An Old Xaverians team with eight forced changes went down to third-placed Uni Blues at Toorak Park this afternoon. The X Men were in everything for three quarters, but the skill and purpose of Blues early in the last term opened up a gap too wide to bridge.
The Red 'n' Blacks enjoyed an excellent start, with Clay Johnston, Cauley Beetham and James Midgley in everything. Debutant Sam Ralph found the leather on a few occasions, while Matt Smith got first hands on the ball at the stoppages.
Early first term, Matt Handley goaled after after a one-handed grab and then Denis Symeopoulos wobbled one home. Blues got on the board through their decorated on-baller Ross Young, but Handley nailed his second in quick response. The intensity from the Xavs was first rate, allowing Blues few clean possessions.
Blues lifted their work rate in the second and were on the board early through Kieran Harper and then Young again. Blues brought it back to even-stevens, but Clayton Hinkley put them in front at eleven minutes. The momentum had indubitably changed, with the visitors blanketing the Xavs since quarter time, allowing them few opportunities. A promising move forward from the Red 'n' Blacks amounted to nothing, with Handley cooling his heels on the bench when a tall pair of hands might have made a difference.
Xavs steadied the ship and a period of calm ensued, but Jamie Mugavin broke the stalemate mid-term when he kicked the Blues fifth. Danger signs, but the home team responded with a goal to Tim Golds who took a nice hand-pass from Tom Anderson. A Xavs error gifted Blues its sixth late in time on, but right on the bell, Xavs' big bearded bombshell sent the Sherrin though the tall uprights to get the difference back to a goal.
Blues opened quickly in the third, with Tim Geappen getting on the board after an advantage decision confused everyone. But then Tom Gilbert goaled and Golds booted his second. At eleven minutes, the game was tied.
At 22 minutes in the third, Ross Young kicked another to see the Varsity nine points clear. But time running out, Louis Tiernan ran from deep in defence, received a pass and then kicked truly as the siren blared. The premiership points were still in doubt as they headed to the lemons, with the Old Xavs' midfield led by Ben Kennedy still having plenty of influence.
Again, Geappen opened the scoring in the quarter after Xavs wasted an opportunity early in the last. A minute later, Harper marked and the umpire missed a massive push. Then he goaled. Five minutes gone and the Blues led by 14 points. And Harper again. Three goals in eight minutes, and the Blues lead was out to 20 points, then biggest margin of the day. Geappen sealed it midway through the term and his fourth rubbed in a little salt.
Matt Margin, who took more hits than a mixed martial artist does on a career, goaled and Tom Gilbert slipped through his second. The final margin was twenty points. The Red 'n' Blacks, admittedly under-manned, again made hard work of defending in the final term.
But other challenges beckon.
Old Xaverians 3.3-21 4.3-27 7.3-45 11.7-73
University Blues 1.2-8 5.3-33 7.5-47 14.9-93
Goal Kickers: M. Handley 3, T. Golds 2, T. Gilbert 2, M. Margin, H. Troiani, L. Tiernan, D. Symeopoulos
Best Players: B. Kennedy, C. Margin, H. Troiani, D. Symeopoulos, C. Johnston, M. Handley