ELTHAM stormed through to the 2015 preliminary final with an 18-point victory over Northcote Park at Preston City Oval in the Division 1 first semi final.
Overcoming a sluggish start, the Panthers kicked five final term goals to run away with the 10.12 (72) to 8.6 (54) win.
The result gave the Panthers their first Division 1 finals victory since 1977, breaking a 38-year drought.
Eltham struggled to adjust to the strong breeze to the city end of the ground early in the contest, with many of its kicks in the opening term failing to hit the intended target.
The Panthers hopes were dampened in the opening minutes when star player Lachie Richardson was taken off in the hands of trainers after hitting his head on the turf.
Northcote Park capitalise by kicking with the wind, when Luke Svarc goaled eight minutes into the quarter.
Oliver McEwan’s around the ground dominance helped the Cougars win clearance battles and saw them kick two more goals in the quarter, through Dylan Campbell and Joel Donaldson.
Eltham would have been happy to only concede three goals in the first quarter, knowing it would have the advantage of the breeze in the second term.
But inaccuracy would be costly for the Panthers in the opening half of the quarter, highlighted by an abysmal Matthew Williamson set shot. Williamson read the flight of ball better than everyone to take a strong mark, but let himself down with a kick that spiralled out on the full.
Thankfully for Eltham, its first goal of the game would come nine minutes into the quarter through a deadeye Jamie Doukas.
For most of the quarter Northcote Park played with forwards tracking back to help the defence, leaving only the seagulls to inhabit the Cougars’ forward 50.
But on the rare occasions they did enter the attacking 50, they kicked two goals against the run of play. Campbell kicked his second goal for the game, while down the other end Anthony Di Paolo kicked his first goal at senior level.
The second half began with Northcote Park leading by seven points.
In similar fashion to the first term, both teams needed to adjust to the breezy conditions. But in a change from the usual, the team kicking against the breeze opened the scoring.
Sam Zito found space to kick a goal from 25 metres, reducing the margin to one point.
Wayne Schultz and Patrick O’Connell fired back for the Cougars, but when Harrison Burns added another for the Panthers, the margin would remain just seven points heading into the final term.
Eltham’s confidence was at a high at the beginning of the final term, largely due to its impressive third quarter, where it kicked the same amount of goals as Northcote Park, without the advantage of the wind.
Eltham was led in the last quarter by the superb around the ground display of Harrison Burns and the courageous Lachie Richardson, who returned after the opening quarter head knock.
Burns’ strong marking and determination was key and he capped off the impressive display with a goal from the arc.
Matthew Williamson and Matthew Evans both booted two goals in the last term to help guide Eltham to next week’s preliminary final against Macleod. Evans’ effort on the run late in the game sealed the win for the Panthers.
The winner of Sunday’s preliminary final will advance to face Greensborough in the Grand Final. It will be the third meeting between the Roos and Panthers in the past month.
Best Players: C. McCabe, S. Brazzale, H. Burns, B. Glasgow, J. Merkel, M. Evans