Aquinas 9.12 66 def. North Brunswick 8.10 58
A. Naulty 2, L. Toomey 2, B. O”Loughlin 2, H. Judge, L. Naulty, W. Morrison
J.McMahon, J. Wright, L. Naulty, L. Toomey, N. Morrison-Storey, H. Judge
After gaining top spot for the first time since round 2, Aquinas immediately faced their toughest challenge for the year – equal first placed North Brunswick who were only trailing by percentage. Last time these two teams met, the Bulls took the bragging rights after coming up triumphant by a solitary kick. This time the Bloods were at home and determined to remain on top of the ladder.
A win at The Vein would see Aquinas go a game and percentage clear of their rivals, setting themselves up for a big run into finals.
The ill-reputed ‘Aquinas curse’ forced multiple senior players out of the line-up, joining an already extensive injury list. However, depth has been a major strength of this 2017 squad, that has allowed coach Ash Naulty to confidently and continuously elevate in-form, fit and hungry Reserve players.
An inexperienced group headed into the first term showing no signs of surrender, proving that any Aquinas line-up is a strong, relentless force. Captain James McMahon won the toss and surprisingly chose to kick against the 100km/h gale. A decision that proved to be a masterstroke in the long-run, or perhaps just dumb luck.
Whichever the reasoning, the Bloods managed to keep North Brunswick in a tight grip for the entire quarter, limiting them to just the singular major with the wind. Aquinas drew first blood through Will Morrison who collected the ball in the centre circle, looked up to see nothing but green grass ahead of him and bounced his way to an exciting opening goal. A scrappy and congested first term saw North Brunswick hold just a 4-point buffer over the home team.
The second quarter gave host to a more open and free-flowing style of play, which saw both teams hit the scoreboard, scoring 3-goal respectively. Jess Butcher put together an inspirational first half, with the Bloods suffering two early injuries, limiting the midfield rotations.
Leigh Toomey in a new role up forward managed to find his way on the scorer’s sheet through a rare burst of speed out the back of the pack, accompanied by Ash Naulty who took a strong grab surrounded by defenders, kicking truly to give his team a slight lead.
The Bulls replied instantly however, and managed to reduce the margin to just 1-point at the main break. A thriller was on the horizon.
The third term started horrendously for Aquinas, with another injury forcing them to just one on the bench. Things got worse before they got better, as North Brunswick booted two quick goals to regain the lead. Costly skill errors and ill-disciplined acts weren’t aiding the cause, as the Bulls took the game by the horns, controlling the majority of the play deep within their forward half.
Relentless defending and a solid quarter from Haydn Judge who showed no signs of giving in, kept the margin respectable, however the Bloods still went into the final break 13-points behind in a low-scoring affair.
With the bench down to just one, trailing by 2-goals and a formidable force at hand, Aquinas knew they had to dig deep to get over the line.
And dig deep they did.
Sparked by a heroic Nick Morrison-Story who was put on the ball in the last term, the Bloods began to take control over the game. With North Brunswick dropping two men loose in defence, the home team were able to set up a wall along half forward, keeping the ball deep in their attack. However, with so many players clogging up space – goals were hard to come by.
Time continued to tick away and the score remained unchanged until a goal to Lachie Naulty who was pivotal up forward, despite being sent off earlier, reduced the margin to just 5 points.
First gamer Nick Haylock was super impressive in his first senior game at the club, continuously winning important clearances to help drive his team into attack. Nick almost kicked the Bloods in front, however his shot faded left at the last moment.
A long ball deep inside 50 from Nick Morrison-Story gave his tall forwards a chance at taking a big mark, yet the ball was punched clear to the pocket by defenders. However, Veteran Leigh Toomey showing his 200-game experience waited at ground level, cleanly picked up the ball and snapped truly from 30-metres out to give the Bloods the lead with just 2 minutes remaining.
This goal sparked an unyielding energy into Aquinas, who were sent deep into attack again by James Wright, which saw Billy O’loughlin find his way on the end of a loose ball and drilled his team home in a famous Aquinas victory.
This win sees the Bloods sitting a game clear with a healthy percentage on top of the ladder, with just four games remaining.
Aquinas take on the 5th placed Mt. Lilydale at Mt. Lilydale college which could see the return of some big names into the senior line-up as well as Lachlan McDonald’s 150th game in the red, black and green.
By Philip Jurkovsky.