By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
REVIEW – ROUND 15
Think back to the start of the season – just for a second – back when Phillip Island hosted Kooweerup.
One of two season-opening games, the 31 March contest must now seem like a lifetime ago to the Phillip Island faithful.
Back then, under sunny skies, the Bulldogs opened up a seemingly telling 31-point three-quarter-time lead only to squander it in the final term against another premiership aspirant.
It was a result that made the rest of the competition stand up and take notice.
Fast forward to Saturday just before 2pm, and the question in the minds of some – would history repeat itself, this time against another of the top four sides in Nar Nar Goon?
The answer, just a few hours later, was a resounding no.
The Island met the challenge head-on, and emerged victorious from arguably the most entertaining clash of the season to date for a neutral observer – a 41-goal shootout.
Beau Vernon’s men set the tone, but the Goon seemingly had the answers. Right throughout the clash, this was a truly neck-and-neck battle – one that the home side couldn’t break open until the closing minutes.
But in the rooms immediately after his side’s 21-point win, 22.10 (142) to 19.7 (121), Vernon summed up the situation perfectly.
His players sat in front of him, physically spent but seemingly emotionally nourished – contented by the fact they’d been able to prove just how far they’d advanced since way back in Round 1.
“At the start of that last quarter, when they got that goal, you’d think back to Koowee in Round 1 and it just shows the difference between then and now,” he said of a brilliant running goal from Brendan Hermann just 15 seconds into the final term.
“But every player had a moment in the last quarter.”
That was the biggest difference to Round 1.
The Dogs’ snarl didn’t fade to a whimper – it evolved into a guttural roar.
Brendan Kimber, Zak Vernon and Jaymie Youle don’t only lead the group by example, they lead it in spirit and it was simply no coincidence that they shone brightest on Saturday in a clash that was littered with standout moments from both sides from start to finish.
Vernon (six goals) and Kimber (three) booted nine telling majors between them as they alternated from the midfield to forward 50, while highly-touted young gun Hayden Bruce (four goals) had a stellar impact in his first senior game for the club after returning from a broken leg.
While both sides’ ruck stocks were depleted on Saturday, the likes of Jarrod Andreatta (Phillip Island), and Trent Armour and Jake Blackwood (Nar Nar Goon) really stood up when called upon.
Goon key forward Matt Stevens (five goals) seemed unstoppable at stages across the forward 50, while defender Shannon Stocco shone when switched to a role up forward – booting four majors of his own.
But it was the battle between the arcs that was the most entertaining throughout the clash – Kimber, Vernon, and Youle for the Island against the likes of Armour, Hermann and Hughes for the Goon.
Gradually, since Round 1, the Island has come into premiership reckoning. Bit by bit, piece by piece, they’ve shone – in all areas- that they have the quality to match and beat the competition’s best.
And Saturday was another reminder of that.
It’s no coincidence that the four pillars on prominent display in their rooms are respect, mateship, professionalism, and commitment.
Each of those four are noticeable in the way they play.
When the pressure was on, when the spotlight was on them, they shone.
And that could spell real danger come September.