A review of the 2019 A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 season.
Whittlesea again made its stay in second division a brief one, with the Eagles winning their fourth premiership from their past four seasons in Division 2 after overcoming minor premier Banyule in the grand final.
The triumph added to the Eagles’ 2015, 2013 and 2010 premierships and handed the club an immediate return to the top flight – where they had spent the past three seasons prior to this year.
The success also added another storied chapter to Blair Harvey’s incredible career, with the six-time Heidelberg and North Heidelberg premiership player guiding the Eagles to premiership success in his first season as coach.
The Eagles did take time to settle into the season and sat inside the top-four by only percentage at Round 8, following a heavy home defeat to Banyule – where they trailed by 62 points at half time after kicking just one of the opening 12 goals.
That defeat proved to be the turning point of their campaign and the Eagles then hit their straps. They ended the season as the form team of the competition, winning 11 of their final 12 matches – with the only loss coming in the second semi final when beaten by Banyule by seven points.
Banyule had looked the team to beat for much of the season but fell at the final hurdle in its quest to rise from Division 3 to Division 1 in the space of three years.
Under the guidance of Paul Harris, the Bears won their opening eight matches and sat on top of the table from Round 3 onward. They secured the minor premiership with a Round 18 win at Thomastown, before claiming the first grand final spot with a tight win in the second semi.
Despite not achieving the ultimate success, a testament to the club’s efforts throughout 2019 was evidenced by seven players earning selection in the Division 2 Team of the Year – three more players than the next best represented club.
After falling agonisingly short of premiership success in 2018, Eltham wasn’t able to replicate the same form this year and had to settle for a third-place finish on the ladder, before bowing out in the preliminary final.
The Panthers endured a lengthy injury list right throughout the 2019 campaign and ended the season with interim coaches in Brent Macaffer and Michael Still after parting ways with Paul King following a Round 16 win at Watsonia.
Thomastown competed in the finals for the second-successive year despite the departure of senior coach Ben Chapman, who was replaced by Scott Plant after 11 rounds.
The Bears won their first four games under Plant to get their campaign back on track and held on for a fourth-placed finish, before again exiting the finals race in the opening week after falling short against Eltham in the first semi.
Diamond Creek endured another agonising finals miss in Craig Hayes’ fifth and final season at the helm. After last year missing the top-four on percentage, the Creekers this year finished outside by two points after losing a thriller to St Mary’s in their last game.
Fitzroy Stars didn’t feature in the finals for the second-straight year, however the Stars were much improved on last year’s two-win season, but ultimately lacked the consistency to play finals football.
St Mary’s impressed in its first season in second division and after a slow start proved to be a danger side for those in finals contention – with the Burra’s six wins including major scalps against Banyule, Thomastown and Diamond Creek.
Watsonia started the season well but then battled with player availability following a lengthy injury list and finished in eighth place, ahead of Epping who struggled to replicate last season’s promising showing and managed just one win to finish in bottom place.
For the first time since the inception of Division 2 in 1981, the best and fairest finished in a three-way tie – with Whittlesea premiership midfielder Xavier Dimasi, Eltham star Brent Macaffer and Banyule young Riley Loton sharing the award.
Macaffer also claimed the Coaches MVP for the second-successive year, while teammate Michael Still won the goal kicking award. His 44-goal haul proved to be the lowest tally to win the award in the 38-year history of Division 2.
Continue below for a season review for each Division 2 team.
Premier (15 wins, 4 losses)
Having claimed the flag in each of their previous three campaigns in Division 2, Whittlesea was always going to be one of the leading contenders for this year’s premiership after returning from three seasons in the top flight. However, with Banyule, Eltham and Thomastown also firmly in the premiership window – it was far from a fait accompli that the Eagles would have instant success in their return to the grade. The season began with wins over Epping and Diamond Creek, however losses to Eltham, Fitzroy Stars and Banyule in the space of five matches meant the Eagles were far from a finals certainty at the halfway point of the season – let alone a premiership fancy. Trailing by 62 points at half time of their Round 8 home clash with then unbeaten Banyule – the Eagles won back some pride in the second half and then carried that momentum into tight wins over Thomastown (nine points) and Eltham (four) over the next fortnight to strengthen their place in the top-four. The Eagles went on to win their final nine home and away matches – which included a victory in the return match against Banyule – to finish the season in second spot, but with the same 13-3 record as ladder-leader Banyule. The Eagles led the Bears during the fourth quarter of the second semi final, but slipped to seven-point defeat, before bouncing back in the preliminary final to defeat Eltham by 28 points. The grand final was a beauty, with the Eagles leading a close game all day – before booting the final four goals to run away with a 27-point victory. Xavier Dimasi capped a great season to claim best afield honours, just days before sharing the competition best and fairest. Dimasi pipped Jaron Murphy for the best on ground medal, with Murphy booting four goals – which included one of the goals of the year after gathering the ball on the defensive side of the wing and converting after taking three bounces. Dimasi and Murphy were both included in the Division 2 Team of the Year, however they were just beaten by Paul Higgins and Matthew Atta in the club best and fairest voting – in a count where the top-five vote winners were separated by just 10 votes. The Eagles also found plenty of emerging talent throughout the year. Teenagers Blake Watson, Brody Bell and Zach Molloy all played key roles throughout the season and on grand final day, while 20-year-old Mitch Andrews was also standout. With a proven winner in Blair Harvey at the helm and with great depth through their reserves and under-19s, the Eagles looked well placed to hold their own in the top flight in 2020.
Best and fairest: Paul Higgins and Matthew Atta
Leading goal kicker: Jaron Murphy (28 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Xavier Dimasi, Paul Higgins, Jaron Murphy and Blair Harvey (coach)
Runner-up (14 wins, 4 losses)
With 27 wins from its first 38 games in Division 2, Banyule has unquestionably been the quickest Division 3 premier to find its feet in the higher grade. It’s been a commendable achievement to finish third and runner-up in its first two seasons in Division 2 since winning the 2017 third division flag, however the ambitious club was left disappointed at season’s end after coming up short on grand final day. Banyule signalled its premiership intent in the off-season when it signed the likes of Tim Martin, Jack Langford, Mitch Lovell, Reuben Blackmore-Moore and Ricky Dyson. The Bears began their campaign with an eye-catching 46-point win over Eltham in a twilight clash at Beverley Rd Oval and were the outright premiership favourite after romping to big wins in the next four weeks – with their average winning margin from their first five wins just a tick over 12 goals. Banyule went on to win its first eight games, before falling to St Mary’s in upset defeat at Whatmough Park. The immediate response was emphatic, with the Bears recording a season-high 134-point win over Watsonia the following week. However, they did battle find consistency in the back end of the year and were unable to string together more than two-successive wins in the final seven rounds. Wins over Epping and Thomastown in the last two rounds clinched the minor premiership, before a gripping triumph over Whittlesea in the second semi secured the first place in the grand final – making the club just the second Division 3 premier to play in a Division 2 grand final, behind Hurstbridge. Unfortunately, Banyule never hit its straps in the grand final, despite closing within a goal on two occasions in the last quarter. Although the club didn’t reach the pinnacle in 2019, it was still a largely successful season. The Bears had a competition-high seven players feature in the Team of the Year – namely Mannon Johnston, Jack Langford, Riley Loton, Mitchell Lovell, Tim Martin, Devin McDonald and Brent Stanton. 20-year-old Loton made history as the club’s first senior best and fairest winner in the NFNL when he tied for the award. Despite star goal kicker James Kroussoratis being limited to just eight games in the regular season, Banyule was still the competition’s most prolific scorer – amassing 182 points more than their closest rival. With five players in the grand final side aged over 30, opportunities may present for the club’s next crop of stars in 2020.
Best and fairest: Jack Langford
Leading goal kicker: Mannon Johnston (36 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Mannon Johnston, Jack Langford, Riley Loton, Mitchell Lovell, Tim Martin, Devin McDonald and Brent Stanton
3rd (12 wins, 6 losses)
Eltham’s stay in Division 2 will extend to a third season after again falling short of its ultimate goal in 2019. After dominating much of the 2018 season before falling at the last hurdle, the Panthers were unable to reach the same heights during this year’s campaign. This culminated in the club parting ways with coach Paul King late in the home and away season, with Brent Macaffer and Michael Still taking the reins for final month. The third-place finish and preliminary final exit was an accurate reflection of where the Panthers sat in the pecking order – better than most, but not quite up to the level of the top-two. This was evidenced in the club’s head-to-head record against the top-two sides, where the Panthers won just one of five games against Whittlesea and Banyule. The sole win came against the Eagles in Round 3 in what was arguably the club’s best victory of the year. Trailing throughout the opening three quarters, the Panthers booted six goals to one in the final term to win by 14 points. Four consecutive wins between round 5 to 9 elevated the club into the top-two, however an upset home loss to Diamond Creek in Round 12 saw them slip to third and they were then unable to push their way back into the two. Despite that, Eltham won a final for the second-successive year after scoring a 19-point triumph over Thomastown in the first semi. The Panthers led by 36 points in the third term but had to ward off a Thomastown revival – with the Bears closing within two points in the last quarter. Former Collingwood defender Adam Oxley was best afield in the win and made five appearances during the year, while also spending time with the Magpies’ VFL side. The Panthers were right in the hunt at half time of the preliminary final when they trailed Whittlesea by just seven points, but succumb to a 28-point defeat. Injuries played a part in the club failing to achieve a top-two finish, with Tim Currie, Lewis Glasgow and Ben Montanaro all playing fewer than 10 games after last year featuring in the top-five of the club’s best and fairest. Brent Macaffer was again the club’s standout player in 2019 and became the first Eltham player to win a senior best and fairest since 1982. The coaches shared the umpires’ view, with the star midfielder claiming the Coaches MVP for the second year in a row. Anton Woods assumed the captaincy and led superbly to earn selection in the Team of the Year once again, while Michael Still was the competition’s leading goal kicker and earned a top-three finish in the club best and fairest behind Macaffer and Woods. Others to impress included young winger Nick Reibelt and emerging forward Jesse King – who was having a fine year before suffering an injury in the Round 10 defeat at Whittlesea. Despite the seniors not progressing to the grand final, Eltham did experience September success with its under-19s claiming the Division 1 premiership for the second time in three years, while the reserves again played off in the grand final but were unable to defend last year’s premiership after losing to the Fitzroy Stars.
Best and fairest: Brent Macaffer
Leading goal kicker: Michael Still (46 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Matthew Keys, Brent Macaffer, Michael Still and Anton Woods
4th (9 wins, 8 losses)
Thomastown achieved a top-four finish for the second year in a row, but it was the same result as 2018 – with the Bears exiting the finals race in the opening week after losing the first semi. The season didn’t start on the greatest note, with the Bears soundly beaten by Eltham in Round 1. However, five successive wins followed to elevate them into second spot ahead of a much-anticipated clash with Banyule prior to the Queen’s Birthday weekend. Thomastown appeared set to make a massive statement when it opened a 33-point buffer early in the final term, however the game ended in heartache with Banyule winning by four points courtesy of a goal on the final siren to full back Devin McDonald. The defeat denied the Bears the chance to sit in first spot during the break for the long weekend, but worse was to follow upon the resumption of play – with consecutive defeats to Eltham, Whittlesea and St Mary’s dropping the club to fourth place on the ladder and bringing an end to Ben Chapman’s tenure as coach. He was replaced by favourite son Scott Plant and the response was immediate, with Thomastown thrashing Fitzroy Stars in a crunch match for the NAIDOC Cup to kickstart a run of four consecutive wins. The last of those wins came against Diamond Creek at Coventry Oval in what proved to be an early elimination final in Round 15. The Bears trailed at three quarter time, but booted seven goals in the final term to win by 30 points. The result gave Thomastown breathing space in the top-four and ensured a second-successive finals berth – despite losing their final two games of the season to Whittlesea and Diamond Creek. The Bears threatened to score a come-from-behind win over Eltham in the first semi but conceded the final two goals to lose by 19. Matthew Vasilevski took out the best and fairest for the third-consecutive year, with Josh Beare, Anthony Capeci and Dylan Chapman all joining their skipper in the Team of the Year. It was a testament to the consistency of the quartet – who all featured in the team in 2018. Daniel Chadwick and Lukas Fellows also enjoyed strong seasons, while Shannon Ball became a handy goal kicker and finished the season with 31 goals. The club has appointed Mario Bandera as coach in 2020 as it aims to take the next step after successive finals appearances.
Best and fairest: Matthew Vasilevski
Leading goal kicker: Anthony Capeci (36 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Josh Beare, Anthony Capeci, Dylan Chapman and Matthew Vasilevski
5th (8 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw)
2019 produced an eerily similar case of déjà vu for Diamond Creek, who again missed the finals in heartbreaking fashion. The Creekers sat inside the top-four for only two weeks of the season, however a late charge had them right in finals contention as the season drew to a climatic end. With a bye scheduled in Round 18, Diamond Creek needed to win its Round 17 game against St Mary’s and hope that Thomastown lost its final two games to ladder-leaders Banyule and Whittlesea in order to sneak into the top-four. The Creekers got the early jump on the Burra at Whatmough Park but trailed by eight points at the last change. They hit the front late in the piece, only to go behind to a Nick Dean goal in the final minute. More heartbreak was to follow, with Mitch Wild’s long-range shot touched on the goal line in the last second to deny Diamond Creek victory. As it eventuated, Thomastown lost its final two matches meaning Diamond Creek would have played finals had Wild’s shot travelled one metre further. Luck wasn’t on the Creekers side for much of the year. They secured a gutsy 14-point away to the Fitzroy Stars in Round 1, but it came at a cost, with star recruit Tom Bennett suffering a season-ending arm injury. The following week they lost a thriller to Whittlesea by two points which was compounded by a long-term injury suffered by star ruckman Josh Marchbank. With just four wins and a draw to their name after 10 rounds, finals looked only an outside chance – however the Creekers turned their season around with a 23-point win at Eltham, before producing a season-best performance to thrash ladder-leader Banyule the very next week. A win at Epping followed and at that stage it looked like Diamond Creek would play finals, however a home loss to Thomastown in Round 15 and the close loss to St Mary’s brought a premature end to the club’s season. With the likes of Marchbank, Bennett, Oliver Parks, Bryce Adams and Hugh Kavanagh missing large parts of the year, Jacob Booth again led the Creekers charge and claimed the best and fairest for the third year in a row. Jai Norman returned to his best and booted a team-high 26 goals, while James Marchbank proved a handy recruit. Two-time Doncaster premiership coach Andrew Tranquilli has been appointed senior coach in 2020 as the Creekers look for a return to finals action for the first time since 2017.
Best and fairest: Jacob Booth
Leading goal kicker: Jai Norman (26 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jacob Booth
6th (7 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw)
It was a second year in a row without finals action for the Fitzroy Stars, however the club’s performance did improve greatly under Hayden Heta in his sole year as coach. The Stars went on a massive recruiting spree in the off-season as they set about atoning for last year’s two-win season. Kain and Lionel Proctor, Peter Hood, Brad Kairouz, Corey Wanganeen, Jai Burns and Brodie Cook all returned to the club, while Ethan Penrith, Carl Groth and Jake Firebrace also joined to give the Stars one of the strongest lists in the competition. Unfortunately, several close losses early in the season put the club on the back foot early, with their breakthrough win coming in Round 4 when they upset Eltham away from home. Perhaps their best win came three weeks later when they downed eventual premier Whittlesea by 31 points at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval. The Stars were within percentage of the top-four by Round 8, however a shock loss to Watsonia in Round 9 derailed their campaign. They managed just one draw from the five games that followed, which put paid to any hopes of playing finals. To the club’s credit, it fought out the season and finished with three-successive wins to lift themselves into sixth spot. Ethan Penrith and Max Maynard shared the best and fairest, which was a mighty effort given the duo missed seven and four games respectively. Kain Proctor finished among the top-five in the competition best and fairest voting, while Aaron Lynn and Groth both provided great service. The season ended on a very positive note, with the reserves winning the club’s first football premiership in the NFNL with an upset victory over Eltham in the grand final. With Heta stepping aside as coach, the club has appointed former Essendon forward Dean Rioli as his replacement for 2020.
Best and fairest: Max Maynard and Ethan Penrith
Leading goal kicker: Hayden Heta (25 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Kain Proctor
7th (6 wins, 10 losses)
St Mary’s showed great signs in its first season in Division 2 after last year winning its first senior premiership following one of the most dominant Division 3 campaigns produced in the NFNL. However, early in the season it looked as though the Burra were set for a tough initiation in their first year in the higher grade. They lost their first game of the season to 2018 wooden spooner Watsonia, before being thrashed by Thomastown and Banyule. Bottom of the table after three rounds with a lowly percentage of just 39, St Mary’s began to turn things around in Round 4. The Burra pushed Whittlesea and arguably should have won the game, but for kicking a wayward 6.21. Their first win of the season followed against Epping the next week and from then on, the Burra looked right at home in Division 2. Three close losses followed against finals contenders between rounds 7 to 9, before the club claimed its biggest scalp of the season when it upset then undefeated ladder-leader Banyule at Whamough Park. St Mary’s showed the result was no fluke when it beat Thomastown at Main Street Reserve the following week. The Burra finished the year with six wins, which included a gripping triumph over Diamond Creek in Round 17 that ended the Creekers finals hopes. Nick Dean had a fantastic season at centre half forward and took out the best and fairest award, while Myles Guldon was the club’s sole representative in the Team of the Year after kicking a team-high 29 goals. Jacob Yeomans had an outstanding start to the season and was the club’s best player until sustaining a season-ending injury in the Round 10 win over Banyule. Jackson Wolczko enjoyed a career-best year to finish inside the top-five of the club’s best and fairest, while the next generation in Thomas Cantwell, Jack Dean, Mitch Green, Rory Howden, Tane Cotter and Curtis Howden-Crhak should hold the club in good stead going forward. In a major positive for the club, the reserves played finals in their first season in Division 2 after winning the past three Division 3 flags, while the under-19s played off in the Division 1 grand final, where they went down to Eltham in a thriller.
Best and fairest: Nicholas Dean
Leading goal kicker: Myles Guldon (29 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Myles Guldon
8th (3 wins, 13 losses)
Watsonia made a blistering start to the season under new coach George Lattouf, however a long injury list meant the Saints were unable to maintain the rage throughout the year. After winning just one game in 2018, Watsonia won its opening two matches in 2019 to sit atop the ladder. The victories included a 32-point triumph over St Mary’s in Round 1 which provided a perfect send off to retiring club legend Matthew Crompton in his final game. A bye in Round 3 halted the club’s momentum and five consecutive losses followed, before the run of outs was broken with an upset 38-point win against the Fitzroy Stars at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval. It was the club’s best performance of the year, with the Saints kicking away after half time with eight goals to two. Unfortunately, their most disappointing loss of the season followed the very next week – with the Saints managing just two goals in heavy conditions to go down to then winless Epping in a 20-point loss at A.K. Lines Reserve. That was followed by a heavy defeat to Banyule and from there the season petered out – with a 24-point loss to the Fitzroy Stars in Round 17 as close as the club would come to a win in the back half of the year. Daniel Watson was the club’s most consistent performer and was rewarded with the best and fairest and selection in the Team of the Year. 2016 premiership duo Hayden Mitchell and Xavier Kelly returned after two seasons away and had a positive impact, Ben McKenzie impressed in just his second season at senior level, while 18-year-old Kobe Van Zwienen played every game and kicked 18 goals, which was bettered by only Adrian Alfonsi. Having finished second-bottom and bottom over the past two seasons, the Saints will be looking to respond in 2020 when relegation returns in Division 2 for the first time since 2016.
Best and fairest: Daniel Watson
Leading goal kicker: Adrian Alfonsi (21 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Daniel Watson
9th (1 win, 15 losses)
It was a tough campaign for Epping, who managed just one win from its 16 games in 2019. The Blues made a courageous leap into Division 2 at late notice in 2018 and won six games, however they couldn’t replicate that effort this season. The Blues averaged just 46 points a game this year and lost eight games by margins of 10 goals or more. The club’s sole win came in horrific conditions against Watsonia in Round 10, when the Blues adapted well to the heavy rain to score a 20-point triumph at A.K. Lines Reserve. Depth was a major issue, with the club’s reserves also battling and failing to record a win. This made life difficult when injuries struck, with only five players playing every game for the seniors. Lucas Aquilina put together a strong season and won his first senior best and fairest award, edging out Leigh Judd who was exceptional in his first season as captain. Unfortunately, the Blues saw little of their best players from 2018, with reigning best and fairest Alec Buchan managing just 10 games, while Reed Jepson (3 games) and Paul Dempsey (0) were sidelined after finishing top-five in in the best and fairest last year. Thomas Burnside and Sage Dicello proved to be handy recruits, with Burnside impressing in defence, while Dicello led the club’s goal kicking. The club has already made a major signing ahead of the 2020 season, with two-time NFNL and Vic Metro representative Jhye Baddeley-Kelly committing after spending the past two years at North Heidelberg.
Best and fairest: Lucas Aquilina
Leading goal kicker: Sage Dicello (18 goals)
A PLUS LABOUR SOLUTIONS DIVISION 2 – 2019 REVIEW
First Semi Final: Eltham 8.15 (63) def Thomastown 6.8 (44)
Second Semi Final: Banyule 11.9 (75) def Whittlesea 10.8 (68)
Preliminary Final: Whittlesea 13.6 (84) def Eltham 8.8 (56)
Grand Final: Banyule 6.11 (47) def by Whittlesea 10.14 (74)
Best and Fairest
=1st – Xavier Dimasi (Whittlesea) – 14 votes
=1st – Riley Loton (Banyule) – 14 votes
=1st – Brent Macaffer (Eltham) – 14 votes
=4th – Kain Proctor (Fitzroy Stars) – 13 votes
=4th – Anton Woods (Eltham) – 13 votes
Leading Goal Kicker (home and away only)
1st – Michael Still (Eltham) – 44 goals
=2nd – Anthony Capeci (Thomastown) – 34 goals
=2nd – Mannon Johnston (Banyule) – 34 goals
4th – Mitchell Lovell (Banyule) – 32 goals
5th – Shannon Ball (Thomastown) – 30 goals
Coaches Most Valuable Player Award
1st – Brent Macaffer (Eltham) – 87 votes
2nd – Jacob Booth (Diamond Creek) – 62 votes
3rd – Jack Langford (Banyule) – 60 votes
4th – Tim Martin (Banyule) – 54 votes
5th – Brent Stanton (Banyule) – 48 votes