The Hills Football League has claimed the 2018 interleague title after seeing off a spirited fightback from the River Murray Football League side to run out winners by 13 points in an entertaining clash at Le Messurier Oval.
From the outset the pressure applied by both sides was simply outstanding.
The contest was punishing and passionate, but the Hills’ arsenal of experienced players proved too many mountains for the home side to conquer.
It was an entertaining, free-flowing contest from start to finish, with Hills leading from go to whoa, but first the visitors had to absorb some fierce physical pressure from the boys in red and steady when the home side threatened to take control in the last term.
The game had everything, but what stood out was the relentless hustle and ferocious tackling by both sides.
Neither was prepared to take a backward step, which made for a great game.
Ricky Ebert played a great game for the visitors, showing his class, run and sure ball handling; he used his pace and brilliance to continually poke holes in the home side’s defense.
His partner in crime, Michael Pope, also created plenty of headaches for the River Murray boys and took telling marks whether in the back half or going forward.
His ability to read the play and be at the contest was a telling factor and one the home side was never able to completely control.
The Hills controlled the square and midfield mostly through the steady ruck work of Luke Giles.
His work rate and willingness to be involved in the play ensured Hills had first use of the ball, or at least produced a contest.
Sam Pfieffer and Ashley Eckerman were in control across half back, turning defense into attack on many occasions; their ability to read the play and remain cool under pressure was inspiring.
For the home side Levi Krause, Brad Hartman, Ben Gogel, Jye De Zylva and Matthew Williams all got plenty of the ball and were prepared to provide a contest.
No one tried harder than Krause.
His football genius was breathtaking – whether it was taking the ball from the centre, breaking the lines on the burst, tackling or finding space and bringing his teammates into the game, he did it all.
Hartman, a class act, also produced some special football.
There is an air of elegance and grace about him, a sense of danger every time he gets near the ball.
He played like a man possessed.
Gogel, De Zylva and Williams did not disappoint their fans.
Their willingness to be involved in the play ensured the Reds at least produced a contest.
When the siren sounded to end the first quarter the score was 2.3 to 3.3 in the visitors’ favour.
The feisty Hills started the second quarter brilliantly, attacking the home side from the outset with the type of football which wins interleague games: desperate, fierce tackling and total commitment to performing the small things which form the big picture.
They were relentless with their pressure, which garnered confidence, which produced brilliant ball movement.
They hit their targets, took their marks and finished well in front of goal for the most part.
Conversely, the River Murray boys battled to spot up loose opponents, especially by foot, and when goal scoring opportunities presented, they weren’t taken.
Ebert was in exceptional form and continued where he had left off in the first quarter, gathering touches at will.
Pope continued to work hard and create a presence, whilst Krause, Hartman and Gogel were not to be denied for the River Murray.
Gogel is not considered one of the marquee players of the competition, but don’t tell him – he is playing like one and promises to make a wonderful contribution to interleague for many years to come.
The third quarter lacked nothing in intensity.
Both sides continued to hustle and tackle their opponents ferociously.
With the visitors keeping the turnovers to a minimum, the home side had to make the most of each opportunity and they hung in the contest, refusing to be consumed by negative thoughts as they challenged the visitors.
The biggest plus for the home side was their immense improvement in the stoppages and this, along with the clear decision-making process, ensured they were still in touch at three quarter time.
The home side restricted the potent Hills line-up to just two goals in the third quarter while helping themselves to one, which set things up for a last quarter you knew was going to deliver big moments.
It lived up to those expectations with individual bits of brilliance followed by desperate acts of courage.
The home side finally found their share of the contested ball in the last quarter and threatened to send the match into overtime.
They had plenty of forays in to their forward line, and at times seemed to be gaining the ascendency.
But they would pay a heavy price for failing to capitalise on a dominant period, where they had 12 inside 50s but could manage just three goals and six behinds.
Brad Hartman threatened to win the game off his own boot, while Krause and Gogel led the side in disposals.
When the enigmatic Krause marked 60 metres from goal on an acute angle and calmly slotted a torp through the big sticks goal-post high, he had the River Murray supporters cheering whilst the Hills players and their supporters looked on in disbelief.
The door was slightly ajar, but the Hills slammed it shut with a follow-up goal from a costly turnover.
It was at this moment the Hills players started to walk tall and with the momentum swinging their way and the adrenaline pumping they would get over the line by 13 points.
Hills were the better side on the day, but having said that, River Murray were never out of it.
Unfortunately for the River Murray supporters, the Hills always seemed to have the answer to anything the home side could dish up.
Neither side deserved to lose, however there can only be one winner and Hills deserved the win.
It was a great game, with both sides playing super footy which was enjoyed by the big crowd.
For many players, interleague football is the pinnacle of their career; for others, this may just be the start of bigger and better things.
River Murray coach Scott Prebble was proud of his boys but lamented the one that got away.
“They got a lot of their goals a lot easier (than us), their inside 50s were a lot more efficient than ours,” he said.
“But in saying that, if we kick a couple more of those goals in the last quarter and put more pressure on them maybe it changes … that’s footy.
“The players prepared very well and put in a huge amount of work to make sure match day they were at the top of their game – it was a privilege to be part of this group’.’
Best player for the visitors was Ebert.
He was the consistent factor that swung the game for the Hills: he dominated when it counted and was always dangerous.
He was mercurial in the stoppages and sent the ball inside 50 to positive contest and was a deserved winner of the best on ground medal.
Pope played a splendid game and epitomised the Hills’ dedication to the task with his non-stop running and attack on the ball, whilst Pfieffer, Eckerman and Giles played superb games.
For the River Murray, Krause was outstanding and provided some magical moments.
Hartman is an elite footballer and at times the mercurial on-baller seemed to single handily keep River Murray afloat with his towering marks and clever reading of the play.
Gogel was inspirational and ran himself to exhaustion.
De Zylva and Williams had profound impacts on the game.