The return of Max King may have headlined the weekend’s VFL news, but it was three emerging defenders who shone in a thriller at Victoria Park.
Jonathon Marsh (26 disposals, 13 marks), Brandon White (24 disposals, 11 marks) and Nick Hind (19 disposals) were the stars as the Zebras clinched a one-point victory over Collingwood on Sunday afternoon.
Billy Longer was also instrumental with 71 hit-outs, 19 disposals and a pivotal mark in the dying seconds.
Longer’s contested grab in the centre square and driving ball inside 50m found a flying Sam Fox, who in Barry Breen style, broke the deadlock to put the Zebras up by a point in the 32nd minute.
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Sandringham controlled much of the afternoon until four straight majors in the final term and a dominant midfield display from Alex Woodward fired the Magpies to the lead.
The visitors then went to work, clawing their way back in agonising fashion, kicking six consecutive behinds from eight shots and 15 entries to eventually secure the four points.
An impressive burst from the clearance and a long bomb from outside 50 which was touched on the line almost made Hunter Clark the hero, while Robbie Young’s brilliant pick up and hurried snap from the back of a stoppage yielded no score.
Both excelled in their respective domains, with Clark leading the Zebras’ midfield with 28 disposals and a goal alongside a heavily-tagged David Armitage, while Young’s trademark pressure and unrelenting forward 50 tackles gifted him a classy major from the pocket.
A proud – and relieved – coach Aaron Hamill praised his side’s grit, determination and execution, particularly in the final term when the game was in the balance.
“Clearly we were under pressure late, but we found a way,” Hamill told saints.com.au.
There were some outstanding efforts from a lot of the boys, but I thought our backs were probably the best I’ve seen for a long time in any game of footy.”
“I thought they were outstanding all over the ground, but in particular their communication and their will and their want to do the right thing.”
“From a pure back six perspective, they looked really comfortable, looked safe behind the ball and they got there in the end.”
Darragh Joyce (13 disposals, four tackles) was one of the Zebras’ key communicators and enjoyed a superb, four-mark third quarter as the last line in defence, while Nick Coffield (13 disposals, eight marks) was clean and composed with ball in hand.
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Oscar Clavarino pieced together a sound nine-disposal return after a high ankle syndesmosis strain sustained in February, easing his way into the game and building his influence as time went on.
But it was King’s comeback after more than a year on the sidelines that still stole the headlines.
The 18-year-old soccered through his first goal late in the opening term and showed glimpses of his aerial ability despite limited opportunities.
King finished with seven disposals and two inside 50s before being rested for the final quarter, leaving Sam Rowe and Bailey Rice to fill the key post in his absence.
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And while all eyes were on the pick No. 4 up forward, it was up the other end of the ground where the game was ultimately won.
White, Marsh and Hind will all feature prominently at the selection table, while Clark, Longer and Young are among several others also knocking down the door.
Sandringham will return to Trevor Barker Beach Oval next Sunday against the in-form Essendon in the hopes of securing its fourth win of the year.
COLLINGWOOD 1.2 3.5 4.7 8.7 (55)
SANDRINGHAM 2.2 4.6 6.8 7.14 (56)
Collingwood: Varcoe 2, Goldsack, Kelly, Madgen, Ralph, Sier, Wells
Sandringham: Rowe 2, Gilbert, King, Longer, Wright, Young
Collingwood: Woodward, Quaynor, Daicos, Varcoe, Sier, Keane
Sandringham: White, Longer, Marsh, Clark, Seccull, Hind, Young