Saturday marks one of the marquee days on the Australian Football calendar in Europe, with Grand Final Day in London treating supporters to four huge games as the powerhouses of the game in the UK, the North London Lions, West London Wildcats & Shepherds Bush Raiders descend on Clapham Common and look to pull the rug out from under the hosting Wandsworth Demons.
With representation in all four matches this the weekend, The Dee’s face the remarkable prospect of claiming each of the five AFL London division flags, and will roll onto their home turf chocked full of confidence following their women’s conference sides thrilling one-point victory against the London Swans last Saturday.
While hundreds of footy fans are expected to make the pilgrimage to ‘The C’ to catch the action, there will be few in attendance who will have as much emotional investment in the day as Wandsworth President, Xavier Holland, who said that the club will have to overcome some stern tests if they are to claim a historic clean sweep.
“We’re all fairly nervous coming into these games and I think that all four matches are really fifty-fifty battles,” Holland said.
“Out of three of the four match-ups, we’ve been beaten by three of those teams during the season, with the men’s conference team going unbeaten but the last time they played the Raiders it was only a six-point game, so we’re all evenly matched,
“I think we’re excited but we’re nervous because we don’t know what to expect, but we’re happy to take it all on and hopefully come away with a few wins.”
Regardless of the results on the field, AFL London President, Cai Davies, speaking at the competition Awards Night on Wednesday, expects that the day will provide a fitting conclusion to another successful AFL London season, with the closeness of the previous matches between Saturday’s competing sides making for a tantalising prospect this weekend.
“We have had some competitive games all season between the clubs that are left, so it could easily go either way on the day,” Davies said.
“Looking at the men’s premier division first week final between West London and Wandsworth for example where we saw a tie at the end of the fourth quarter to send the game into extra time, where the Wildcats went on to win by just over a goal, it really showed us how competitive footy has become in London and what we can expect for Saturdays games.”
All four matches will be streamed live via the AFL London YouTube channel, with the opening bounce of the men’s social division Grand Final kicking off the coverage at 9:30am (GMT).
9:30am – MEN’S SOCIAL DIVISION – SOUTH LONDON DEMONS v NORTH LONDON LIONS
Dubbed ‘a game of dinosaurs’ by Demons President, Xavier Holland, given the number of ‘stalwarts’ from both sides who will take the field in the day’s opener, Wandsworth will vie for their fourth consecutive social division flag and hope to repeat the clinical performance of last year’s Grand Final against the same opposition.
Photo: Danny Radis Photography
11:30am – MEN’S CONFERENCE DIVISION – SHEPHERDS BUSH RAIDERS v CLAPHAM DEMONS
The Demons face an exceptionally tricky second-leg assignment in their quest for the quaddie as they come up against of the most dominant sides in the history of Australian Football in Europe, the Shepherds Bush Raiders.
The conference entity of the Wildcats has had a vice-like grip on the title since being formed in 2000, taking home 15 of a possible 17 trophies, though their two defeats have both come at the hands of the Demons in 2009 & 2016.
The two-sides last clashed in the first semi-final where the Demons prevailed in a very tight contest, winning 6.8 (44) to 6.2 (38), but Raiders captain Chad Sellenger says that taking the longer route to the final could prove beneficial to his side.
“We have an extra game under our belts now playing last weekend where we were able to work on the game plan and fine-tune some things, so everyone’s electric at the moment and pretty excited for the big day,” Sellenger said.
“We know they’re a very physical side, on their home ground which they play very well, hopefully, we can match them. We know our strengths, but we know theirs as well, it’s going to be an absolute nail-biter. It’ll go down to the wire.”
2:00pm – WOMENS PREMIER DIVISION – NORTH LONDON LIONS v WANDSWORTH DEMONS
The first of the two feature events on the day’s card pits the reigning premiers from Wandsworth up against a North London Lions line-up who have struck hot form at the right time of year, having stormed into the Grand Final after toppling the previously unbeaten Demons by 33-points in the first Semi-Final.
Acutely aware of the opportunity that is in front of them, Lions President, Jay Treloar, admits that the old adage of Grand-Final ‘just another week’ has been thrown out the door in the lead-up to the match.
“You’d like to say it’s no different to any other week, but it’s grand final week – everyone’s up and about, numbers are fantastic. It’s good to see many more girls than usual down at training and I think everyone’s really excited,” Treloar said.
“We’ve probably got the best chance we’ve ever had to create a bit of history at the club, so the girls are really up and about for it and having been here since the inception of the side it’s just wonderful to see.”
Cool, calm and collected clichés are also out of fashion in the Demon’s camp, with co-captain Bianca Valenzisi admitting there are plenty of nerves amongst the excitement for the girls from Wandsworth.
“We’re all a little bit nervous coming up closer to the game and feel we’ve got a lot to lose, but our preparation is to not change too much and only make some small adjustments,” Valenzisi said.
“The main area of focus will be to not break our structures because it’s been working all season, but after the last time we played the Lions we are going to have to make a few adjustments
“I think it’ll be a good game either way. There are a lot of nerves flying around but there are enough cool heads amongst us that are trying to keep it under wraps.”
4:00pm – MEN’S PREMIER DIVISION – WEST LONDON WILDCATS v WANDSWORTH DEMONS
One of the fiercest rivalries in Europe takes centre stage for the crescendo of Grand Final Day, with the four-time Champions of Europe from West London striving to reclaim the AFL London crown that was taken from them by the Demons in 2017, after their thrilling 3-point Grand Final win against the Lions.
If recent form between the two sides is any indication, echoes of Anthony Hudson’s famous final words in the 2006 Grand Final, “who would of thought that the sequel, would be just as good as the original” may just be ringing on the wind at the common, with the one thing capable of topping the semi-final classic between the two sides where extra time was required, is a repeat of that on the biggest stage this Saturday.
West London took the honours by a single goal on that occasion and will hope that the resultant week off will help them reclaim the AFL London crown.
Photo: Danny Radis Photography
Wildcats Captain, Tyson Mihocek, said that the side was grateful for last weekend’s reprieve but are now primed for one last push.
“Our current form is reasonably good, and it was a pretty brutal sort of game against the Demon’s so the boys were pretty thankful to have last week off,” Mihocek said.
“Wandsworth are going to be tough – we know that – but we’re just going to focus on being first to the footy and making sure we use the ball well going forward and trying to look after our forwards a bit, which was something we probably didn’t do too well in the first-final
“Everyone’s obviously excited to have two teams in out of our five – which is a testament to the club – and all the boys that are involved on Saturday are really excited.”
Demons President, Xavier Holland, said that while the last matchup between the two clubs nearly drove him to a heart attack, he was hopeful the side could get the job done and book a ticket to Champions League 2019.
“We have been playing well all season, and now get the ultimate challenge of coming up against the Wildcats who are a great club,” Holland said.
“They [West London] are sort of our arch-nemesis, but also a sister club that is very similar in many ways, with a lot of high-quality players on both sides.”
“Hopefully this time it doesn’t take extra-time to save me from a heart attack, but I expect it to be another neck and neck battle… I can’t pick a winner but hopefully, the demons can come out on top.
Riley Brettell – AFL Europe