Box Hill have recorded their first finals victory since the 2018 grand final, defeating the in-form and dangerous Footscray by 20-points at Box Hill City Oval.
Despite being briefly headed in the third term, the Hawks booked a preliminary final date with Gold Coast by winning three of the four quarters on the day – while squaring the odd one out – in a superb display of finals footy.
Lachy Bramble was adjudged his side’s best player on the day, racking up a team-high 29 touches to go with six marks, two inside 50s, seven rebound 50s and seven score involvements.
The hard-running, creative Bramble’s game was typified by his willingness to take ground and break the lines with ball in hand, as well as his excellent disposal. Having impacted the game throughout, his performance was capped by the all-important first goal of the final term.
Damian Mascitti’s farewell tour was granted an additional week, with one of the VFL’s most decorated, celebrated and revered figures showing he’ll depart state league football with plenty left in the tank.
The smooth-moving half-back waxed brilliantly with his defensive partners all afternoon, Bramble included, to finish with 21 touches, a game-high 12 marks, two clearances, three inside 50s, six rebound 50s and three score involvements.
Box Hill’s most dangerous forward was Fergus Greene, with the Club’s two-time leading goal kicker booting 3.3 from 16 touches and six marks.
A presence ahead of the ball and on the deck all day, ‘Ferg’ tallied a game-high 10 score involvements, three inside 50s and, most importantly, kicked two vital last-quarter goals and laid off another for Sam Butler.
The ruck-forward tandem of Jacob Koschitzke and Max Ramsden was again important, working together to nullify the dominance of Footscray big man Jordan Sweet – who did a number on the Hawks’ bigs when the sides last met.
While Sweet’s numbers are impressive in isolation – he finished with 44 hit-outs, 18 disposals and 11 clearances – Koschitzke managed 18 touches himself, won eight clearances and kicked a goal, while Ramsden toiled tirelessly all day to make a contest in relief, taking five marks and booting a goal himself.
Last among the Hawks’ listed best was creative small Jake Arundell. ‘Snake’ came of age under the glare of the September sun, kicking two important goals, having six score involvements, taking four marks and winning 20 touches.
The Rowville star was made to wait until well into 2023 for his crack at senior VFL football, but has made an excellent fist of things now he finds himself in the mix.
All told, the stats sheet tell the story of an evenly poised contest decided by fine margins and, just maybe, intangibles.
The Hawks finished -1 total disposals, -1 tackles, +27 marks, -28 in hit outs but just -5 in clearances.
Despite the dominance of Sweet the Dogs were +13 points in scores from stoppage, while the Hawks made hay on turnover and in transition to kick 10.7 to Footscray’s 4.10 once they’d won the ball back.
As is always the case, a good start was paramount. At worst you wanted to avoid a bad one.
In a cagey and stilted opening it was Footscray’s Buku Khamis who kicked the first of his five goals for the afternoon after seven minutes, but the returning Josh Bennetts steadied brown and gold nerves two minutes later with the answer.
Another to Khamis swung the early momentum back the visitors’ way, before Brandon Ryan found the mark on the first of three occasions moments later.
When the Bulldogs’ Luke Goater kicked his team’s third of the quarter we’d seen five goals in just over eight breathless minutes.
The Hawks dug in to slow Footscray’s momentum thereafter, before landing a brutal one-two punch of their own once the quarter had ticked into time on.
Ryan kicked his second and Arundell his first to hand Box Hill a one goal lead at the first change.
We didn’t have to wait long for a goal once play resumed in the second quarter, with Fergus Greene on the mark after just 18 seconds to extend his side’s advantage.
Interestingly that would be the only goal of a quarter in which the two sides combined for 1.10 – with the Dogs kicking 0.6 to trail by 10 points at the half.
The visitors atoned for their wayward kicking after the long break, booting goals at the two, five and 12 minute marks to turn that 10-point deficit into a nine point lead.
Arundell popped up to kick a much needed goal with 15 minutes played, before majors to Ryan and Koschitzke ensured the teams finished the third were they started it: separated by 10-points.
Having been headed early on in the third the Hawks would put together their most important and impressive stretch of footy for the year.
Arundell, Koschitzke and Ryan’s goals were the first in a run which saw the Hawks kick seven of the next eight – and nine of the last 13 – to take control of proceedings and, ultimately, win the day.
Best afield Bramble gave his side the perfect start once the fourth got underway, before Khamis’ kicked his fifth and final goal of the day to trim the margin back to 10.
Goals to Greene, Long and Butler gave Box Hill a game-high 27-point lead with 12 minutes played – but there was more than enough time left for some late drama.
With nothing to lose and time running out the Dogs went on the attack. A trio of quick fire goals to Macpherson, Clarke and Goater trimmed the deficit to just seven points early in time on to set up a grandstand finish, but there was nothing to worry about for those in brown and gold.
Greene and Ramsden showed great poise to convert late on to secure the result and passage to the penultimate weekend of the season.
The Hawks will now play the Gold Coast Suns at Heritage Bank Arena next Saturday for a place in the 2023 VFL grand final.
Best: Bramble, Mascitti, Greene, Koschitzke, Ramsden, Arundell
Goals: Ryan 3, Greene 3, Arundell 2, Ramsden, Long, Koschitzke, Butler, Bramble, Bennetts
Disposals: Bramble 29, Mascitti 21, Brown 21, Arundell 20, Porter 18