Deer Park’s defence has not felt pressure in a Western Region Football League division 1 grand final of the kind it did on Saturday since 2013.
On the launch day of the Lions’ dynasty five years ago, they kick-started their run of five straight premierships with a nail-biting one-point win over the dominant team of that era, Spotswood, which had an avalanche of opportunities with 29 scoring shots.
The Lions’ backline was repeatedly asked questions of it by Sunshine Kangaroos in Saturday’s three-point win in this season’s decider, but they came up with all the answers.
Lions defender Daniel Cooper was the main repellent in a back six that swelled to a back eight kicking into the wind.
Cooper was so dominant in the back half that Lions coach Marc Bullen felt he deserved the medal for best-on-ground.
Cooper was tough in one-on-ones, well positioned for intercept marks and a calm influence with ball in hand.
“They blazed away a bit and it probably suited myself, sitting behind the footy,” Cooper said. “They were coming pretty hard at us, so it gave us a bit of respite to get the ball in our hands and take the heat out of the game.”
Concerns were raised among the Deer Park defenders at certain stages in the game as Sunshine pressed hard.
But Cooper said the leaders took control of a situation that never spiralled out of control.
“Grand finals are always hard to win, so the panic was setting in,” he said. “It was just a matter of trying to calm everything down and get the experienced guys to really take ownership of the back half of the ground.
“We’ve got spades of experience down there – that’s probably our most experienced part of the ground, the back half, so it’s probably what kept us in the game, late in the second half at least.”
Cooper concedes Deer Park was “lucky” to have survived Sunshine’s last passage of play, when Sunshine youngster Lachlan Smart spilled a mark in goalkicking range.
Cooper was otherwise impressed with Smart’s game and joined in the chorus of people predicting a bright future for the young Kangaroo.
“There’s nothing you can do about that [dropped mark],” Cooper said. “He’ll learn from it, he’ll come back better from it.”
Cooper did not know there was mere seconds left in the game, nor did he know the score when he was at the Geelong Road end of the ground because the glare from the sun on the scoreboard at the Barkly Street end made it hard to read.
“During the year, most of the grounds have got a clock, but there’s no clock out here,” he said. “Having no clock is hard.”
The sound of the siren would’ve been be music to Cooper’s ears.