Port Magpies live to fight another day

The Port Macquarie Magpies are still alive in the premiership race after a 71 point win over the Grafton Tigers in the Elimination Semi Final.

The Tigers were gallant in defeat and were in the contest to three quarter time, but weren’t able to match it with the Magpies final term blitz. The end result gives the impression that the Magpies did it easy, but that certainly wasn’t the case. Both teams turned in a classic finals performance that was characterised by tough, uncompromising footy and it was greater depth in options amongst the forward lines that proved the difference.

After the previous week’s encounters both teams resembled hospital wards with numerous players in doubt for the Semi. However the lure of finals footy at C.ex Coffs International Stadium worked its magic and both teams were close to full strength at the first bounce.

Port had the better of the early exchanges and opened the scoring through Mitch Williams but weren’t able to get on a roll and only added 1 further goal for the quarter through Adam Mannes. Grafton were competing well but weren’t able to find a target up forward and went to the first break down by 2 goals.

In the second quarter Port captain Jesse Schmidt started to find space and was able to post two majors. Grafton pushed Pat Curtain forward to give themselves a tall marking option and he opened their account, while Evan Whitty also marked strongly and goaled to bring the Tigers right into the game. Great lead up play resulted in a goal to Port’s Sean Guthrie which handed the Magpies a 23 point advantage at the main break.

The game opened up in the third quarter and was characterised by free flowing play from both teams. This openness was also reflected on the scoreboard where Port kicked 5 goals through Fraser Carroll, San Johnson, and 3 to Jesse Schmidt, the pick of them being when Craig Dicker marked strongly on the 50m arc and Schmidt ran past to receive a short handball then kick surely on the run. Against this, Grafton posted 3 goals of their own through Callum O’Loughlin, Greg Niland, and captain Luke Stanford, whose fist pump celebration confirmed how crucial the score was to maintain contact with Port.

With Port holding a 6 goal lead going into the final term the first goal was crucial. By this stage Grafton’s exertions on the big ground had taken a toll and the Tigers were running out of legs. Port took advantage to kick the first four goals of the quarter through Mitch Williams, Adam Mannes, Sean Guthrie and a beautiful set shot to Sam Johnson. Grafton’s only response came late in the term when Pat Curtain snapped truly with his left foot, but Port rounded out the win with sealers to Isaac King and Tim Bauer.

Port have a week off before they meet the loser of the match between Coffs Breakers and Sawtell Toormina Saints in the Preliminary Final on 26 August. They will appreciate the rest as it gives them a chance to nurse their wounds and possibly get a couple of extra players back on deck. If they can continue to play as they did in the Semi they are a chance of going further in the premiership race, especially if the other clubs make the mistake of taking them lightly.

For Grafton, the season is over but the last two performances should give the club plenty of hope. If they can build upon the spine of the team that contains players such as Luke Stanford, Ethan Olsen, Sam Hardes, Pat Curtain, Chris Curthoys, and Josh Veness by adding three or four quality players the Tigers could be the surprise packet of 2018.

Port Macquarie Magpies 16.14.110 defeated Grafton Tigers 6.3.39

Next week sees the Qualifying Semi Final between arch enemies and local rivals Coffs Breakers and Sawtell Toormina Saints. The winner of this match progresses straight through to the Grand Final whilst the loser has to match up against Port Magpies a week later. The Qualifying Semi Final is at C.ex Coffs International Stadium and starts at 2:20pm.