Following an almost-perfect 2022 in which Casey only lost one game all season, its 2023 VFL campaign began as you’d expect: with victory.
The Demons proved themselves to be a class above Footscray at Casey Fields on Saturday, walking away with a comfortable 13.16 (94) to 8.9 (57) victory.
But comfortable wasn’t the term befitting of Casey’s opening quarter however, as the Demons couldn’t buy a goal despite complete ascendancy around the ground. They would head into quarter-time leading 1.7 (13) to 1.1 (7), and kicked nine behinds before their second major.
Josh Schache was the man to eventually break Casey’s goal drought in the second term, with those in red and blue breathing a sigh of relief as another tough set shot became a sure-thing, courtesy of a 50-metre penalty for infringing on the protected area.
Schache showed glimpses in his first game at his new club, finishing with two goals and seven marks from 10 disposals as he goes about compiling a case for AFL selection.
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A clinical Casey kick-mark chain paved the way for James Jordon’s first major of the day, and Casey’s third, before a brilliant 40-metre Luke Dunstan snap from the pocket saw the Demons skip away to a 26-point lead at the 21-minute mark of the second term.
But momentum comes and goes in footy games, and failing to capitalise when the game’s being played on your terms can be a dangerous line to tow.
For a quarter plus change, the Demons towed that line, and Footscray set about making them pay as they finally found their feet, turning the game on its head with a flurry of goals late in the first half.
The Dogs would trail by just eight points at the main break.
Josh Schache quelled Footscray’s momentum with a straightforward set-shot conversion early in the third quarter, but the Dogs refused to relent, and the sides went goal for goal for the most part of an enthralling third term that saw the intensity and atmosphere dialled up a notch.
The man to swing the contest back in Casey’s favour? Debutant Oliver Sestan.
With the match well and truly in the balance, Sestan rose, first snapping a brilliant banana out of the pack, then marking strongly to set up his second six-pointer in a matter of minutes.
From there, the Demons never looked back.
They saved their best footy for the final term, making the most of their renewed dominance and keeping Footscray to a lone goal en route to their eventual 37-point triumph.
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For Footscray, skipper and reigning best and fairest winner Lachie Sullivan stood tall with nine clearances and 27 disposals. Buku Khamis (15 disposals, one goal) also put forward a solid showing swinging between half forward and half back, and even dabbling in the ruck.
Livewire Casey forward Sestan finished with three goals in an eye-catching debut. Taken at pick 28 in the rookie draft, he’ll be one for Demons fans to look out for. He’s no stranger to finding the sticks, having booted 24 goals in a single game for Mansfield last year in the Goulburn Valley League.
Speaking post-game, Casey coach Taylor Whitford liked what he saw from his debutants in his first game at the helm.
“Yeah it was pretty exciting wasn’t it?” Whitford mused.
“Big ‘MJ’ (Matt Jefferson) is up there taking pack marks, Ollie Sestan’s kicking goals,
“From a VFL point of view you’ve got Paddy Cross tackling like his life depends on it.”
Among the other Demons to impress were Michael Hibberd, Bailey Laurie (29 disposals), Luke Dunstan (29 disposals, one goal, seven clearances), and James Jordon (28 disposals, two goals).
Hibberd was the pick of the bunch though, starring in his quarterback-like role off halfback with 36 disposals and 10 marks.
Second-year Demon Jacob van Rooyen also looked promising with a game-high 11 marks to go with 19 disposals and one goal. His bodywork under the ball proved to be a prominent feature of his game.
While heart and soul contributor James Munro did what he does best: tackle, tackle, and then tackle some more; to finish with a whopping 16 tackles (for context, the next best was Daniel Orgill’s six).
Despite the assured result, Whitford erred on the side of caution when looking at the season ahead
“There’s a difference to the team this year compared to last year and we have to understand that it’s not gonna be last year.”