Pigeons soar to the decider

Leigh Williams and other Pigeon forwards proved handfuls for Wangaratta Rovers’ opposing defence, particularly in the first quarter when Yarrawonga fired five goals to the wind to beat Rovers by three. Photo by Emma Prior

Yarrawonga 5.3, 8.3, 8.5, 14.7.91.

Wangaratta Rovers 0.3, 3.9, 6.11, 8.12.60.

Goals: Yarrawonga: Nick Fothergill 3, Tim Lawrence 3, Jess Koopman 2, Leigh Williams 2, Ryan Bruce 1, Bailey Fraunfelder 1, Jack Forge 1, Willie Wheeler 1.

Wangaratta Rovers: Ryan Stone 2, Alex McCarthy 2, Tom Boyd 1, Toby Murray 1, Jack Gerrish 1, Sam Murray 1.

Preferably: Yarrawonga: Will Sexton, Nicholas Fothergill, Jack Forge, Mark Whiley, Leigh Masters, Lach Howe.

Wangaratta Rovers: Toby Bryant, Jace McQuade, Jack Gerrish, Jake McQueen, Alex McCarthy, Michael Clark.

The Yarrawonga Pigeons have advanced to the 2022 Ovens and Murray Grand Final after beating the Wangaratta Rovers by 31 points in Sunday’s prefinals at Bunton Park.

Two forced changes were made to the Pigeons’ lineup during the week, with Caleb Mitchell and Connor Griffiths stepping aside and Jordan Urquhart and Jack Forge making way.

Eyebrows were raised early on when the Rovers opted on the first-ever bounce midgame to take on an in-form Lach Howe with mid-height Raven Joliffe in the ruck.

After losing the toss in the first quarter and being forced to step into the teeth of the breeze, the Pigeons were relentless in their attack on the footy as they completely dominated the Rovers in every facet of the game.

Heading towards goal is Star Pigeon forward Nick Fothergill, who scored three goals and was the day’s leading scorer alongside teammate Tim Lawrence. Photo by Emma Prior

Remarkably, the Pigeons bucked against the wind and piled up to 5 unanswered goals from Fothergill, Lawrence, Koopman and Bruce as all the big guns for Yarrawonga fired with all guns. Lach Howe won the ruck fight comfortably while Nick Fothergill couldn’t have started the game better.

Fothergill was instrumental in building the huge lead for Yarrawonga early on after scoring 8 dismounts and scoring the Pigeons’ first two goals in the first quarter.

Jess Koopman grabs the ball to kick one of his two majors for the day as Hawks opponents pounce.

In a one-way traffic, the Pigeons picked up where they left off at the start of the second quarter.

An instant Inside Fifty found Leigh Williams at the top, who fell back and really converted to give the Pigeons a 6-goal break on the Rovers, who were yet to record a major.

It wasn’t until the 6th minute of the second quarter that the Rovers got a good look at goal.

A lucky football off the ground that landed in McCarthy of the Rovers’ arms allowed them to kick their first.

However, it was the pigeons with the immediate response, a pack crashed by Williams left Frauenfelder front and center to snake through and score another goal to extend the lead back to 35 points midway through the second.

The Wang Rovers were able to gather and started backhanding after the Frauenfelder goal. Goals for Gerrish and Boyd cut the lead slightly, but a bone-crushing tackle from Fothergill inside the fifties was correctly awarded as the star midfielder came back just before half-time to score an important goal and his third of the afternoon.

One man who played a brilliant, selfless role in the dangerous Brodie Filo was Jack Forge. Forge was brought to the side for this very reason and held Filo less in the second quarter, which did not go unnoticed among the pigeon faithful.

Pigeon defender and one of the Morris medal favorites for tonight’s league medal, Leigh Masters, throw the ball wide of defense. Photo by Emma Prior

Nick Fothergill was the best down at half-time with 14 disposals and 3 goals, while captain Leigh Masters, manager Mark Whiley, Will Sexton and Lach Howe all made an influential impact on the game.

The pigeons knew the Rovers were going to be tough and they did. Kicking with the breeze, the slick squad got their game going in the third quarter in a complete change of momentum.

Goals from the set shot for McCarthy, Murray and Stone reduced the lead to just 6 points late in the third quarter.

Yarrawonga’s defense struggled to keep the Rovers from conceding more points and when the siren sounded at Bunton Park it was the Pigeons who held a slender 6-point lead.

Playing with all that, the sun finally broke through the clouds in an epic final quarter that would see the winner take on the Wangaratta Magpies on the last Sunday in September.

Kyal Tyson slips in the ruck in wet conditions while former Morris medalist Brodie Filo tries to retrieve the ball. Photo by Emma Prior

In what appeared to be a big moment of the game, Will Sexton set the tone for Yarrawonga, winning an important one-on-one win over Filo in the air.

From the sexton mark, the Pigeons were able to push the ball forward and it was Tim Lawrence who capitalized on that. Lawrence threw a ball that was spiked by Williams Volleyball to put through the all-important first goal of the quarter.

The Rovers quickly hit back through Ryan Stone to bring it back to a one-goal game. As the Rovers charged back in front, it took some brilliant individual efforts from defenders Jye Cross and Beau Seymour to stop the attack.

Seymour’s towering intercept mark deep on defense initiated a pigeon slingshot to the outside of the ground.

The rebound play involved left footed Bailey Frauenfelder and Logan Morey and ended with Jack Forge stepping further into the open goal wall and scoring a goal that was hugely important in the context of the game.

With 17 minutes into the final quarter, Leigh Williams stood tall as opposition players collapsed around him to make a strong mark inside the fifties.

It was a real pressure game between the Pigeons and the Hawks as Doug Strang’s medalist Leigh Williams faced the opposition. Photo by Emma Prior

Williams, with ultimate class and poise, hit the set shot as the Pigeons’ players and supporters almost sniffed a Grand Final spot, with the lead now 20 points.

A Toby Murray goal for Rovers cut the lead to give the Rovers a glimmer of hope, but Willie Wheeler quickly put an end to that.

Wheeler was attacked high within fifty, giving him an opportunity to sink the Rovers and lead his team to a Grand Final.

After 22 minutes, Wheeler set sail from 45 yards with a high ball that swung beautifully back downwind as the Pigeons supporters broke away, confident their team was home and hosed.

The icing on the cake came from a similar passage to the Forge gate. Seymour found Morey, who found Jack Sexton.

On the outside overlap, Sexton scooped a hand pass to Bailey Frauenfelder. Frauenfelder chipped a ball to Jess Koopman, who had a seat in the paddock.

Using caution, Koopman took two jumps, ran within fifty, improved the angle and snapped a ball that sailed high and long but through the big sticks.

The final goal of the game was scored by unrelenting forward pressure from the pigeons. Brayden Coburn fielded a ball with balance within fifty to find Tim Lawrence who was unmarked. Lawrence executed it with great accuracy for his third of the day as the Pigeons leapt away with a 31-point win in the prefinals.

The Yarrawonga Pigeons are looking to cap off a remarkable season as they enter their first Grand Final since 2014 at Lavington Sportsground on Sunday.

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