On a sunny afternoon at Queen Elizabeth Oval, the Sandringham Dragons flexed their wings against the Geelong Falcons to storm into their second straight Grand Final.
Although, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the ‘Gons.
Geelong snagged a goal inside the first two minutes of the game, but a classy collect and snap from Archie May quickly brought the boys back level.
It wasn’t until the 12th minute that Sandringham hit the lead courtesy of a magnificent crumb from Tarkyn O’Leary, who finished the match with his first two-goal haul in the blue, red, and white.
A late flurry of goals from Tom Anastasopolous caused the momentum to shift in the last five minutes of the first quarter, capped off with a set shot conversion from Will McLachlan who slotted through his second of the opening term, putting the Falcons ahead by 11.
Ryley Sanders - in typical Ryley Sanders fashion - steadied the ship and brought the quarter time margin back down to just five points with a set-shot conversion from the arc.
The second quarter began much like the first, with Geelong sneaking another early goal; this time just 50 seconds into the contest.
From that point on, it was all Dragons for the next 10 minutes as they brought up the game’s third lead change thanks to back-to-back goals from Levi Ashcroft and Calsher Dear.
In a quintessential topsy-turvy affair, the Falcons yet again edged ahead mid-way through the second term.
But not for long.
For the first time all day, Sandringham booted three goals in quick succession to once again flip the game on its head and take a game-high 10 point lead going into the main break.
The start of the third quarter was once again a carbon-copy of the first two, with the Falcons hitting the scoreboard just 33 seconds in.
Levi Ashcroft summoned a moment of magic five minutes later with a snap from 40m to snag his second goal, which was closely followed by an elite passage of play across half-back, eventually culminating in a long bomb from Charlie Edwards to increase the margin to a game-high 17 points.
The Dragons put the Falcons to the sword in the last quarter, booting four goals to one off the back of a ferocious engine room led in large by Ryley Sanders (27 disposals, 3 tackles) and the aforementioned Charlie Edwards (21 disposals, 6 tackles, 1 goal).
Vigo Visentini (25 hitouts, 20 disposals, 7 marks, 3 tackles) played his best game of the year and was a huge factor in the midfield dominance, whilst Levi Ashcroft (24 disposals, 3 goals) was once again a standout.
The silky smooth Harvey Johnston (16 disposals, 1 goal) is a crucial player to the Dragons set-up, whilst Nathan Sullivan’s influence in the back half cannot be underestimated.
Archie Roberts’ (25 disposals, 5 marks, 7 rebound 50’s) consistent run off half back and elite ball distribution - coupled with Ethan Williams’ (23 disposals, 4 marks, 4 inside 50’s) ability to drive the footy forward - will play a major part in whether Sandringham are able to lift their second Premiership trophy in as many years next week.
They’ll do battle against the Eastern Ranges who beat the Tasmania Devils by 40 points to book their place in the big dance.
The last time these two teams met was way back in Round 1 where the Dragons came out on top by a slim 14 points.
Here’s hoping history repeats itself.
66 different players have donned the Sandringham guernsey throughout the 2023 season so far, so you can rest assured knowing that each and every young man is more than capable of taking the field at any point during the year - especially on that fabled Sunday in September.