The Casey Demons face the Box Hill Hawks for Peter Jackson VFL ‘Love the Game’ Grand Final glory on Sunday. Let’s preview the biggest match on the VFL calendar.
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CASEY DEMONS vs BOX HILL HAWKS – Sunday 3.20pm @ Etihad Stadium
[LIVE on Channel 7 + listen on SEN, 3WBC radio, Casey Radio, Macquarie Radio and ABC Radio]
These teams haven’t met in a VFA/VFL Grand Final before. Casey joined the competition as Springvale in 1982 and has played in seven grand finals since then, with wins in 1987, 1995-96 and 1998-99, and losses in 1990 and most recently in 2016 at the hands of Footscray. Box Hill has reached six deciders since joining the VFL in 1951, triumphing in 2001 and 2013, and falling short in 1994, 2003 and 2014-15. In that recent run of grand-final appearances, the Hawks defeated Geelong in 2013 and lost to Footscray and then Williamstown across the next two years.
SEASON IN REVIEW
The Demons (16-4) started the season with back-to-back wins before dropping games to Richmond and Geelong. Those losses spurred them on to 12 straight wins until they ended the home-and-away rounds with defeats at the hands of Box Hill and Williamstown. Finals victories over the Cats (by 91 points) and Essendon (eight points) then put Casey into the Grand Final from second position.
The Hawks (15-6) began 2018 with four straight wins before a loss to the Demons saw them drop five of seven games. They recovered to finish the home-and-away season in sixth spot with six wins in the last seven matches and then claimed September victories over Port Melbourne (by 11 points), Geelong (29 points) and Williamstown (one point).
Rd 6 @ Casey Fields: Casey Demons 16.15 (111) d Box Hill Hawks 11.6 (72)
The Demons led from late in the first quarter to inflict Box Hill’s first defeat of the season, with four unanswered goals either side of the final change extending their lead from eight to an unassailable 35 points.
Rd 20 @ Box Hill City Oval: Box Hill Hawks 13.13 (91) d Casey Demons 6.10 (46)
The Hawks put Casey away with a seven-goal-to-three third quarter as driving rain temporarily gave way to sunshine, turning their 13-point lead at half time into a match-winning 37-point buffer at the last break.
What will Melbourne’s AFL momentum mean for Casey? The AFL Demons have been riding a wave through the finals, and the parallels to the feel-good stories of Richmond last season and the Western Bulldogs in 2016 are striking. The aligned VFL teams of those clubs also reached grand finals in the same years before their AFL counterparts claimed premiership glory the following week. Depending on whether Melbourne wins on Saturday, Demons AFL-listers such as Bernie Vince, Jeff Garlett and Jayden Hunt will be keen to impress if selected for this match in case they’re required for an AFL Grand Final call-up.
Are the Hawks spent? Box Hill has put in a monster effort to win nine of its last 10 games, including epic finals triumphs over Port Melbourne – when the Hawks were literally one second from being eliminated from September – and Williamstown, when they barely survived a gruelling final-term battle. Key ball-winners Andrew Moore and James Cousins have fronted up time and again in that stretch but will need to go to the well once more against a Casey outfit that has enjoyed a week off during its own finals campaign.
HOW THE CASEY DEMONS CAN WIN IT
Casey will aim to pressure Box Hill’s precision ball-users into error. The Demons ranked last in the VFL following the home-and-away season for hitouts per game and ninth for clearances but, as the clear top-ranked team for tackles, thrive on winning the ball back from the opposition. The grunt work of the likes of Corey Wagner and James Munro – who laid 21 tackles last week – saw Casey record 116 and 135 tackles against Geelong and Essendon respectively this finals series. If the Demons don’t clamp down on the space-loving Hawks playmakers, they’ll find it hard to provide dangerous goalkickers Cam Pedersen, Tim Smith and Cory Machaya will enough opportunities to score.
HOW THE BOX HILL HAWKS CAN WIN IT
Box Hill might be more suited to the dry conditions under the Etihad Stadium roof, as the Hawks rank first in the VFL for uncontested possessions, effective kicks and uncontested marks per game. When the likes of Will Hams, Brendan Whitecross and Dallas Willsmore are allowed use their foot skills to deliver the ball inside 50 to forward targets such as Chris Jones and Mitch Lewis, Box Hill is hard to beat. The Hawks will look to capitalise on Marc Pittonet’s ruck work at stoppages or launch forward forays from defence on the back of intercepting by Kaiden Brand and Tim O’Brien, finding a way through Casey’s trademark pressure to find their playmakers on the outside.