Classic Contests: Downie kicks after-the-siren winner for Ranges

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 2 clashes in the NAB League this year between Eastern Ranges and Calder Cannons. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2019, and for Ranges fans, this will be one to savour, while for Cannons fans the ending was a heart-breaking one.

CALDER CANNONS 3.1 | 4.1 | 7.6 | 9.9 (63)
EASTERN RANGES 1.4 | 4.5 | 6.7 | 10.7 (67)

Round 17 | Saturday, August 17, 2019
Avalon Airport Oval, 12.30pm

It was the final round of the season last year and two of the top five teams were doing battle with plenty on the line. While the top of the table Eastern Ranges had sewn up the minor premiership – they were only four points clear of Gippsland Power but a good 28 per cent in excess – it was all about Calder Cannons who sat fifth on the table and percentage out of the top four. The match straight after would see fourth placed Sandringham Dragons and third placed Oakleigh Chargers go at it, with a loss to Sandringham allowing Calder to sneak into fourth spot on the ladder ahead of Wildcard Round if the Cannons could get it done. The Ranges would refuse to make it easy on the Cannons and one of the games of the season ensued with a see-sawing contest with plenty of swings and one of the best end-to-end last plays possible.

Eastern was coming off a narrow five-point win over Dandenong Stingrays a couple of weeks prior – with a development weekend in between – while the Cannons had not played since July 28 where they survived a scare from the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels to win by four points. The first term of the clash saw Calder race out of the blocks as Harrison Jones, Curtis Brown and Jackson Cardillo all piled on goals with Eastern’s inaccuracy hurting the Ranges. Trailing by 15 points at one stage, Ranges’ forward Ben Hickleton got his side on the board with a late major. It sparked four consecutive goals for the minor premiers either side of the break as Eastern showed it had come to play. Draft prospects, Jamieson Rossiter, Lachlan Stapleton and Lachlan Gawel all booted majors with Calder not scoring until the 21st minute when Jake Sutton put through a crucial settler. Heading into the main break, the Ranges were back on top, but only marginally – by four points.

Eastern’s leading goalkicker, Jordan Jaworski got his name on the board just 90 seconds into the third term to stretch the margin to 10, before Sutton kicked his second, and defender-cum-forward Mason Fletcher regained the lead for the Cannons with a major 15 minutes into the term. Another lead change occurred when Mihaele Zalac found the big sticks, but that lasted three minutes as Sutton’s third goal provided the Cannons with the lead at the last break. The fourth term might have been slow to get going, but the finish was insane, with the first goal coming 11 minutes into the quarter to Calder’s Jeremy O’Sullivan. Two minutes later, Riley Smith pulled the deficit back to a goal and less than 60 seconds more had expired on the clock when Stapleton levelled the scores. Fletcher booted his second goal of the match 16 minutes into the term and the Cannons held a crucial six-point lead, with a rushed behind to the Cannons with five minutes to play a potential separator between the teams. Hickleton converted his second with four minutes to play, but the Cannons still held the lead. A behind to Ned Gentile made the margin two points with a couple of minutes on the clock, ensuring the Ranges would have to kick a goal to win.

Fast forward to the last 32 seconds of play. The Ranges still trail by two points with the ball in defence and in possession of the pill. They need a near perfect end-to-end play in order to execute the unthinkable and win the match. For Calder, one mark would surely be enough to chew up the clock and hold on for a remarkable upset. With 32 seconds left, Parker has the ball and looks straight down the middle of the ground. He uses his pace to give himself some extra space on an opponent and hits up a loose Mitch Mellis on the back of the centre square. He turns around hoping to play on but an opponent is there, so he thumps the ball as far as he possibly can to a one-on-one at half-forward. Chayce Black and Giacomo Thomas grapple in a marking contest and the umpire determines both – or neither – have infringed and the ball spills to ground. The class and quick thinking of Under 16s star, Tyler Sonsie comes to into play as he collects the loose ball, runs a few metres to the top of the 50 with 17 seconds remaining and puts a lace-out pass to Smith. He has the front position, but Calder’s Declan Tully does enough to force a spill. Brown pounces on the loose ball and goes to take off but runs into teammate, Ben Overman. He bounces back and is immediately set upon by Connor Downie with the ball spilling free with less than 10 seconds on the clock. Overman picks up the loose ball but no sooner has he done that the whistle sounds. The umpire had cited incorrect disposal and now Downie would take the free kick from just 25 metres out on a 35-degree angle. The Calder players protest the free, but it falls on deaf ears as Downie, one of the most accurate kicks for goal in the competition – with 14.2 for the season to that point – slotted the winner. Teammates flocked from everywhere to celebrate, and for the Cannons it meant a missed opportunity to potentially steal fourth spot.

Calder would end up going through to the semi-finals to play Sandringham Dragons – their likely opponent in that match up anyway if they had won this match – before going down, while Eastern would reach the Grand Final with wins over Sandringham and Gippsland Power before falling to eventual premiers, Oakleigh Chargers.

In terms of the performers on the day, the Eastern midfield trio of Mellis (26 disposals, four marks, six clearances and three rebounds), Stapleton (23 disposals, three marks, six tackles, seven clearances, three inside 50s and two goals) and Zakery Pretty (24 disposals, two marks, five tackles, four clearances and four inside 50s were all busy. In defence, James Ross had 17 touches, three marks, two inside 50s and three rebounds, while Sonsie showed his class despite being two years below many of his peers with 17 disposals, three tackles, two clearances, three inside 50s and two rebounds. In defence, Todd Garner and Billy McCormack combined for 10 rebounds, while the hero Downie had 12 touches, three tackles, three inside 50s and that match-winning goal.

For the Cannons, future-Blue Sam Ramsay had a game-high 27 disposals, two marks, seven tackles, six clearances, five inside 50s and two rebounds, while Daniel Mott (21 disposals, four tackles, 10 clearances and six inside 50s) and Gentile (20 disposals, two marks, three tackles, three clearances and four inside 50s) were both busy. Cardillo was lively in the attacking half of the ground with 19 touches, four marks, five tackles, three clearances, five inside 50s and a goal, while Brown was just as prolific in the back half with 17 disposals, three marks and six rebounds. Of the other draftees, Jones had 17 disposals, four marks, four hitouts, two inside 50s and a goal, while Lachlan Gollant finished with 10 disposals, two tackles, three clearances and three inside 50s in the loss.

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