Written by Mitch Stagg.
Launceston has succumbed to its fifth consecutive defeat at the hands of cross-town rivals North Launceston, in a thrilling encounter at University of Tasmania stadium on Friday Night. The Blues were diligent in their approach to the contest, but ultimately the Bombers class and experience won out to record a one-point victory, 8.12 (60) to 8.11 (59).
North Launceston had won the sides’ previous two meetings in emphatic fashion and Sam Lonergan’s charges were keen to atone for those poor showings. The former Essendon and Richmond player failed to take his place in the side coming off the short break, but a raft of personnel and positional changes reaped huge benefits, as the Blues jumped out to an early lead.
Star defender Dylan Riley and the returning Rulla Kelly-Mansell traded places, as the former lined up in the goal square and Kelly-Mansell took his vacant spot on the half back flank. Midfield general Jobi Harper was also given the task of minding North spearhead Tom Bennett in defence. The Blues attacked the contest with vigour from the opening bounce and kicked the first two goals of the match through the enigmatic Ethan Jackson and spearhead Mitchell Thorp.
Kicking with the aid of a strong breeze to the city end of the ground, The Blues monopolised the forward entries, but were unable to make their early ascendency count on the scoreboard. The Bombers registered their only major of the quarter through Bart McCulloch, who shouldered his sides ruck load with Alex Lee a late withdrawal from the contest, as the Blues held a 6 point advantage at the first change.
McCulloch picked up where he left off in the second quarter, as he worked forward to kick his and the Bombers second goal, as the reigning premiers drew level. However the Blues remained resolute in their game-plan, stymying the Bombers forward advances, resulting in five consecutive behinds, before Riley broke the deadlock with a clever goal at ground level against the breeze.
The Bombers responded almost immediately, as young Fletcher Bennett pounced on the loose ball to soccer through his side’s third goal. Taylor Whitford was prolific for the home side around the ground, but neither team was able to gain the upper hand, with both sides locked at 3.5.23 a piece at the main break.
The third quarter would belong to Riley, as the Blues recruit kicked three of his four majors for the match in a dominant display up forward. The defender-cum-forward kicked the first goal of the second half via a free kick and then escaped the clutches of Arion-Richter Salter again to make it two in a row with a classy finish on the run.
After Jake Hinds kicked their third successive goal, the Blues held a three goal advantage midway through the third term, but the Bombers would claw one back through Josh Ponting against the run of play, as the midfielder benefited from a 50 metre penalty.
Riley capped off a brilliant quarter with a sensational diving mark and made no mistake with the conversion, as the Blues went into the final stanza with a 17-point advantage.
Whitford swung Dakota Banister forward to start the final term and the bullocking midfielder repaid his coach immediately with a mercurial snap from the boundary line to open the Bombers account inside the first two minutes. The Bombers midfield brigade started showing the dare that was absent for the first three quarters, as Whitford, Bradley Cox-Goodyer and Ponting surged the ball forward from the stoppages. The pressure told, as Blues co-captain Chris Savage turned the ball over in defence and Whitford made no mistake from the resultant set shot to reduce the margin to one straight kick.
The dangerous Sherrin Egger was also thrown forward by Whitford and his first goal made it three straight for the Bombers, as they erased the deficit inside 10 minutes. The Bombers continued to will the ball forward from the contest and Bannister soon bobbed up for his second of the quarter, as they snatched the lead from the fading Blues.
Launceston continued to fight and a second major to the impressive Ethan Jackson drew his side within a point, before Riley levelled the scores with a behind as a thrilling conclusion loomed.
Neither side was willing to give an inch in the final minutes, but a misguided set shot from Egger proved to be the difference, as the Bombers hung on to deny the Blues a morale boosting win.
Whitford was quick to praise the Blues post match, but was proud of his group’s response after he challenged them at three quarter time.
“We were very slow coming out of our back half and that was credit to Launceston who defended us really well.
“We just had to takes risks and play on and back ourselves, because we weren’t going to win the game of football playing the way we were playing. It worked in the end, so credit to the guys.” Whitford said.
The coach saved special praise for Sherrin Egger, who defended well all night and then proved to be the match winner in the final term up forward.
“Sherrin probably won every one on one contest that he went to tonight, back or forward and he is proving to be a great player and we’re really rapt to have him.” Whitford said.
For the beaten visitors, Lonergan was circumspect post match, but was proud of the group’s effort against the competitions benchmark.
“As athletes we have an appetite to fixate on negative aspects of our game and there were far more positive performances individually and moments in the game that I would like them to focus on.
“We got the result in terms of what we wanted from our athletes today, not necessarily the outcome, but we got what we wanted from our athletes.” Lonergan said.
The Blues will now look to snap their losing streak against competition strugglers North Hobart at home, with the Blues looking forward to including top draft prospect and under 18 All-Australian Chayce Jones against the Demons. North Launceston travels south to face the Tigers and will hope to regain Alex Lee from injury.
North Launceston 1.2, 3.5, 4.10, 8.12 (60)
Launceston 2.2, 3.5, 7.8, 8.11 (59)
North Launceston : D. Bannister 2, B. McCulloch 2, S. Egger, J. Ponting, L. Young, F. Bennett
Launceston : D. Riley 4, E. Jackson 2, M. Thorp, J. Hinds
North Launceston : S. Egger, L. Young, B. McCulloch, J. Avent, Z. Burt, T. Whitford
Launceston : T. Mundy, J. Harper, R. Kelly-Mansell, D. Riley, C. Savage, J. House