Maroochydore advance to QAFL Grand Final in miracle comeback

By Chris ‘Yeendy’ Yeend

Maroochydore has joined Broadbeach as the 2021 Senior QAFL Grand Finalists after an extraordinary win over Labrador in the Preliminary final at Labrador on Saturday.

The Roos trailed by as much as 22-points when Tiger Pearce Hanley kicked his fifth goal of the game at the 22-minute mark of the last quarter to come back from an impossible position with a staggering 5.2 in 10-minutes of play to complete a 32-point turn-around and celebrate a famous 10-point win.

The last 10-minutes of play from the Roos may arguably be the most important 10-minutes of play of any Senior game at State level and higher for the entire season and will leave fans recalling that period of the game well beyond the conclusion of this season, and adding another incredible chapter to an outstanding season in the QAFL.

Perhaps the most fitting act of the conclusion of the game belonged to Maroochydore’s Sam McLaughlin. Even when his team was seemingly watching the game slip away in the second half, he was still his team’s best player; and with the team in front by four-points at the 32-minute mark of the last quarter, he gathered the ball, snapped around the body on his left foot and sealed the Roos’ place in the Grand Final and cap off a best on ground performance in style.

IT was a battle between two league heavyweights on paper heading into the contest, both will miraculous achievements across the season to warrant their place in the Preliminary Final.

Labrador came from second last position on the QAFL Senior ladder in 2020 to minor premiers in 2021 under the leadership of AFL Senior Coach of the Year in Queensland, Nick Malceski.

Maroochydore had beaten just one team in the top six all season, but took down Redland-Victoria Point and Morningside in consecutive weeks, all of who had a better W/L ratio across the season.

Someone’s Cinderalla story was not going to progress beyond this week.

Labrador won the toss and elected to kick with the aid of a handy breeze, but Maroochydore forgot to read the script as it sent home five-answered goals before time-on in the first term to break away to a 30-point lead. Steven, Laing and Scholard all played key roles up forward but it was the backline that caused chaos for the Labrador midfielders and forwards as they worked their way into front positions and took countless marks from opposition kicks.

Ruckman Jacob Simpson took four marks on the wing, and looked to have the better of opposition ruckman Jake Goldsmith.

Jaicob Kenny had a great shut-down role for Labrador by closing down Mitch Scholard, and Bryce Retzlaff had the better of the dual against Maroochydore backman Jordan Daniel. Despite these key wins, Maroochydore looked likely to go on with the job.

Enter Alex McKay for Labrador. He inserted himself into the midfield late in the first quarter and didn’t leave the side of Jono Giles of Maroochydore for the rest of the game. McKay’s presence and influence helped guide Retzlaff to the opening goal for Labrador early in time-on in the first quarter to give his team some spark.

Retzlaff’s goal worked as Labrador came out looking a different side after quarter-time. It won more battles in their defensive half of the ground, and its pressure on the opposition forwards forced them to re-consider their first option while approaching attacking 50, and force them into an error on the second option.

Goldsmith became the best big man on the ground and dominated in the air and at ground level, while Matt Lee and Dylan Fyfe teamed up with Dylan Beattie and Thomas Reeves to command the backline for the Tigers.

Pearce Hanley was taken out of the midfield and injected deep in the forward line and kicked two goals in the second term as Labrador closed the gap to 12-points at the main change after holding its opponents to one goal through Mitch Scholard.

The Tigers came out after half-time with more purpose as they levelled the scores inside the first five-minutes, and when McKay kicked a goal at the 19.5-minute mark, they hit the front. Late goals to Charlton Offermans and Cooper Anderson increased the margin out to 18-points at three-quarter-time. The Roos added just one goal in the middle quarters while the home team kicked eight of nine goals and looked destined for victory.

Goldsmith went down with a knock to his left leg late in the third term as the Tigers threw forward, Patrick Turner into the ruck as a replacement. It worked.

Labrador, kicking into a slight breeze in the final quarter, could not put away its opponents with four of its seven shots hitting the post. It needed one to sink in and the margin would have pushed towards five-goals.

Maroochydore had the better last quarter performances this year, winning 14 as opposed to Labrador’s 7; this included seven of nine last quarter goals against the Sharks two weeks earlier; so when momentum hit late in the game, the Grand Final train to the Sunshine Coast was leaving the station and the Roos kicked six of eight last quarter goals to seal its Grand Final date with Broadbeach.

To make matters more interesting, Broadbeach and Maroochydore have not met this year.

Maroochydore 5.1, 6.3, 6.7, 13.10 (88) defeated Labrador 1.1, 4.4, 9.7, 11.12 (78)

Picture by Karen Simpson Photography

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