 and 2014.
There has never been talk of a rebuild. Burke has preferred to describe the changeover as a rejuvenation and it was clear to see why after wins in the opening three rounds.
McCartin said while initially uncertain what to expect out of a new-look line-up, it was quickly evident North Ballarat City was untapped when it came to talent.
He said it was just a matter of putting it together for an extended period. City had no trouble doing that, with another finals campaign locked away a long way out.
McCartin believes there is even more excitement in the player group ahead of finals than in the past few seasons – putting it down to the youth factor.
He said at the other end of the scale, North Ballarat City still had enough finals experience to put it in good stead for Sunday’s elimination final against Redan at the Eastern Oval.
McCartin said with so little between the rivals, it could go down to preparation.
“We know each other well – especially when it comes to finals.”
This will be the seventh time in five seasons North Ballarat City and Redan have met in finals.
It is three-all – Redan with wins in 2012, 2013 and 2015, and North in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
With neither North Ballarat City or Redan possessing a wealth of big manpower, this knockout clash is likely to go down to performances of a couple of stars and the battle of the midfield.
Nathan Horbury (Redan) and Derick Micallef (North Ballarat City) stand out as the individuals most likely to turn the game. Horbury’s ability bring others into play is a potential concern for North.
Redan is at its most dangerous when the likes of Patrick Britt, Jack Jess and Ben Schiltz get run off the half back line and link up with Chris Giampaolo, Callum Currie, Dean Mathews and of course Horbury.
City has a similar make-up with the rebounding of Ryan Luke and Daniel Jones sparking the speed of ball movement it needs by getting it into the hands of Martin Curtis, Sam Willian, Josh and Sam Bromley-Lynch, and then onto the mercurial Micallef.
Few have been in better form than in Micallef in the home stretch in the BFL. When he is at his best, he is just about impossible to stop in front of goal – either kicking majors or providing assists.
There is every chance this game is going to go to the steadier heads – those with the poise needed when there are no second chances.
With so much experience, this might just give the elder statesmen of the Lions the edge.
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