Sandringham have finished the 2018 TAC Cup home-and-away season in fourth position on the ladder after succumbing to an impressive Dandenong Stingrays outfit, losing 6.10 (46) to 14.9 (93).
Dandenong came firing out of the gates kicking seven of the first eight goals to go out to a game-clinching lead at the main break.
In beautiful conditions at the Trevor Barker Oval the Stingrays used the ball efficiently and punished Sandringham errors in clinical fashion, highlighting their hard-edged approach that sides have struggled to match all year.
The Dragons showed resilience in the second half to fight back and even the contest in most areas but were unable to get back in to the game after a slow start.
Sandringham were wasteful in front of goal and deserved greater reward for effort than they achieved after half-time, although talented forward Angus Hanrahan provided a pair of memorable goals in the final term to get the scoreboard ticking over.
“We improved as the game went on but unfortunately couldn’t catch Dandenong after an indifferent start,” Dragons coach Jeremy Barnard said post-game.
“We had 12 scoring shots in the second half to 11, so we outscored them, had more opportunities, more of the footy but at key times we turned the ball over.
“We’re seeing improvement and if we’re seeing improvement in a team then we’re on the right track.
“They’re a good, hard side who use the ball well – we want to expose our players to good, hard sides. We would rather these last two games than walkthrough 12-goal wins (heading into finals).”
Ruckman James Rendell was named best on ground for the Dragons after competing tirelessly in the ruck against elite opposition and providing a strong aerial presence around the ground.
“As a ruckman he’s not massive but I tell you what he’s got a heart of a lion the way he gets to work and really competes – he loves the physical side of the game and makes us a better side,” Barnard said.
Liam Stocker (coaches award), Harry Reynolds, Jack Denborough, Nick Stamatis and Ben King were also named in the best.
Sandringham’s fourth-placed finish means they earn a week off during this week’s wildcard round before commencing their finals campaign the following week.
Coach Jeremy Barnard emphasised to the playing group how hard everyone has worked to achieve this feat and reminded them of the great opportunity ahead.
“We’ve got ourselves into a position where we’re playing finals…and the reason we’re playing finals is the whole program is working really hard to get to this point,” Barnard said.
“What we do from now on is up to us as a collective to help each other achieve – we have worked hard since November to get right here right now, let’s not waste it.
“I’ve seen how hard the players have worked and how hard the staff’s worked.”
Sandringham will play the winner of Murray Bushrangers vs Bendigo Pioneers in an elimination final on September 8 or 9.
Goal Kickers: A. Hanrahan 2, J. Rendell, G. Grey, D. Chirgwin, B. King Best Players: J. Rendell, L. Stocker, H. Reynolds, J. Denborough, N. Stamatis, B. King