Stage set for hockey showstopper

The stage is set for a showstopping finale to the 2021 Lower South East Hockey Association season at Blue Lake Sports Park this weekend.

The action commences tomorrow night when the Under 15 girls and both Division 3 grand finals are played under lights before the remaining grades take centre stage on Saturday.

The final act of the big weekend will be worth the wait when two huge Division 1 deciders turn up the heat on Saturday evening.

For the first time in almost half a decade, there will be a new name etched onto the Division 1 men’s trophy.

The previous four grand finals have all been won by Tigers with last year’s particularly memorable after a tense one-on-one shootout against West.

But West has the chance to forget about last year’s heartbreak when it meets Strikers in the big dance.

A thriller is on the cards after both sides won two of their five battles in 2021.

Strikers gained the ascendancy with a couple of high-scoring wins early in the season before West hit back as finals approached.

The Strikers team coached by Graeme Millhouse has enjoyed the clearer path to the big game.

After finishing second on the ladder, the brown and blue team pulled off a huge upset by submitting Tigers into its first defeat of the season in the qualifying final after an unforgettable one-on-one shootout.

Despite having extra weekend of preparation, Millhouse believes West is the favourite after it also knocked out Tigers after regulation time.

“We go in with confidence because you have to,” he said.

“Although I do think West still are the favourites because they beat us in the last two games we have played.

“But we are fresh after a week off and the boys are looking forward to the challenge.

“We have five Under 18’s in our team and most of them have not played in a Division 1 grand final before.

“I expect a good close contest with just a goal in it at the end of the day.”

Strikers’ midfield of best and fairest Connor Millhouse and Dean McCarthy hold the key, while the all-important goals could come off the stick of Jordan Millhouse as the side chases its first flag since 2015.

Strikers boast plenty of depth around the box with three of the league’s top five goal-scorers.

West has clawed into the decider the hard way after finishing third on the ladder, well behind Tigers and Strikers.

David Vine’s men eased past Redbacks before a surprise victory over Tigers last week which was sealed by the coach himself.

Vine said his team is peaking at the right time of year after a challenging journey.

“We were really looking forward to the finals because we did not have a very good team to start off with,” he said.

“Some had left and others had injuries, but we had belief in the team to start being more competitive throughout the season and everyone has stepped up and is playing their role now.

“The achievement of getting in the grand final was big, so now the reality is we just need one more won.”

Chris Callis is one of the side’s big names, while the Vine duo of Darren and David will be influential across all areas of the pitch in a side hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s grand final defeat to Tigers in one-on-ones.

The Division 1 women’s clash is also set to go down to the wire between West and Redbacks.

The contest is a rematch of last year’s grand final and Redbacks is hellbent on revenge from the 1-0 defeat.

West is gunning for a fourth straight women’s top grade flag, but is not necessarily the favourite despite securing the minor premiership.

The rivals clashed in the qualifying final a fortnight ago and a Jemma Heraper strike sent Redbacks straight into the decider, while West had to edge out Tigers.

West women’s coach David Vine said he has been pleased with how his team has progressed to another decider after a small period of transition.

“We lost a few of our stronger players from last year, so it was nice to bring up some younger girls, who have stepped up,” he said.

“Dana Jones, Sarah Mutch and Gemma Ballintyne have been the core of our team across all areas.

“To win we need to focus more on execution on our chances because it will be quite a low-scoring game.”

Redbacks coach Aaron Barry said his girls only have one goal in mind after the pain of last year’s defeat and lifting the trophy for the first time since 2016.

“They played really well in last year’s grand final but just could not get over the line so there are very keen to make amends for it,” he said.

“It is always a tough game against West and they can go either way.

“The girls will be settled on playing their own game which has worked well this year.

“Our midfield of Steph Wighton and Jemma Heraper are the keys to the midfield being good ball carriers, so hopefully they can break the game open.”

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