Fierce showdown

September 09, 2017

Michael Herlihy is one of a number of Numurkah midfielders who have added attacking potency to their game this season by regularly kicking goals.

Numurkah will come out firing today when it takes on fierce rival Nathalia in a second semi-final at Barooga Recreation Reserve.

‘‘The boys are ready to go, it’s been a long two weeks so we’re bursting to play some footy,’’ co-coach Chris O’Dwyer said.

The Blues were in amazing form to finish the regular season, conceding just 17 points in the final two matches, and O’Dwyer does not think the cauldron of finals football will change his side’s approach.

‘‘The team itself hasn’t gone deep in finals, but plenty of guys in the playing group have played in and won a lot of finals,’’ he said.

‘‘They have been a real calming influence on the rest of the boys.’’

Numurkah has every reason to be confident in its ability after finishing a game clear on top of the table, but O’Dwyer knows the magnitude of the task his players face today if they are to win themselves a direct spot in the grand final.

‘‘We know our best is good enough but it will be a real arm wrestle and a battle all day,’’ he said.

‘‘We have to be in it for the whole game, we can’t afford any lapses.’’

Nathan Hicks and Luke McKeown return to the field to put the Blues at full strength for this important clash, in which victory would mean a lot to more than just the playing and coaching staff.

‘‘People tend to forget about the club as a whole,’’ O’Dwyer said.

‘‘But the people in the footy club who do all the unsung work behind the scenes, it’s just as important to them.

‘‘They’re just as hungry for success as the players are, and we don’t want to let them and the whole town down.’’

Nathalia will not be an easy team to defeat though, despite the Blues taking a 79-point win last time the sides met.

The Purples are a hardened finals outfit and have remarkably won the past 16 finals matches (since 2005) for a return of seven flags from seven top-six appearances.

‘‘That (statistic) sort of creeps up on you, but it certainly does (give us confidence),’’ Nathalia coach Craig Kellow said.

‘‘Plenty of the guys have played in a reasonable amount of those finals and it gives me confidence not playing knowing that the boys in a pressure situation will handle it and not be overwhelmed by the occasion.’’

The Purples will also welcome a number of players back to their line-up, with Harley Cobbledick, Tom Nihill and former Shepparton United captain Ryan Butler all set to play.

‘‘It’s always good to have the week off and reset and hopefully it means everyone is fresh and well rested, we have no excuses,’’ Kellow said.

‘‘They’re all key guys who will help strengthen us, but also allow other guys to play in a position that suits them more.’’

This match could turn into a shootout, as both sides boast brilliant attacking weapons in Brodie Ross and Brett Vallender (Nathalia) and Josh Evans and Hicks (Numurkah), but Kellow hopes his midfield can clamp down and deny the Blues efficient forward entries.

‘‘Against any side with good forwards, as a back you rely so much on what happens up the field,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ll look for our mids to put pressure on and have that accountability.’’

A large number of Numurkah’s goals come from midfielders like Michael Herlihy, Nick Fothergill and Brad Vassal, but Nathalia will be hoping to quash any momentum its opponent garners with a strong start to the clash.

‘‘Certainly in any game the start is imperative,’’ Kellow said.

‘‘It goes back to that experience of players playing finals and understanding the importance of staying the course for the whole four quarters of footy.’’

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