A YEAR of expansion in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 helped provide a thrilling season, where only two wins separated the top five teams.
Twelve months after welcoming Banyule to the fold, the competition again added another new side, with Kilmore joining from the Riddell District Football League to make for an eight-team third division.
The addition of Kilmore eliminated the bye from the Division 3 fixture, meaning all teams played 18 games, as opposed to 16.
The additional matches made for a more gripping end to the home and away campaign, with spots inside the top four at a premium this year.
Despite sitting outside the top four at Round 10, Watsonia was able to break its 29-year premiership drought. In Corey McCall’s second year at the helm, the Saints produced a stunning second half of the year, winning 10 of their final 11 games to win the flag.
Epping finished runner-up for the second-successive year, again unable to produce its best on grand final day. Despite the disappointing end to the year, the Blues took another step forward this season under Greg Whitcroft and were the team to catch for most of the year.
South Morang, St Mary’s and Mernda were also in the premiership hunt for most of the campaign, with the Demons the unlucky side to miss out on the finals, despite sitting inside the top four for 17 of the 18 home and away rounds.
Kilmore and Heidelberg West fought out the wooden-spoon battle, with the Blues avoiding bottom spot in their debut season courtesy of a Round 17 win over the Hawks, while Banyule again found itself caught in the middle of the ladder.
On the individual front, Matthew Crompton capped off a memorable year for Watsonia by claiming the competition best and fairest award, while his teammate Levi Moss was awarded with the best on ground medallion in the 47-point grand final win over Epping.
Mernda skipper Les Adams claimed the Coaches Player of the Year Award, while Aaron Willitts kicked more goals than any player in the competition despite missing four games through injury.
Continue below for a season review for each Division 3 team:
WATSONIA – Premier (16 wins, 5 losses)
A fourth-successive finals appearance culminated in Watsonia lifting the premiership cup for the first time since 1987. After sitting fifth on the ladder at the halfway point of the home and away season, the Saints timed their charge to the flag perfectly. They won their final eight regular-season matches to secure the minor premiership, before overcoming a hiccup in the second semi final to win both the preliminary final over South Morang and grand final over Epping. The run home was far from a simple one for the Saints, who were pitted against each of their fellow top-five opponents from Round 12 onward. Levi Moss claimed the best on ground medallion in the grand final win and it wasn’t to be the last individual honour for a Watsonia player, with captain Matthew Crompton take out the competition best and fairest award at season’s end. Crompton’s leadership was instrumental throughout the season, helping guide the young side to premiership glory. For the second-successive year Jarryd Allan was a place-getter in the best and fairest count, this year finishing tied for third, while recruit Matthew Buzinskas – who cruelly missed the last two finals through injury – was equal fifth. Hayden Mitchell led the club’s goal kicking with 35 majors, with the multi-pronged forward line ensuring the premier had many avenues to goal. The Saints had six players kick more than 25 goals for the season, with only South Morang (three) and Epping (two) also having multiple players achieve the feat. Young forward Adrian Alfonsi was a find in the back half of the year, kicking 16 goals from Round 15 onwards – including three in the opening quarter of the grand final. With Corey McCall set to continue as coach in 2017, and with a young side at his disposal, all signs are pointing in the right direction for Watsonia as it enters Division 2.
Most times in best: Matthew Crompton (13)
Leading goal kicker: Hayden Mitchell (35 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jarryd Allan, Matthew Buzinskas, Matthew Crawford, Matthew Crompton, Xavier Kelly and Corey McCall (coach)
EPPING – Runner-Up (14 wins, 6 losses)
So close, yet so far – that was the tale again for Epping after losing the Division 3 grand final for a second year in a row. Despite topping the ladder for much of the second half of the year and being the first side to progress into the big dance, the Blues were unable to add to their trophy cabinet after again being outplayed in the premiership decider. The Blues’ form was hard to read in the first month of the season, with Greg Whitcroft’s first four matches in charge yielding two losses, a massive 135-point win and a one-point victory. Epping then found consistency and produced its best form from rounds 5-13, when it went on a nine-game winning streak, which included four wins by less than 10 points. The Blues slipped to second on the ladder after a late-season fadeout, but produced the goods in a 37-point upset of Watsonia in the second semi final – a performance they could not replicate a fortnight later. Veteran defender Shane Wood continued to excel across half back throughout the year, with solid support from Michael Robertson. Tom Hughes and Leigh Judd again found plenty of the ball, while Aaron Willitts spearheaded the forward line in his return from West Preston-Lakeside. Willitts overcame an early-season injury to kick 73 goals, which included two bags of 11 and another of 10. Whitcroft was not afraid to blood youngsters through the senior side, with teenagers Jason Stavely, Dallyce Taylor and Corey Middleton all playing regular senior football in 2016.
Most times in best: Shane Wood and Thomas Hughes (9)
Leading goal kicker: Aaron Willitts (73 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Leigh Judd, Michael Robertson, Aaron Willitts and Shane Wood
SOUTH MORANG – 3rd (13 wins, 7 losses)
South Morang’s season finished on preliminary final day for the third-successive year, with the Lions again going down in a close result. Despite the disappointment of again missing a grand final berth, the Lions did well just to make it through to the finals after a poor start to the season. Staring down the barrel of a bottom-four finish after losing the opening three games of the 2016 campaign, Dean Grainger’s side was able to resurrect its season with a Round 4 win over Epping on ANZAC Day. Still outside the top four at Round 13, the Lions won their final five games of the regular season to secure third spot on the ladder. Arguably their best win of the season came in the first semi final, when they overcame a 28-point deficit midway through the third quarter to record a stirring nine-point win. 2015 club champion Luke Shelton was again outstanding in his second year with the club, while Daniel Caruso was a surprise packet in his first season of senior football, playing all 20 matches and earning selection in the Team of the Year. South Morang had the most potent attack in the competition, with recruit Kane Maghamez, Paul Harrison and Wayne Pavitt all booting more than 40 goals as their side posted the most points of any Division 3 side. However, the Lions were able to be scored against the other way and conceded the most points of any top four side.
Most times in best: Luke Shelton (13)
Leading goal kicker: Kane Maghamez (54 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Daniel Caruso, Kane Maghamez, Wayne Pavitt, Jake Potter and Luke Shelton
ST MARY’S – 4th (12 wins, 7 losses)
St Mary’s development under Con Borg took another big leap forward in 2016, with the club progressing to the finals for the first time since 2012. With a new-look jumper and a bold ambition, the club started the season with six-consecutive wins – a remarkable achievement after winning just five games in each of the past three years. The Burra couldn’t quite maintain the high level throughout the whole season and looked set to miss the finals when they slipped to fifth place at Round 16 after a big loss at South Morang. However, they again rose to the challenge with an exceptional do-or-die win at Mernda in Round 17, before securing fourth spot with a 142-point thumping of Kilmore the next week. They appeared ready to advance through to the preliminary final after a fast start in the first semi final, before being reined in by South Morang. The next step for St Mary’s is to record its first finals win at senior level. Dillan Ronalds was outstanding in his return to the club and finished second in the competition best and fairest voting and Coaches Player of the Year award. Jake Dambrauskas enjoyed his best year at senior level to be named in the Team of the Year alongside Ronalds and Nicholas Daisley, while Shane Derham was again a consistent performer. Despite being limited by injury in his first year at Whatmough Park, Isaac Edgar impressed in his 11 matches, while veteran forward Toby O’Meara joined the club mid-season and provided a strong presence, finishing with 25 goals from nine games. Despite the seniors being bundled out in the first week of the finals, the reserves enjoyed more success – winning the premiership with a three-point grand final win over South Morang.
Most times in best: Dillan Ronalds (13)
Leading goal kicker: Toby O’Meara (25 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Nicholas Daisley, Jake Dambrauskas and Dillan Ronalds
MERNDA – 5th (12 wins, 6 losses)
Mernda proved to be the hard-luck story in an exceptionally even Division 3 season, where very little separated the top five sides. The Demons were perched inside the top four from Round 1 to Round 17, before slipping to fifth spot at Round 18 after being on the receiving end of a final-round thumping from South Morang. Mernda appeared a genuine premiership contender for much of the 2016 season, particular after ending Epping’s nine-game winning streak in Round 14. Remarkably, the Demons sat second on the ladder at Round 16, before consecutive losses to St Mary’s and South Morang in the final two rounds pushed them outside the top four. It put a disappointing spin on an otherwise positive year for Mernda, who this year moved its home base to the impressive Waterview Recreation Reserve. Les Adams was again a standout for the club, with his efforts recognised by the opposition coaches when named the Division 3 Coaches Player of the Year. David Hutchinson made an immediate impact in his return to Demons and led the club’s goal kicking with 42 majors, while Josh Delaney’s return was capped off with selection in the back pocket in the Team of the Year. Matthew Golledge played every game and continued to improve, while there was plenty to like about fellow youngsters Anthony Cardamone and Bill Samie. Cardamone was a standout in many of his 13 matches, while Samie booted 16 goals in his six appearances at senior level. With coach Jason Ford stepping aside at season’s end, there appears plenty to work with for his replacement as Mernda looks to return to finals action.
Most times in best: Les Adams (7)
Leading goal kicker: David Hutchinson (42 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Les Adams, Josh Delaney and David Hutchinson
BANYULE – 6th (6 wins, 12 losses)
Banyule’s second season in the Northern Football League followed a similar pattern to its debut campaign. After winning seven games in 2015, the Bears could only manage six wins this year. Each of Banyule’s victories came against bottom-two sides Heidelberg West and Kilmore, indicating that improvement is needed in the off-season for the club to bridge the gap on the top-four. A big win over Heidelberg West in Round 1 was followed by a spate of close losses, with the Bears beaten by less than a goal for three-consecutive weeks between round 2 to 4. Once can only imagine how the club’s season may have panned out had they been able to win each of those three games against eventual finalists Watsonia, Epping and St Mary’s. The pain was conflicted further by an eight-point loss to Epping in Round 9 and a six-point defeat at Mernda in Round 12. Big-name signing Chris Tarrant played just two games for the year, leaving Banyule short on goal kickers throughout the campaign, with only Michael Italia (33 goals) kicking more than 20 majors during the season. James Black featured in Banyule’s best more than any other player in his first season since crossing from Nunawading, while Luke Giles was the club’s sole representative in the Team of the Year, earning selection for the second-successive year. Daniel Kelly made an immediate impression after joining from Heidelberg in Round 4, booting nine goals in his first two games. Meanwhile Riley Williams continued his progression in the senior team, playing all but one match and featuring in the best on seven occasions.
Most times in best: James Black (8)
Leading goal kicker: Michael Italia (33 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Luke Giles
KILMORE – 7th (2 wins, 16 losses)
Kilmore acknowledged that its move from the Riddle District Football League wouldn’t bring immediate success on the field, and so it proved to be, with the NFL’s newest club winning only two matches in its debut season. After pushing St Mary’s in the opening round, the Blues looked as though they might be more competitive than first thought. However a big loss to Epping in Round 2 proved the club still had a way to go in order to achieve regular on-field success. Kilmore recorded its first win in the NFL in Round 3 when it easily accounted for Heidelberg West by 69 points. Despite losing to the Hawks in their next encounter, Kilmore was able to avoid the wooden spoon by claiming an 81-point win in the pair’s third and final encounter in Round 17. A change in the coaching ranks occurred in Round 13, with Travis McCarty stepping aside and his assistant Nathan Phillips taking the reins for the final six weeks. Kilmore was certainly a more competitive side at its home ground J.J Clancy Reserve, where both its wins were recorded. The Blues also finished within five points of Mernda at the venue, and lost a further three games by 40 points or less. By comparison, they were beaten by an average of 83 points in their nine losses on the road. Marcus Webb was one of Kilmore’s best performers during the year and was the club’s sole representative in the Team of the Year. Calder Cannons-listed player Liam Middleton and fellow youngster Reid Collier showed in limited appearances that they have big football futures ahead, while Peter De Sousa and ruckman Brian Bell also provided good service.
Most times in best: Marcus Webb (10)
Leading goal kicker: Alex Desmond (15 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Marcus Webb
HEIDELBERG WEST – 8th (1 wins, 17 losses)
The 2016 season was always going to be a challenge for Heidelberg West, who lost 2015 leading goal kicker Kyl Ewart and Coaches Player of the Year Dan Bailey after last year’s bottom-placed finish. The opening six weeks of the campaign were painful for the Hawks, who sat bottom with a percentage of just 23.33 after six heavy defeats. However, Grant Toms’ side was able to produce a more competitive effort thereafter, culminating in a deserved five-point win over Kilmore in Round 12 – in what proved to be the club’s only victory for the year. Brad Moore continued to give his all for the brown and gold jumper and received solid support throughout the year from Liam Pender. Aidan Young and Kane Moore also offered good service, and were often named among the Hawks’ best player. Finding a replacement for Ewart up forward was always going to be a difficult task, with Aaron Smith topping the Hawks’ goal kicking with just 14 majors, as his side scored an average of just 43 points per game – down from 66 last year.
Most times in best: Brad Moore and Liam Pender (10)
Leading goal kicker: Aaron Smith (14 goals)
DIVISION 3 – 2016 REVIEW
First Semi Final: South Morang 10.7 (67) def St Mary’s 8.10 (58)
Second Semi Final: Watsonia 9.0 (54) def by Epping 13.13 (91)
Preliminary Final: Watsonia 8.13 (61) def South Morang 6.13 (49)
Grand Final: Epping 6.12 (48) def by Watsonia 14.11 (95)
Best and Fairest
1st – Matthew Crompton (Watsonia) – 21 votes
2nd – Dillan Ronalds (St Mary’s) – 17 votes
3rd – Jarryd Allan (Watsonia) – 15 votes
3rd – David Hutchinson (Mernda) – 15 votes
5th – Mitchell Buckley (South Morang) – 13 votes
5th – Matthew Buzinskas (Watsonia) – 13 votes
5th – Kane Maghamez (South Morang) – 13 votes
Leading Goal Kicker (home and away games only)
1st – Aaron Willitts (Epping) – 67 goals
2nd – Kane Maghamez (South Morang) – 52 goals
3rd – Paul Harrison (South Morang) – 43 goals
4th – David Hutchinson (Mernda) – 42 goals
4th – Wayne Pavitt (South Morang) – 42 goals
Coaches Player of the Year
1st – Les Adams (Mernda) – 19 votes
2nd – Dillan Ronalds (St Mary’s) – 18 votes
2nd – Marcus Webb (Kilmore) – 18 votes
2nd – Shane Wood (Epping) – 18 votes
5th – Aaron Willitts (Epping) – 17 votes