Roy Ward talks to Brad Hill and Matt De Koeyer after the Mt. Gambier Pioneers and Albury-Wodonga Bandits advanced to the Grand Final and covers this week's big plays as well as the media wrap-up.

Tom Daly isn’t from Mt. Gambier but in three seasons with the Pioneers he has formed a bond with the town that will last long past his career.

Matt De Koeyer grew up in the Albury-Wodonga region and has played 10 years with the Bandits - his bond with his home town will last his lifetime.

But backgrounds will mean little when Daly’s Mt. Gambier Pioneers take on Albury-Wodonga Bandits in the SEABL grand final at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday night.

What will matter is whose side can hold their nerve and make their shots in what should be a relentless contest between two accomplished sides.

The Pioneers are in their third grand final in three years and are going for their second straight title while De Koeyer is one of the remaining players from the Bandits’ 2012 championship side and he would love a second win.

The two clubs have two of the best home court advantages in the league and both will travel several hours from home to come to Dandenong.

Daly has played in the two previous Grand Finals so knows the feeling of being on either side of the result- he took up coach Richard Hill’s offer to move from Adelaide and spend a winter in Mt. Gambier three seasons ago and he has kept coming back.

Aside from playing, he works some hours at a local car dealership and runs individual coaching sessions with local juniors.

“You can’t walk down the main straight here without bumping into people you know,” Daly said.

“Half the people in the crowd you have something to do with in some manner so you form quite a bond with the fans and the people around the place.

“That counts for something, it makes it more special when you win games like the Conference Final on Friday night because so many of the crowd genuinely care about you and you care about them.

“It makes these games a bit more meaningful than if you are playing in front of a crowd of people you don’t know.”

De Koeyer knows that familiarity in regional crowds all too well - in fact he has grown up feeling it.

He was first recruited from Wodonga under-18s to come and try out for the Bandits and outside of taking a rest from SEABL in 2010 and 2011, De Koeyer has been a vital role player filling whatever position each Bandits’ team has needed.

With Daniel Sepokas out injured, De Koeyer has become the sixth man and managed to make some key shots in the team’s run to the Grand Final.

De Koeyer’s comeback season in 2012 coincided with the Bandits’ winning the national championship but he has also played through some of the club’s struggling seasons which makes him value the winning seasons even more.

“On a personal and team level, playing in a national final is one of the highlights of your life,” De Koeyer said.

“Back in 2012 - it was a blur so it means a lot to be in it again.”

Regional clubs regularly recruit elite Australian players along with imports as a way to compete with city based sides.

This year the Bandits have had success with Deba George, Clay McMath and Sepokas joining imports Cory Dixon and Donte Nicholas.

The Pioneers have Daly, Brad Hill, Matt Sutton and Erik Burdon who all have NBL experience while imports Damian Johnson and Tyrone Lee have been among the best few players in the league.

De Koeyer said as a locally raised player he was often a crowd favourite but having recruits from out of town allowed smaller clubs to be successful.

“I think the home crowd save their biggest cheers for when a local player hits a shot or takes a charge,” De Koeyer said.

“They identify closely with their own rather than guys who come in but we all understand regional clubs don’t exist without four or five recruits and the people usually embrace the new players.”

Daly said he expected a tight game and would be interested to see who the crowd sided with considering the past two men’s finals have seen the Pioneers play Melbourne sides Dandenong and Nunawading.

Once the grand final is over, Daly is planning on taking some time off from playing as, disappointingly, no NBL club has offered him a contract and he has been playing back-to-back seasons for several years.

“I haven’t got a playing job for next [NBL] season so to speak and I haven’t tested the water in regards to being a practice player somewhere,” Daly said.

“I may still join up with someone but I may just take some time off and rest my body and mind.”

De Koeyer has already had former Bandits’ championship winner Nick Payne texting him a reminder to take every opportunity come Saturday night.

“I’ve played here 10 years and this will be my second final,” De Koeyer said.

“I was reading a column about Nick Haywood from North West Tasmania - he has been in the league longer than me and hasn’t had that opportunity yet.

“Payne sent me a text to say lap it up because these chances don’t come around too often.

“None of us will be taking anything for granted.”

Notable performances

*Mt Gambier’s Damian Johnson was dominant in the Pioneers’ win over Bendigo with 20 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals.

*Pioneers’ star Brad Hill had 18 points and seven rebounds while Tom Daly added 15 points and six rebounds.

*Bendigo’s Tony Lewis had 14 rebounds to go with his eight points while Josh Wilcher finished his strong finals series with 13 points.

*Albury-Wodonga import Donte Nicholas tallied 14 points, ten rebounds and five assists in his club’s win over Geelong.

*Fellow Bandits star Clay McMath led his side with 21 points, Deba George had 20 and Cory Dixon recorded 15 points and 13 boards.

*Geelong’s Kimmani Barrett ended the season with a 20-point, 12-rebound game while Ash Cannan scored 15 points off the bench and Eric Gaff added nine points and 13 boards.

SEABL media links

*Border Mail published one of the final pieces from departed hoops writer Steve Smith (@Stevesmithffx) with Jodie O’Sullivan and it was worth the wait as Cory Dixon talks about the heartbreaking loss of his family to a car accident. A must read. Story, video:

*Border Mail’s Chris Young reports on the Bandits’ conference final win:

*Border Mail’s Jamie Horne (@JamieHorneffx) filed these two reports on Donte Nicholas and Deba George. Nicholas: and George:

*Horne also spoke to Clay McMath about his big night. Story:

*Mt Gambier Pioneers’ website’s Tom Telfer reports on his club’s conference final win. Report:

*Bendigo Advertiser reports on the Braves’ loss to Mt Gambier. Report:

*Geelong Advertiser reports on tough losses for both the men’s and women’s Supercats sides in conference finals. Report:

*The Age reports on the NBL’s new TV deal with Fox Sports and the need for a Brisbane side next season. Report:

Roy Ward (@rpjward) is a freelance sports writer who has covered the NBA, NBL, WNBL, SEABL and Big V during his career. He will be filing weekly columns on the SEABL men’s and women’s competitions during this season. For feedback or suggestions send Roy a tweet or email him at