By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
REVIEW – FINALS WEEK 2
All season long, the boys from the Island had been spoken about as the ones to watch when it mattered most – at the business end of the campaign.
From all corners, the chorus of opinion sang the same tune – that not only were the Bulldogs the real deal, theirs was the group most likely to enjoy premiership success on 15 September.
On Saturday in the type of dour conditions not normally encountered across the league, Beau Vernon’s men justified the hype – putting the Demons to the sword in a commanding 10-goal, second semi-final win, 14.14 (98) to 5.8 (38).
In doing so, they booked their ticket to the big dance and are now so close to the ultimate WGFNC glory they can taste it.
The persistent wintry conditions in the build-up to the senior clash did little to dampen the spirit around the ground, or the buzz of the crowd which turned out in impressive numbers.
Once the colosseum of West Gippsland football, the ‘Cobra Dome’ again delivered an atmosphere befitting of such a blockbuster game.
The Demons enjoyed much of the play in their forward half early in the wet slog, but it was the Island that was the first to capitalise with a Jack Taylor goal.
It was always going to have to be a team effort from the Demons in trying to quell the influence of star Phillip Island ruckman Nick Higginson, but it was ultimately to no avail. He, along with the big-bodied hardness of James Taylor and Brendan Kimber, proved a genuine difference-maker and caused the Demons no end of headaches in his ability to give his engine room first use.
Two first-quarter goals to Jason Wells – a virtual carbon copy of each other in front of the clubrooms in the forward pocket at the scoreboard end – gave the Demons, who’d kicked with the advantage of the breeze, a one-goal advantage at quarter-time.
But their tackling numbers – long a trademark of their game – were worryingly down.
As the game progressed, the Island’s midfield got on top and continually found space to work in forward of the centre.
They kept the Demons to just a single point in the second term, while booting four goals of their own to take control.
Though the rain stayed away throughout the senior game, it was still a clash of genuine wet weather footy – and the boys from the Island adjusted to the conditions better.
Truth be told, the Island should have been further in front at the main break with the way in which they were peppering the goals.
At the half, Ben Collins’ message to his players was a simple one – lift the intensity of their pressure, and man up one-on-one.
They’d run over the top of them twice before in 2018, but Saturday was different.
The Demons played a more daring style in the third term and found more space than they had throughout the first half, but taking marginal control of the arm wrestle to start the second half wasn’t enough as the Island ultimately ran away with the contest – earning a week off before the grand final, and leaving the Demons with much to ponder.
Jason Wells was the clear standout performer for the Demons and looked a likely goal-scorer each time the ball went inside 50 – even though he was often double-teamed – while Dom Paynter, Troy Dolan, and the ever-reliable Craig Dyker also had a particularly positive impact.
Sunday’s first semi-final was equally emphatic, with a barnstorming Nar Nar Goon ousting old nemesis Cora Lynn from the finals courtesy of a 59-point win – 16.13 (109) to 6.14 (50) in front of another strong crowd at Kooweerup.
For the second time in as many weeks, cars spilled outside the ground and right down Denhams Road in eager anticipation for a clash with everything on the line.
Both sides made significant changes for the clash, with Todd Beck returning for the Goon and Jaxon Briggs and Brady White taking their places in the Cobras’ lineup.
It was the young, exciting Cobras who had the better of the early going and took a nine-point lead into quarter-time of what was a particularly entertaining up-and-back contest.
While they but while they seemed to have the contest on their own terms by the first break, the second term proved to be the Brendan Hermann show.
The mercurial match-winner lived up to his reputation with four goals for the term – four consecutive goals, that is – and five for the match. He was every bit the game-breaker – bouncing back emphatically from a down game the week prior.
One of Dean Blake’s messages to his side was particularly telling: ‘Team success comes from individual performances’, and Hermann’s performance was nothing short of breath-taking.
It was one that took his team mates along for the ride, too, as they fed off the energy.
Though an impressive Jeremy Monckton, a tough Andrew Green, ruckman Billy Thomas, and skipper Tim Payne shone for the Cobras it wasn’t enough as Trent Armour, Jake Smith, Sam and Tom Blackwood, and – particularly – Jacob Sweeney in his lock-down role – rose for the Goon.
Clearly, the most impressive facet of the Goon’s game on Sunday was its ability to respond when it was really questioned at quarter-time. The resilience and focus they showed at that point will need to be on full display again this week against the Demons at Garfield.