By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
REVIEW – ROUND 14
Reigning premier Inverloch Kongwak might just be in for its biggest test so far in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition over the coming weeks.
But if Saturday at Garfield’s Beswick Street was any indicator, they’ll meet the challenge head-on.
On paper, it looks as though the Sea Eagles emerged from Saturday’s clash with the Stars with a hard-fought four-point victory.
And they did – 12.8 (80) to 11.10 (76).
But just how they did it was the most telling.
The Stars matched their highly-fancied opponents in the opening stanzas, leading by two points at the first change before the visitors made their charge in the second and third terms.
But they did so without champion on-baller, reigning league medallist and arguably the best player in the competition – Andy Soumilas.
He succumbed to a nasty thumb injury in the opening term, one that had him looking at mid-week surgery this week and an expected six to eight week layoff.
Given the tight confines of the upper echelon of the ladder, it’s a situation that the Sea Eagles could scarcely afford.
And then they lost their skipper, Dale Lawton, to a knee injury.
The lead-by-example club favourite returned from a separate knee injury last year to be part of the Sea Eagles’ breakthrough premiership-winning campaign, and hopefully for his sake he gets the chance to do the same this season.
He was stretchered off the field and was in good spirits after the contest, and when he was carried from the ground Ben Soumilas’ side showed its true colours – similar to the way in which the Tigers headed straight for a stricken Reece Conca against Sydney earlier this year.
One by one, they comforted him – as one, tightknit, group no matter what.
That moment typified the way in which Inverloch went about its footy on Saturday – grinding out a win despite three significant first-half injuries (the other being a hamstring to Shane Buxton).
Take nothing away from Garfield, though. Remember, Hayden Stanton’s side lost by over 100 points last time these two sides met in Inverloch back in Round 5.
The Stars, battling with the Cobras for their finals lives, led in the early going on Saturday and later fought back from significant deficits multiple times throughout Saturday’s contest. And, despite being four goals in arrears at three-quarter time, they had a chance to snare a famous win in the game’s final moments.
The ball was loose, well inside Garfield’s forward 50 arc when the final siren sounded.
At just 16-years-of age, Tom Fitzpatrick was simply unbelievable up forward for the home side, snaring six majors, while the likes of Tanner Stanton, Jayden Goumas, Michael Wallace and undersized ruckman Tyler McDonald (in the absence of Corie Intveen) also impressed in a team display that showed plenty of ticker in its own way.
Daniel Reid, Will Hetherington, Michael Eales and big man Conor Cunningham, meanwhile, led the charge for the undermanned Sea Eagles.
After the contest, Ben Soumilas summed up exactly what he thought of the win.
“In footy, you always hear things said like: ‘that’s a character-building win’,” he said.
“People say the word, and they don’t really know what it is.
“When you’ve got character, in sports clubs and in teams, it means you’ll do what’s best for the team.
“When they say today was a character-building win, it’s because you guys just put the team first.
“You put the team first, you moved on from mistakes, and that’s why people are excited by watching you play.
“Close wins are fantastic anyway, but they’ve watched you build your character and prove what your character is.
“One of the comments I heard at half-time was ‘your team has a lot of character, Souma’.
“Our supporters are right, and I take my hat off to you. Playing like that, when the cards are stacked against you, is a great way to say thanks.”
As for Andy, don’t be the slightest bit surprised to see him return earlier than expected. He’s battled through injury, and succeeded, throughout his career. That’s what champions are made of.