AFTER five heartbreaking TAC Cup Grand Final losses, the Dandenong Stingrays have delivered the long-awaited first flag to the club amidst a huge supporter base which featured past players, families and friends. The Stingrays achieved the dream through a six-point win over Oakleigh Chargers at Ikon Park in what was a fitting decider between the two top sides of the competition this year.
The Stingrays looked home on multiple occasions, leading by as much as 30 points midway through the third term when draft bolter, Sam Sturt nailed an important goal. Even in the fourth term, Sturt popped up for the easiest of goals from the goalsquare to push it to 29 points, the same margin when Lachlan McDonnell kicked a terrific goal on the run in the ninth minute of the final stanza after Noah Anderson had duly replied for the Chargers.
Even by the fourteenth minute, the Chargers needed five goals in nine minutes. Headlines were beginning to be prepared and stories were getting completed, but little did most know that there was still to be a twist in the game. Enter the Oakleigh charge, as Anderson backed up his effort from earlier with a second goal, Jake Gasper put his name on the scoresheet with an important set shot, and Jack Ross created something out of nothing. All of a sudden the Chargers had raced from nowhere near it, to a genuine chance to steal their fifth flag.
There was a sense around the ground that the momentum had changed and with two goals required in four minutes, and Oakleigh having most of the play, there would have been some nervous moments on the Stingrays bench. When bottom-ager Dylan Williams snapped a goal with 90 seconds left on the clock, the fear of a loss, or at least extra time would have crept into the minds of some of the Stingrays supporters who had seen the five grand final losses over the past two and a half decades.
The ball was locked inside Oakleigh’s forward line with repeat stoppages making everyone around the ground unsure of what might happen next. As the ball spilled into space out the back, everyone descended on it, but luckily for the minor premiers, the siren sounded on what was a magnificent victory. For the Chargers, they had fought right until the final siren, throwing players around to both mix up the game, and show off their versatility to recruiters.
The game had started on Oakleigh’s terms early, booting three goals to two in the opening term to lead by seven points at the first break. Both teams were up for the fight, and the second quarter proved to be the gamebreaker with Dandenong piling on four goals to zero and the Chargers were left to rue their misses, booting four behinds with some gettable chances. Despite Oakleigh’s best efforts after the main break, Dandenong still hit hard in the third term, booting four gaols to three to open up a 23-point lead, before the amazing final term which resulted in the Stingrays taking home the flag.
Talented bottom-age prospect, Matthew Rowell took out the best on ground award despite being on the losing side, racking up a terrific 32 disposals, 11 marks, seven inside 50s, four rebounds, two clearances and three tackles. It was a tough pill to swallow for the gallant Chargers, as captain Noah Answerth (27 disposals, two marks, four tackles, four clearances and six rebounds) and Will Golds (26 disposals, six marks, two tackles, two clearances and two inside 50s) were also prominent in the midfield, with Answerth providing support in the back half.
When sole, undersized ruck Bailey Wraith had to come off, the Chargers were left to split ruck duties between the likes of Jay Robertson, Will Kelly and even Riley Collier-Dawkins – who humorously won a hitout against Bailey Williams. Up forward, Dylan Williams booted four goals from five kicks (nine touches all up), and Kelly was strong one-on-one in defence on Williams earlier in the match.
But the Stingrays had more contributors across the board, with a real team effort getting them home. Sam Fletcher started massively, and by the end of the game had one shoulder hanging off and blood streaming from his face – symbolic of Dandenong’s dedication to the contest. Fletcher finished the match with 27 disposals, four marks, three tackles, four clearances, three inside 50s and two rebounds, ahead of defender Lachlan Stenning who amassed 21 touches, two marks, two tackles four clearances, four inside 50s and six rebounds in his best game for the season.
Others who lead the way for Dandenong included co-captain Campbell Hustwaite, laying a massive 10 tackles to go with his 19 disposals, four marks, four clearances, five inside 50s and three rebounds, while Sturt and Zac Foot (both two goals from 15 disposals) provided plenty of headaches for the opposition in attack. Will Hamill played a really underrated game in defence, standing up in the final minutes with a number of crucial intercepts on his way to 15 touches and three marks, while Riley Bowman played his best game of the year in the ruck, having 22 hitouts to go with 13 disposals, six marks, three tackles, five inside 50s, three clearances, three rebounds and a goal.
DANDENONG 2.1 | 6.2 | 10.7 | 12.8 (80)
OAKLEIGH 3.2 | 3.6 | 6.8 | 11.8 (74)
Dandenong: Zac Foot 2, Bailey Williams 2, Sam Sturt 2,Lachlan McDonnell 2, Riley Bowman, Toby Bedford, Ned Cahill, Finlay Bayne.
Oakleigh: Dylan Williams 4, Noah Anderson 2, Riley Collier-Dawkins, Jay Robertson, Atu Bosenavulagi, Jack Ross, Jake Gasper.
Dandenong: Campbell Hustwaite, Lachlan Stenning, Riley Bowman, Sam Sturt, Will Hamill, Sam Fletcher.
Oakleigh: Matt Rowell, Noah Answerth, Riley Collier-Dawkins, Will Golds, Dylan Williams, Will Kelly