A year of hard work comes down to two final hours for North Heidelberg and Diamond Creek as they vie for the 2017 A Plus Solutions Division 2 premiership at Preston City Oval.
For the winner it is a chance to compete in the top flight next season, while for the loser, thoughts will turn to what they could have been done differently to change the result.
To say these sides deserve to play in the grand final is an understatement. They have held the top two positions on the ladder since Round 5 and have long appeared destined to meet in the big dance.
2017 has been a year of hunting for redemption for North Heidelberg. The Bulldogs were favourites heading into last year’s grand final, but faltered against Hurstbridge on the big stage.
The club was quickly on the front foot in its quest to go one better in 2017, snaring AFL games record holder Brent Harvey during the off-season in one of the biggest signings in local football history.
With the help of the North Melbourne legend, the Bulldogs won all but two games this season – producing the most dominant regular season by a Division 2 side since their 2014 premiership campaign.
With the addition of his brother through the midfield, Shane Harvey returned to a deeper position in the forward line and booted 110 goals, despite missing three games through injury.
Jesse and Brody Tardio continued to improve and look more than capable of dominating games in the top division, should their side win promotion. Meanwhile Michael Florance remained one of the competition’s most dominant ruckman, despite a nasty injury to his index finger midway through the season.
The Bulldogs have the best attack in the competition, but it is also their defence that deserves praise. Led by Daniel Bramich and Marc Lonergan, the Bulldogs were the equal best defensive side in the regular season – along with Diamond Creek.
In the second semi final, North Heidelberg produced an A grade performance to seal their spot in a second-successive grand final.
The Harvey brothers combined for eight goals, while Leigh Gilbert chimed in with another three. Andre Habchi produced one of his best games of the season and was named best on ground, along with Jesse Tardio and Lonergan.
The victory was the Bulldogs’ fourth over Diamond Creek this season, and second in as many weeks, and ensured they head into the grand final as the warm favourites.
North Heidelberg has been a bogey side for Diamond Creek over the years, with the Bulldogs winning the past 12 meetings between the sides dating back to 2013.
Despite the poor head-to-head record, Diamond Creek will aim to be the fifth-successive side to win the Division 2 premiership after losing in the first week of the finals.
Continuity in games has enabled teams to carry momentum, which is one of the reasons why teams who have been forced to play in the preliminary final have been successful. Not since Epping’s triumph in 2012 has a side that won the second semi final then won the grand final.
The Demons will look to last weekend’s nail-biting victory over Lower Plenty for confidence that they can topple the Bulldogs in their first grand final appearance since 2005.
Trailing by a point at three quarter time, Diamond Creek kicked three final quarter goals to clinch a nine-point victory at Epping Recreation Reserve last week.
Ty Franks, Tyler Barnes and Danyon Kambouris were among the Demons best players, while Jacob Booth booted three goals.
The Demons are searching for their first premiership in 12 years and will look to their star players to get them over the line.
They have managed just 32 goals in four matches against the Bulldogs this year. However, Bryce Adams, Jacob Booth, Ryan Pingree and Brad Perry have all kicked over 20 goals and loom as their side’s best attacking threats.
Oliver Parks has been subdued so far in the finals but has the ability to change the game with his versatility. Parks has been named in Diamond Creek’s best players more than any other player this year.
North Heidelberg may have had the upper hand over Diamond Creek throughout the season, but grand finals are different to any other game and Saturday’s game provides players the opportunity to become legends in the quest for premiership glory.
Both sides play with a hard, contested edge, so expect a fierce contest to end another brilliant season of Division 2 football.
LIVE STREAM: A live stream of the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 Grand Final between North Heidelberg and Diamond Creek can be viewed on the Northern Football League Facebook page, while a broadcast can be heard on 88.6 Plenty Valley FM.
DOWNLOAD: A high-definition digital download of the grand final can be purchased at www.nfl.sportscastcloud.com.au seven days after game. The price of the digital download is $22.00.
17 wins – 1 draw – 1 loss
Points For – 2526, Average For – 133
Points Against – 1109, Average Against – 58
Average Winning Margin – 86
Average Losing Margin – 41
Leading Goal Kicker – Shane Harvey (110)
Most Times In Best – Brent Harvey (14)
15 wins – 5 losses
Points For – 2001, Average For – 100
Points Against – 1241, Average Against – 62
Average Winning Margin – 65
Average Losing Margin – 42
Leading Goal Kicker – Jess Cosaitis (31)
Most Times In Best – Oliver Parks (9)
HEAD TO HEAD IN 2017
Second Semi Final: North Heidelberg 19.12 (126) def Diamond Creek 9.2 (56)
Goals: S. Harvey 4, B. Harvey 4, L. Gilbert 3, J. Jones 2, K. Green 2, P. Saccuzzo, L. Bentley, K. McDonald, J. Tardio
Best: J. Tardio, A. Habchi, M. Lonergan, L. Gilbert, S. Harvey, B. Harvey
Goals: R. Pingree 2, N. Searl 2, B. Perry, C. Moloney, B. Adams, T. Barnes, J. Booth
Best: H. McDonald, T. Franks, J. Marchbank, K. Watson, J. Lorey, J. Alam
Round 18: Diamond Creek 7.6 (48) def by North Heidelberg 18.18 (126)
Goals: O. Parks 2, M. Rogneda, J. Wuelfert, T. Chapman, J. Lorey, J. Alam
Best: H. McDonald, N. Parks, O. Parks, W. Lowrie, D. Kambouris
Goals: S. Harvey 6, B. Harvey 3, L. Nunan 3, K. Green 2, M. Dillon 2, M. Florance, A. Braendler
Best: L. Nunan, J. Tardio, S. Harvey, B. Harvey, J. Brown, K. McDonald
Round 13: North Heidelberg 10.13 (73) def Diamond Creek 7.9 (51)
Goals: S. Harvey 4, L. Gilbert 2, J. Bailey, J. Tardio, B. Tardio, B. Harvey
Best: B. Tardio, J. Tardio, M. Florance, A. Braendler, A. Habchi, M. Lonergan
Goals: B. Adams, D. Kambouris, C. Moloney, J. Booth, R. Kavanagh, B. Perry, O. Parks
Best: T. Franks, O. Parks, J. Marchbank, C. Moloney, D. Kambouris, T. Chapman
Round 1: North Heidelberg 13.10 (88) def Diamond Creek 9.5 (59)
Goals: S. Harvey 5, B. Harvey 3, M. Dillon 2, A. Braendler, B. Tardio, Z. Gleeson
Best: A. Braendler, B. Tardio, J. Brown, L. Taggart, S. Harvey, D. Bramich
Goals: J. Cosaitis 2, J. Prosser 2, B. Perry 2, B. Wescott, R. Kavanagh, K. Tenace
Best: O. Parks, T. Chapman, K. Watson, T. Barnes, J. McQueen, T. Franks