It is under-reported in the national media that Steve Chisholm Oval is exactly the same length as the MCG playing surface and a good five metres longer than that of the SCG. So with the finals beckoning the decision is made to play full length to get the team accustomed to the big grounds. The news is met with excitement and a little trepidation. It is, after all, a dry twenty-two degrees, we have a maximum of 15 players on the field, and, well, its big! But finals is the time to embrace challenges and the bench is full, as are the water bottles. No-one asks the solitary umpire what he thinks about running from end to end, but we can probably make a decent guess. The top four is already set, but the order remains up for grabs. The Cats are up against the Bulldogs; traditional enemies since humanity started domesticating animals in the Pleistocene Epoch; as its third against fifth, we are expecting a good game.
As the coaches have mulled over the results of recent weeks and look toward the finals, they have come up with this week’s themes of Effective, Effort and Team and a KPI is generated – goals to behinds ratio – with a target of >1. Effort is going to be particularly important on the big oval, which tends to spread the players out and create more individual contests. The umps are also eyeing off a finals spot, so they tend to get a little picky about disposals and some of the more arcane rules, so skills will be scrutinised. The first quarter is pretty scrappy and the Dogs turn out to have some pretty quick players, which is a decided advantage on the big field. Having had a few tight games over the last few weeks, the Cats are having to re-adjust to the open spaces. On a pleasing note the Cats are decidedly improved on capturing loose balls, but too many of the Cats’ kicks are being marked beautifully, by the opposition. A quarter for the purists. Q1 LCC 0.0.1 ESB 0.0.0.
With a focus on “Effective”, the team starts to warm into their work in the second quarter. Armo has moved into the forward line and has attracted a tagger, whose modus operandi is to follow half a metre behind and tackle her the second she picks up the ball. Elin is strong on the ball collecting possessions in the forward pocket. LilyD and Lucy are the tradies, building their day brick by brick and competing with their usual enthusiasm for the ball. Tipsy is busy collecting the hard balls and delivering them back in the right direction. Ash is getting some ball at ground level this week, which is a pleasing development in her game and the ball is finding Lexie with a few good touches. Laces has had a soccer game in the morning to warm up and it looks like a good strategy. She is getting over the ball and contesting strongly and the reward is the first goal of the game. Q2 LCC 1.2.8 ESB 0.0.0
The third quarter starts with the team focusing on maintaining structure and this opens up the defensive line a little. The Doggies score two quick goals to take the lead, and there is muttering from the assembled crowd. We have seen this movie before and we didn’t like the ending. These Cats are prone to author their own destiny. They don’t let the scoring perturb them and buckle down to their work. Byrna and Lucy both lay tough tackles to set the tone. The Bear comes on and immediately adds some starch to the defensive line and the Cats game is coming back to them. The forward line is busy today, Laces gets clear to score a second and the Cats regain the lead. Q3 LCC 2.2.14 ESB 2.0.12
A two point lead isn’t particularly reassuring, it’s the closest game of the season and there is tension at the break. Finals is here a week early and the team is talking it up in the huddle with no lack of confidence. The quarter starts positively, Sophia in only her third game is getting the hang of where to be and collecting some important possessions on the wing. Abby shows off a sublime handball to advantage, while Bronte gets the team moving forward in the midfield and Krysta takes an opportunity to get accustomed to the physical side of the contest. The ball finds its way to the Dogs forward line and the lead is looking decidedly less than sufficient. The Dogs are pressing forward and have numbers around the ball. Chops is her usual reassurance in defence and champion ball getter at ground level and Helena is still running strong and has tracked back and is providing a presence on the ball. Graiceeee has had a strong game, but is mighty in the next few minutes. Four times she takes the ball on the line and repels the attack, each time a combination of control and strength on the ball. Amazing work under pressure. Caitie is in support and gets the ball to Jaime who runs until she finds space and propels the ball forward. LilyS, who has run strongly all day, crumbs the ball and moves it up the wing. The ball is bouncing around the half forward line like a pinball wizard is operating the flippers (google it kids).
Armo and Lucy win the ball in tough tackles and LilyD gets the kick away for Laces to take a mark in the pocket. A solid kick racks up a triple and the crowd breathes again. What a day Laces is having. Aggressive at the ball and finding space in the forward line, so its no surprise when the ball finds her again and she kicks a fourth. With 30 seconds to go Maia collects the ball in the pocket, straightens on the way to goal and kicks true for the sealer, only for a Dogs defender to appear from nowhere and block it on the goal line.
The game is done and won. The Cats perseverance and resilience have been impressive against a strong team. No panic when the lead evaporated and they returned to their game plan and ground out a good win. The KPI is met and there is never any doubt that this mob will put Team first or that Effort will feature. Another week to work on Effective at training, won’t go astray. Third place secured, it is off to the second semi-final against the Lions. A tough opponent, but one this team is capable of matching and beating. September tastes sweet.
Final Score: Lane Cove Cats 4.3.27 d East Sydney Bulldogs 2.0.12
Goals: G. O’Dowd (4)
Players’ Player: G. O’Dowd
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