WEST London Wildcats have capped off a spectacular 2011 season, defeating Wandsworth Demons by 32 points in the AFL London Grand Final at Motspur Park on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ 13.11 (89) to 8.9 (57) win is the club’s eighth flag since AFL London started in 1990, making it the competition’s most successful club.
Also see: AFL Grand Final 2011 – watch it in London
Earlier in the day in the Conference game, Shepherd’s Bush Raiders (West London’s second team) defeated Clapham Demons (Wandsworth’s second team), 17.4 (106) to 9.13 (67).
But any chance of making it a clean sweep was ruined in the curtain raiser when South London (Wandsworth’s third team) held off Ealing Emus (West London’s third team) by seven points, 3.11 (29) to 3.4 (22).
In the Premiership match, things got underway in a fairly understated fashion, with both teams holding back in the opening minutes and feeling each other out before landing their first punch.
West London didn’t just land one blow, but a flurry, in a dominant first half that had Wandsworth on the ropes at halftime.
It wasn’t long before the plot started to unravel as West London’s midfield brigade – led by Nathan Costley, Dave Taylor and Russ Douglas – started to flex their collective muscle, giving key forwards Sam Widmer, Steven Puhar and Adam Broadbent prime opportunities in front of goal.
While there will be varying opinions about why the Wildcats led by five goals at halftime – some which mention the umpires’ influence with two Demons (skipper Kyle Sleep and James O’Connell) getting yellow carded for separate offences – there is little doubt the Demons were too often second to the ball, wasteful with disposal and ill disciplined when the whistle went against them.
However two men down in a Grand Final, especially with such a deficit, is never good news.
But, true to form all season, the Demons refused to lie down and accept defeat.
A revitalised and focused Wandsworth emerged from the main break with renewed vigour unsighted in the first two stanzas.
It was the usual suspects in Sam Bates, Ben Jansen and Damian Fenoughty who started to get first hands on the midfield pill.
Jeremy Coombe and Sleep – who wasted no time getting amongst it when he returned – and the slippery Mark Brescacin up forward were the men responsible for a better term.
But while it was an improved term, the Wildcats still managed to win the quarter, booting four goals to three.
With little left in the tank, the task of reeling in a six-goal buffer in the last term would always be tough.
And so the Wildcats ran out comfortable winners.
Skipper Puhar, who finished in the ruck and resembled a bandaged mummy by the end, had a presence all day and declared with minutes remaining: “Just a few minutes left, boys, make sure you enjoy it.”
And they did. EU player Ben O’Brien capped off his season by booting his second goal for the day while others queued up for their slice of the premiership pie.
The siren sounded shortly after on what was a well-contested, if somewhat disappointingly one-sided, Grand Final.
Dave Taylor, who collected nearly every kick in from fullback and proceeded to set up play from the backline, was rewarded with the best-on-ground medal for his game.
James O’Connell got the gong for best European Union player on the day, despite being sent off in the first half.
But the drama didn’t end with the final siren. The post-match speech from Demons coach Rees Colling left all present in no doubt about his views on the umpiring of the day.
With three grand finals contested between the two clubs on the day, the freedom was there to promote and demote players from the first, seconds and thirds, regardless of how few games they had played in that grade.
The departure of centre half-forward Al Carlson after the second semi-final win meant Sam Widmer got his chance to show his wares in the ones.
This left the problem of a gaping hole at centre half-forward in the Raiders side.
Enter Jack Russell, who with half a dozen games in 2011 and a trip to Amsterdam leading up to the finale hadn’t had the ideal preparation.
That didn’t stop the mobile big man busting packs and kicking goals to set up the emphatic 39 point win in the first half.
His dominant performance at centre half-forward was enough to earn him BOG honours in what could have went the way of half a dozen Raiders, including Aaron Sawers, Joel Salmond, Raa Newcombe or even president Ben Bond who was hard at it all day in his ‘last ever’ game of Aussie Rules.
But as coach Craig Marshall said in his victory speech, it was hardly one-way traffic all day, with the scoreboard tending to flatter to the Raiders, who were slightly more polished with their finishing.
Regardless of the standard, a Grand Final is just that and no one was going to let an opportunity to win a premiership slip through their fingers just because the grade of Saturday’s curtain raiser carried the ‘Social’ tag.
If anything, the title was misleading such was the ferocity and determination of all concerned to take the spoils.
And so the dew kickers got proceedings underway with the closest – if scrappiest – affair of the day.
The Demons benefited from dropping back experienced utility Andrew Murray who when moved to full forward kicked a couple of crucial goals that gave the Demons a handy buffer heading into the final term.
His goal sense and footy smarts when the game was in the balance earnt him the best-on-ground medal.
But Ealing Emus would not lie down; they fought right to the end.
With minutes remaining, the Emus were right in the contest, booting a late goal to get within seven points.
But that’s where the margin remained, South London Demons emerging as the Social premiers for 2011.
For all the photos and action from Grand Final day, go to AustralianTimes.co.uk/photo-galleries