By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
REVIEW – ROUND 7
It’s obvious just how much Tooradin-Dalmore is loving life in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition.
Not only do the Gulls currently occupy a top three spot after passing their latest test at home against the Sea Eagles, beyond the boundary there’s a genuinely great feeling down at the nest.
No longer do the faithful have to turn up week after week only to see their boys outmatched against the likes of Berwick, Narre Warren, or Beaconsfield.
Now, they know that their side is a better than even chance of winning just about every game it contests.
And that means everything. It’s why they pushed so hard to return to their West Gippsland roots.
On Saturday, the Gulls’ latest challenge arrived in the form of Inverloch Kongwak.
While the Sea Eagles have been simply ravaged by injury – including to some of their biggest names – they’d never use that as an excuse for a loss.
And nor should they.
Every side battles with injury at some stage throughout the course of a season. It’s how those battles are overcome that define them.
On Saturday the Gulls got the early jump – leading 6.2 (38) to 2.2 (14) – at the end of the first, but the visitors matched them in the second, and headed into the main break still with that same four-goal deficit; 11.3 (69) to 7.3 (45).
While Sea Eagles struggled to hit targets with any real consistency by foot in the opening term, the Gulls peppered their defence with one forward 50 entry after another.
In fact, the home side didn’t even notch its first minor score until the 27-minute mark of the third – testament to its strong, confident start.
At quarter-time, with his side having lost two more players to injury in recent days, Sea Eagles coach Tom McQualter remained positive.
“We can learn a lot from that quarter,” he told his charges.
“Don’t be fearful of making mistakes – don’t be scared to break out of the stoppage.”
McQualter called for “off the charts” intensity and tackle pressure from that point on, and his side lifted.
Experienced leader Shem Hawking, Callum Beattie-Powell, and Josh Clottu all impressed, as did the likes of Dan Reid (three goals), Toby Mahoney and big Cam Roughead.
But the Gulls weren’t to be denied.
It was a case of all hands on deck for Lachie Gillespie’s group – regardless of size, or experience level.
The fleet-footed Lewis Hill (three goals) was simply electric throughout the clash, while the bigger-bodied Michael Hobbs was just as impactful in his own role.
As the likes of Jake Cronin and Andrew Dean (two goals apiece) hit the scoreboard at timely stages, Andrew Proctor (down back) and Adam Splatt (in the ruck) also refused to take a backward step alongside the likes of Kris Sabbatucci, Nick Lang and battle-hardened leader Matt Livermore.
The Sea Eagles were never going to just fade away throughout the second half and cough up the four points easily.
At three-quarter time, they were within four goals – 14.6 (90) to 11.4 (70) – and well and truly within reach.
But the Sherrin spent large amounts of the quarter in the visitors’ forward half, as the scoreboard started to show early in the term.
Their four-goal deficit was whittled away to just five points before two goals within the space of a minute midway through the quarter steadied the ship.
At three-quarter time, McQualter remained confident – telling his men in the huddle that they had it well and truly within them to snare a famous victory.
But they had to be brave. They had to be daring.
The Sea Eagles benefited directly on the scoreboard from a series of 50-metre penalties their way, but they deserved to have a shot at winning the game. They’d kept themselves in the hunt.
But the conditions for that hunt were just a little bit darker in the final quarter, as the power went out around the ground – turning off both the lights, and the scoreboard.
In scenes that had to be seen to be believed, Gillespie’s men held their nerve – winning by three goals, 16.10 (106) to 14.4 (88).
Fittingly it was Hill who produced the game-clinching snap, putting the Gulls 22 points up with about three-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Following the clash, Gillespie spoke of his pride in his group emerging victorious from a game that had a bit of everything.
“It was crazy out there,” he said – specifically referring to the bulk of the final term, which was played without the scoreboard, or lights in the overcast conditions.
“We didn’t really know what was happening.
“We felt like we were in a pretty powerful position, but we were a little bit frustrated we couldn’t play the game out quite as we would have liked.
“Both sides had their injury concerns, but I think in the end we were just happy to get a win against a quality opposition. That gives us not only the four points but the knowledge that we can mix it with the best.”
Gillespie praised the depth at his disposal, which helped manage the injury concerns of the group.
But he was in no doubt as to who shone brightest on Saturday.
“Lewis Hill was awesome, and he’s a bottom-age under-18,” he said.
“He’s just a really clean player, and we’re so lucky to have him at the club after he came across from Berwick.
“He’s class, Hobbsy (Michael Hobbs) – the old man – was really strong through the midfield, and Proc (Andrew Proctor) took some really telling marks for us as well.
“(And) we haven’t really had a ruckman as such, but I thought Splatty (Adam Splatt) – who’s played in the twos and was injured early – was just fantastic today.”
Making his performance all the more significant was the recent loss of his mother, and club icon, Trish – following a long and courageous cancer battle.
Many at the club were also still feeling the effects of the loss of a great mate, who passed away following a recent car accident.
They remained front of mind on Saturday – as the black armbands showed – but come game-time it was all about the task at hand… defeating one of the WGFNC’s benchmark sides.
And with that box now ticked off, the sky could well be the limit for the soaring Gulls.