The Yass Roos and Murrumbateman Eagles will run out onto Joe O’Connor Park this Saturday in the Qualifying Final of the AFL Canberra 2023 Community Men’s Division Three season, adding another chapter in the already storied history of the Battle of the Barton rivalry. 

 

The two towns of Yass and Murrumbateman sit just 20 kilometres apart from each other on the Barton Highway, and on the football field they’re just as close, sharing many close contests including last year’s grand final which the Eagles prevailed.

 

While scheduled to meet in Round 13 of this season, Mururmbateman were forced to forfeit due to player availability, but the two sides last met in May in Round 4 where Yass registered a five-point win. 

The Roos finished the home and away season as minor premiers, six points clear of the second-placed Eagles, but the reigning premiers in Murrumbateman will have a fire in their belly to claim back-to-back premierships on the first Saturday in September. 

 

This weekend’s qualifying final shapes up as a mouthwatering clash whichever way you look at it, with a victory advancing the winner straight into the grand final on Saturday September 2nd, while the loser will have to go the long way around, facing the winner of Goulburn and Southern Cats in the preliminary final. 

After weeks of issues internally for the Club, Eagles Coach Mark Welsh said the team are ready, fit, and firing for Saturday’s clash. 

“We’ve had a nice week of training. Three or four guys who have had niggles are finally getting on top of them and starting to come good, that’s a real positive and it is lifting everyone else around them,” Welsh said. 

“When you see some of the better players getting over injuries it really gives that buoyant feel around the Club. We’ve still got a few concerns but hopefully they come good during the week. If not, we’ll field the best 22 that we’ve got, which we’ll decide Thursday night after training. 

“We’ll get the two big training sessions in and see how everyone’s pulled up and how they’ve trained. We’ll be picking our strongest side for Yass. 

“We’re looking forward to getting on the paddock this week for some deep training sessions on the grass, which will be good.

“We’ll be picking guys who can run with that younger, fit and faster group that Yass have got. We’ll be trying to match them there on that speed and agility. 

“We know that they’ve also got good skills as well. You can match up fitness wise all you like but we’re just going to have to make sure that our skill and use of the footy is absolutely top shelf, because if it’s not, we know that Yass is going to rebound and use it. We’ve got to be right on top of our skill game.”

Battle of the Barton Dylan Camac, Jake Prince and Rex Stacey competing for the ball in a previous Grand Final match

Yass playing President Jarrad Forlonge said the Roos will be at almost full strength come Saturday’s pivotal final.

“We’ll be at pretty much full strength against Murrumbateman which is a bit of a luxury at this time of the year,” Forlonge said.

“The week off certainly helped to just freshen a few players up and we had the week off only a couple of weeks before that as well. 

“There are a few spots for Saturday’s team that are still up in the air which is a good thing to have. The coaches have a bit of an idea on how we’ll lineup, but we’ll have to see how everyone gets through Thursday’s training and pick the team that we think is going to do the job.”

Forlonge said the Roos are fully focused on winning this weekend’s Qualifying Final and maintained the team haven’t paid too much attention to the reward of going straight through to the Grand Final should they win.

 

“We just want to win no matter what. If it happens to give us a path straight through to the Grand Final, that’s just sort of secondary to it. 

“I think the most important thing for us is just winning, whether it’s this week, next week, or in three weeks’ time, we just want to win as many games as we can, culminating in the Grand Final. 

“It’s pretty simple for us. We’re not really thinking too far ahead or about anything else. We’re just trying to win.”

 

Forlonge said the Roos can’t take too much momentum from narrowly beating the Eagles earlier in the season given that it was three months ago. 

 

“We’re expecting them to be a somewhat similar team, but no doubt probably will be different as well. We played them in Round 4, so it’s been a while since we played them last. I’m not sure what their team is looking like at the moment, but they’ve probably fine-tuned some things, gotten better and learnt from that game,” he said. 

“One thing is for certain, they’re a very strong team, so that doesn’t change, but we can’t think too much about them, we’re focusing on ourselves and taking care of that on Saturday.”

The Roos will be hosting their Pink Day/Ladies Day on Saturday at Joe O’Connor Park in conjunction with the Qualifying Final and will be wearing a special pink guernsey that will contribute to the Club’s fundraising efforts for CanAssist Yass, who will also be at the gate taking donations.

Post match, players, coaches, supporters and families will head to the Clubhouse Hotel to watch Kyle McKenzie shave his head and beard with the highest donation on the day getting the honour of shaving it all off.

Forlonge invited members of the Yass community to head out and support the Club and Yass Can Assist on Saturday. 

 

“At the moment, we’re running a 25-game win streak at Joe O’Connor Park, so it obviously goes to show how much the boys love playing there. I think just having a packed hill down there at Joe O’Connor is something that everyone loves, and it just makes for such a great atmosphere.

“The fact that we get to play a local rival in Murrumbateman means the crowd will be a little bit bigger again. I think everybody likes playing in front of a big crowd, which is cool. 

“Get down to Joe O’Connor on Saturday. It’s our Pink Day as well, which has been delayed, so the more people we get through the gate, the more money we raise. 

“There’s heaps going on from a Club perspective on Saturday and it just so happens there’s a game of footy being played too. I think everyone is really excited to have a good day.”

 

Finals Week 1 Fixture: Saturday 19 August

Qualifying Final 1st vs 2nd: Yass vs Murrumbateman @ Joe O’Connor Park, 2pm

Elimination Final 3rd vs 4th: Goulburn vs Southern Cats @ Goodhew Park, 2pm

 

Tim Warren