By Hayley Wildes
Having earned a week off after demolishing Geelong by 91 points in the qualifying final, the Casey Demons return to action this Saturday as they look to book their place in the VFL grand final.
Casey’s opponent Essendon has come from the clouds, roaring into the preliminary final having beaten Collingwood and minor premiers Richmond in its two finals games after finishing eighth on the ladder.
“They’ve got incredible momentum and they’ve had a really good run coming into this weekend,” Casey captain Jack Hutchins said.
“We’re all really excited about the weekend and hopefully we’ve created something where it doesn’t really matter who we play, our brand can hold up when it needs to.”
The Demons had a minor hiccup in the final two home and away season games, but rediscovered their identity against Geelong by playing the Casey brand of football – a tough and uncompromising thirst for the contest.
“We pride ourselves on the contested ball, being aggressive at the contest and outnumbering at the contest,” he said.
“To me, that’s certainly what transpired [against Geelong] and it was one of those games when everything just clicked and every player played their role.”
Casey and Essendon have met once this season and the Round 13 clash was an enthralling battle. In windy conditions at Craigieburn, the Demons claimed a hard-fought eight-point win.
In his first season at Casey, coach Jade Rawlings has turned his team into a defensive-minded and ruthless outfit. Their willingness to firstly compete at every contest and then spread with width and use the ball with composure makes them a tough team to crack.
Rawlings’ season was recognised at Monday night’s VFL Best and Fairest when he was awarded 2018 VFL Coach of the Year. Having led his team to a 14-4 record, finishing the home and away season in second position, it was some very well-deserved recognition of a coach who has brought his team together.
“Full credit to Twiggy (Jade Rawlings) – he’s had a great year and he’s a fantastic coach to play under,” he said.
“The same with the two boys who got in the VFL Team of the Year – Corey Wagner and Jay Lockhart – they’ve had tremendous seasons and it’s fantastic to see that the reward is there for them and all three of them thoroughly deserve the accolades.”
Teams for Saturday’s game are yet to be named, but Casey will most likely boast the likes of Melbourne AFL-listed players Tom Bugg, Jeff Garlett, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Jayden Hunt, Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty, Tim Smith and of course Cam Pedersen – who finished equal fifth in the 2018 J.J Liston Trophy at Monday night’s best and fairest.
While there is plenty of skill and experience among that group, the VFL-listed players are just as important and have consistently stood up for Casey. Corey Wagner, Jay Lockhart, James Munro, Josh Wagner and the skipper have been vital to the Demons’ success.
Hutchins has been a part of some tough finals losses with Casey over recent years, highlighted by the 2016 grand final loss to Footscray, but he believes the resilience of the 2018 Casey Demons makes them a different side to previous years.
“In times gone by, there has been games when it’s only taken 10 or 15 minutes when sides have got a run on and we haven’t been able to peg it back,” he said.
“The group we have this year is really resilient in terms of in any situation, we’ve been able to work through it and I think that’s showed in different games throughout the year.”
Casey faces Essendon on Saturday at North Port Oval from 2.10pm.