It took until the fourth quarter, but Sandringham were able to run over the top of a plucky and well-drilled GWS unit at Trevor Barker Oval to start the Easter Weekend with a bang.
A Will Ashcroft running goal from 40 with eight minutes left gave Sandy the biggest lead of the game, 13 points, and saw them over the line.
With the margin at five points going into a sunny last quarter, it was going to come down to who had the stamina and skill for longer after both teams had showed glimpses of good footy throughout the day.
A Harry Sheezel goal gave Sandringham back the lead to start the last quarter.
But GWS would not immediately go away.
The Giants immediately responded to regain the lead, before goals to Hall-Kahan and Ashcroft sealed the seesawing game of lead changes where neither club ever seemed like it would fully shake off the other.
The Dragons dominated possession and territory early in the game with Luca Macnab getting plenty of the ball and Sheezel dribbling home the Dragons’ first of the day.
It was an almost game for Sheezel who looked on fire kicking four goals, but even that return belied his excellence.
With athleticism on the floor and forward craft and bodywork one-on-one-one, forwards coach Mark Cooke highlighted how much his talent is relied upon.
“He probably at times didn’t convert as much as he should’ve but it was tough with the wind,” Cooke said.
“He looks good one on one, so we need to give him more one on ones and give him more space for his leading patterns.
“We tried to at times and tried to isolate all our forwards so they could work one on one rather than them having the outnumber.
“We like Sheezel one on one deep - it shows his talent.”
In a similar narrative to round two, Sandringham did not fully capitalise on its ascendancy with some inefficiency and poor conversion keeping GWS, themselves opportunistic and dangerous up forward, in the contest.
The hosts made GWS pay for some simple misses straight after the break, with Ashcroft converting via a 50-metre penalty and goals to Jamie Hope and Sheezel thereafter giving them a six-point lead going into the final quarter.
Defensively, the game of Ben Andrews was the highlight as he was up for the task physically and at one point took an intercept against two Giants players which would otherwise have resulted in a certain goal.
While acknowledging there were elements of the Dragons’ style that they could not bring in today, Cooke was satisfied with the result.
“I think they played pretty good footy, we had some chances early and we couldn’t put them away, Cooke said.
“We kept them in the game and got sucked into the play at times but we fought the game out right to the end and had some good transitions and good stoppages and that’s improving our game – there is a lot to work on with our stoppage stuff.
“I think we’re getting better around the footy and behind the ball as well – the backs are starting to reference off their man a little bit better.
“The boys had to work hard and fight it out and they did.”
Ashcroft puts on a clinic
In big moments it is the leaders who stand up, and captain Will Ashcroft found another gear late in the fourth quarter.
Ashcroft was instrumental with 36 touches throughout Sandringham’s win, but with less than a kick in it late, he willed his side over the line.
He got the ball from Mitch Rowe at a stoppage on the wing, hitting Hugo Hall-Kahan, and continuing to run for the give-and-get, but Hall-Kahan successfully backed himself, pushing the lead just beyond a goal.
Moments later from a similar position, it was Hall-Kahan handballing to Ashcroft who ran inside 50 and effectively iced the game for Sandringham with a major from 40.
Two clutch plays, including a goal in front of the grandstand demonstrated his ability to perform under pressure.
His ball-winning ability, run and power was a feature all day but particularly noteworthy when the game was on the line.
After 38 touches last week, his ability to impact impressed Cooke.
“His fight work, his multiple efforts is a good example as a leader: it is not just the first passage of play, it’s the second and third,” Cooke said.
“He’s so committed to the footy and gets his hands on the ball which was good so hopefully a few other boys will follow that lead.”
Alongside Ashcroft, Cam McKenzie was also important with some clearances complementing his balanced midfield performance.
Pressure and peril up forward
Sheezel, Hope and Hugo Hall-Kahan all looked dangerous one-on-one in attack when they were given opportunities.
Hope presented well and took a big contested mark early, Sheezel was strong and evasive, and Hall-Kahan still managed to kick two goals despite working higher up the ground in a slightly different role.
When addressing the players pre-game, Cooke went around the circle, asking each what they wanted to bring, with the answers more-or-less the same: forward pressure.
The repeat inside 50s, particularly early, demonstrated their ability to work.
At one point, Charlie Clarke, playing in attack for the vast majority of the game, missed a set shot, before reading the kick out, intercepting and converting.
Those efforts pleased the forwards coach.
“I think our forward pressure was good, we didn’t let the ball out easily and had some really nice plays.
“At times when we had one-on-ones our forwards looked okay, we just needed to do some work around leading patterns to get back that isolation when the ball’s in motion."
Ultimately, 11 goals from 28 scores and 59 inside 50s is an unsustainable conversion rate and efficiency that should be addressed - particularly when your opposition records 25 fewer inside 50s for the same number of goals.
Ben Hempel the librarian
Ben Hempel might be one of the chattiest players in the group, but if Dennis Cometti was commentating, he would have called Sandy’s wingman a librarian.
GWS’ Jay Summers looked certain to stroll into an open goal and the Dragons appeared consigned to conceding late in the first half.
But Hempel, 15 metres away when the GWS forward received a ball over the top, put on the afterburners and a desperate chase and lunge was enough to affect the kick and cause a behind.
Sandy rebounded from that play with a speedy counterattack which resulted in a Hugo Hall-Kahan goal.
Cripps asked his midfielders to lift defensively after the main break with that play emblematic of the will Sandy could produce.
For Hempel, the game was his strongest showing, cruising the wing and showing off his strong left boot with 18 disposals and four inside 50s.