SANDGATE captain-coach Ben Long has thrown down the gauntlet to cross-city rivals Western Magpies by suggesting they are the side under most pressure for the Pineapple Hotel Cup elimination first semi-final at Chelmer Oval on Sunday.
Backed up by a sound record over the Magpies this season – the Hawks have won both previous encounters – Long believes the home side is the one under most attention.
By Terry Wilson
“I reckon the pressure is right on them not to go out in straight sets by losing two finals in a row at home,” said Long.
So the challenge has been issued, although Western Magpies coach Peter McClennan did not exactly disagree with the comments of his opposite.
“Tell me about it,” he said. “Sure, it would be disappointing because of all the good work done this year.
“But we look at ourselves as having finished equal on top on the ladder, second on percentage.
“There’s no pressure from the club, the pressure is on expectations of the playing group.
“We know what our capabilities are. On paper we’d back our side against any other in the competition, but that means nothing unless we are motivated in what we have to do.
“If there’s no motivation on Sunday then we don’t deserve to be there.”
The Magpies lost last week’s qualifying final by only eight points to Palm Beach-Currumbin, although McClennan claimed his side lost it through mistakes rather then PBC being the dominant side.
Sandgate go into the eliminator slight favourites, on the back of their record against the Magpies this season.
The Hawks won the first, in round seven, by 14.16 (100) to 12.15 (87) after kicking six goals to one in the first quarter.
The second encounter, though, was pretty one sided as the Hawks soared to a win by 20.10 (130) to 13.6 (84) at Lemke Road.
McClennan described that effort as the worst by his side all season.
“They give you a scrap all the way,” he said of Sunday’s opponents. “Our blokes have to back themselves and do what they normally do.”
Good news for the Magpies is that big forward David Hamill, the target for many offensive thrusts, should be right to resume from an ankle injury and illness.
“He made it through training on Thursday night, but we’ll do a check on him on Saturday to see if he’s ready,” said McClennan.
There are concerns that Hamill may be short on match fitness after his problems and the Hawks are preparing as if he will definitely play.
The Magpies have also brought in midfielder Chris Judson and wing/half-back Conrad Hudghton.
Out of the side that fell to PBC are Jack Parkes (ankle), Jim Power (omitted) and Jye Spencer (knee).
Sandgate have lost Josh Walker for the rest of the season after he injured a knee during last weekend’s elimination final win over Wilston-Grange.
With key position utility Shane Etherton the only other top-liner out of action, the Hawks are close to full strength.
Sandgate named an extended interchange list, a move forced by a workplace accident involving star on-baller Will Bradley, who hurt an ankle when he fell from a ladder.
On that interchange list are ruck/forward Brendan Forbes and small forward Sean Cornish and Long said both will definitely play on Sunday.
Long is quietly confident Sandgate can repeat their last effort against the Magpies.
“When we won the first game against them we kicked six goals in the first quarter, then it was pretty even for the remainder,” he said.
But in our win in the second one was probably our most comprehensive four quarters for the year.
“I’m not sure whether they had an off day but we played well and deserved to win that day.”
A key for Sandgate is whether they can shut down the run of the Magpies. In full flight, the home side can destroy opposition because of swift ball movement.
So the simple answer is to shut that style down, says Long.
“We’ve heard all about their run, but if you don’t have the footy you don’t get freedom to run.
“I think their tactics will be dictated by the way we play. We have to keep the ball away from them because the more time we’ve got the footy in our hands, obviously the less they have it, I suppose.”
Long also believes star forward Val Pope is the key man for Western Magpies.
“They have a lot of quality players across the board, but I believe Pope is the barometer. When he’s up and going it’s a good indicator for them.”