While the talk about this Sunday's grand final will centre on the
make up of the Port Melbourne and Sandringham sides, there's more
to it than meets the eye. As Port coach Gerard FitzGerald prepares
for the grand final is he a man who knows he's loved? It's well
documented how David Dunbar, despite taking Port to the grand final
in 2002 and the preliminary in 2003, was shown the door with a year
of his contract remaining.
What might trouble FitzGerald is that the VFL rumour mill says
he'll be at North Ballart (they've not approached him or compiled
a list of candidates) in 2005. By contrast, Zebras General Manager
John Mennie tells me Mark Williams has a verbal agreement to coach
the Zebras next year. Might this give Sandringham a psychological
edge? Given Fitzgerald has lost a preliminary final (1998) and consecutive
grand finals (1999/2000) with North Ballarat and an elimination
final by 100 points at Springvale last year he doesn't need any
added pressure. Nothing cuts deeper than losing finals matches.
And Fitzgerald knows this is one he can and must win. Port president
Peter Saultry says that after the Dunbar 'problem' they chose a
policy of one year agreements reviewed at the end of the season.
Equally, Saultry says he doesn't want anything to unsettle his players.
So, has someone started the mind games? Every grand final is a battle
of wits and a psychological war that thrives on nerve and cunning
and an absence of distractions.
When Williamstown coach Terry Wheeler looked into the ABC camera
a few days before the 1988 grand final and said 'we're ready for
them (Coburg), but the question is, are they ready for us,' it produced
an irresistible adrenalin rush. We showed that clip and we won.
Sometimes in football, as in life, perception can be everything.
With so little separating these two great sides Port needs a coach
to radiate poise in the lead up to what will be a classic VFA/VFL
grand final. That's one for the coach and the 'pres' to sort out.
|A wet day in Port, and the grandstand behind which Stevie
Wright copped the bad news. Now for the grand final.
THE WRIGHT DECISION
If Gerard FitzGerald's position at Port is perplexing, what about
Stevie Wright's exit from North Ballarat? Although the board decided at a meeting on the eve of the finals not to renew his contract,
Wright wasn't told until the Sunday after the club's loss to Tasmania
in Bellerive. The message was conveyed to Wright by club president
Peter Wilson behind the Port grandstand after the reserves match.
THE GRAND FINAL WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR
During last week's preliminary final we broadcast an interview
with former Zebra star Anthony Allen and footage of the 1994 Sandringham
v Box Hill grand final. It should remind people of the place VFA
grand finals have in the football psyche. For so many reasons this
Sunday's is as anticipated as the classics of the 70s, 80s and early
90s. It has two men who between them have coached for 15 years and
tasted grand finals. Mark Williams was a Zebra player when the late
Trevor Barker lifted the premiership cup at Optus Oval in 1992,
and Gerard Fitzgerald has tasted the bitterness of grand final defeat.
The difference for the genial 'Fitzy' is that he now has a real
chance. In 1998/1999/2000 he took brave but undermanned North Ballarat
sides into the finals. This time he has the irrepressible midfielders
- Steve Lawrence, Jeremy Clayton and Eddie Sansbury - at his disposal
and the highflying Nick Gill and dazzling David Pitt to kick goals.
And as he's shown with the VFL representative side, when given quality
players he doesn't leave supporters guessing.
Unlike some of the grumpy men who frequent coaching boxes in the
AFL, FitzGerald and Williams exude personal warmth that pervades
their teams and builds solidarity. This is no more evident that
in Sandringham's back half. While many commentators can't see past
stoppages and midfields, grand finals are still won inside fifty.
It's here that the Zebras pose a real threat to Port. Williams has
players - Ryan Ferguson, Chris Lamb and Nathan Carroll - capable
of stifling Gill, Chad Jones, Pitt and David Hale should he drift
up forward. And while Port has the effervescent Josh Rudd and the
sublime skills of Anthony Aloi to inspire them, Williams has the
prancing David Gallagher and brilliant Adam Fisher to raise the
Will this be the game where six-time Frosty Miller medallist Nick
Sautner 'kicks a bag' to rival the six goals he kicked in the 2000
premiership? Sautner worked hard for his three goals last week.
If the corridor opens up, his 100th game with the Zebras might be
one to remember. Tasmania had no one to combat the mountainous Mark
Jamar. But Port has Hale, and Jones if necessary. Neither coach
can say they don't have the players to win what should be a titanic
struggle. And each, through their work on interstate games, has
an intimate knowledge of his opponent's tactical mind. Drama, passion
and a 12/10 rule that ensures fairness means this will be a real
VFA/VFL grand final.
SANDRINGHAM v Port - OPTUS OVAL - 2.10 PM
Last Saturday's ABC broadcast attracted a peak audience of approximately
250,000 people across Victoria and Tasmania.