By Beth Newman
Palm Beach and the Western Magpies will face off for the last spot in the 2013 Allied Pickfords Cup grand final, after a win over Surfers Paradise today.
The Lions got the jump on the visitors at Salk Oval, but the Demons shot themselves in the foot with poor conversion and inefficiency through the afternoon.
Surfers’ late inclusion, Josh Graccogna, kicked the first goal of the game for the Demons, but it was their only major in the opening half, giving the Lions what was ultimately a game-winning lead.
By quarter time, the home side had a 23 point advantage and were well and truly on the front foot.
The Demons were ferocious in their second-half efforts, led by a sensational performance from captain Jacob Clark on the half back line.
After starting forward, experienced head, Jason Torney, was pushed into the back line and was among the side’s best.
While Surfers had the run of the play early, the Lions’ conversion was far superior and they punished almost every Demons turnover.
Matt Carroll was sensational in the Palm Beach forward line, while Clint Kelly showed his importance in a strong match.
Kelly headed a list of experienced players that returned to the side for the match, which Lions coach, Daryn Cresswell, was crucial to the result.
“Last week, we played Danny Darnett and an under-18 in Jed Harrison and that was good exposure for them, but in big games, you need big bodies and smart players and they were terrific today,” he said.
“(Kelly’s) a gun. He can play anywhere and players respond to him because he’s such a good player.”
A side that thrives on confidence, the Lions were almost impossible to stop once they got a roll on, and their sensational start was key to that, Cresswell said.
“It’s all about gaining momentum ,” he said.
“Our start was much better and our intensity around the contest and our spread was good.”
The Demons managed to claw their way back into the game in that latter half, with efforts that pleased coach, Beau Zorko.
“Our effort and endeavour was first rate,” he said.
“To show the character and the spirit they’ve got is again testament to them.
“They’re a very good group and if they stick together, they’ll go places.”
Both sides had late changes, with Jackson Emblem brought in for the home side despite not being named in the side earlier this week.
While Emblem’s inclusion might have surprised some observers, Zorko said he was always prepared for the swingman to play.
“If we didn’t prepare for them to be at full strength and 100 percent fitness, then we were always going to end up with egg on our faces .We expected Jackson to play and he did.
For the Demons, spearhead Trent McIntyre failed a last-gasp fitness test on Saturday, opening a spot for Graccogna, who was among the Demons’ best today.
Surfers now finishes the year with the same final result as 2012, but Zorko felt the side was in a better position than at the same time last year.
“We’ve won more games this year than what we did last which is a tick and I think we certainly built on our depth,” he said.
“Our group as a whole is improving.
“I certainly think we’re going in the right direction as a football club.”
Zorko said he wasn’t sure whether club stalwarts like Jake Ryan and Simon Fenton would go around again, but he would be leaving that up to them.
“We’ll see,” he said.
“If they want to go, they can play.
“They were all very good again today and you need that experience at times like this. But, 12 months down the track, it might be a different side.”
Cresswell’s focus now turns squarely to the Magpies, and hopefully another epic battle between the two competition powerhouses.
“We’ve had some ding-dong battles this year and it’s two-one in their favour,” he said.
“We tend to think the bigger ground will suit us and only time will tell.”
The Lions’ only concern from the match is the fitness of Angus Munro, who suffered a corked thigh in the third term.
Cresswell said he expected Munro to be fine for the preliminary final, after he sat out most of the second half.
Palm Beach and the Magpies will play in the preliminary final on Saturday September 7 at 2:30pm at Sunlinc Oval, Stafford.
To see how today’s match unfolded, click here: http://bit.ly/17run6t