A game for the ages

Nathan Gardiner's seventh goal with four seconds remaining split the points between David Main's Cora Lynn and Beau Vernon's Phillip Island. Both men could hardly believe the game that'd just unfolded. Pictures: ROB GARDINER AND RUSSELL BENNETT

WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
REVIEW – ROUND 9

 

By Russell Bennett

Those who spent their Saturday afternoon of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend at ‘The Kennel’ – the home of famous Phillip Island footy club – won’t forget what they witnessed any time soon.

In picture-perfect conditions in front of a bumper crowd, the rampaging reigning WGFNC senior premiers went toe-to-toe with Cora Lynn in one of the best games of country footy witnessed anywhere in years.

And at the final siren, it was only fitting that the two sides couldn’t be separated – 11.9 (75) the Island’s way to 12.3 (75) to Cora Lynn.

Normally drawn games bring about instant feelings of hollowness, or even bitterness from the protagonists.

Was there something they could have done differently? Was there a key moment they could have gone harder in? Was there a key missed opportunity in front of goal they’d be ruing?

But on Saturday, there was a strange feeling right across the ground – a feeling of acceptance.

It almost seemed as if both sides knew their opposition deserved to share in the premiership points.

The contest over the preceding two-and-a-half hours was nothing short of scintillating – from start, to finish.

Neither side could find a way of capitalising on its momentum enough to break the other’s spirit.

In fact, every time one side seemed to have the momentum, the other would steal it right back with successive goals or a series of key plays. The nine lead changes throughout the game, and margins of just four points (Cora Lynn’s way), two points (again to the Cobras, at half-time), and four points again (this time to the Island) at the quarter breaks were testament to that.

This was a clash in which both sides tried to isolate their forward targets as much as possible, and each player right across the ground had a task to accomplish.

All the key pieces stood up to be counted throughout the day – the likes of Jaymie Youle and Zak Vernon for the Island, and Chris Johnson and Billy Thomas for the Cobras.

But, all afternoon, this was a clash in which some of each side’s more unheralded figures stood strong.

Brady White has long been held in the absolute highest of esteem at Cora Lynn – for his unflinching attack on the game, and willingness to do whatever it takes for his team mates.

And on Saturday, his brilliant play was on show for everyone to see.

Shaun Sparks is another who perhaps doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves. A kind of quarter-back in defence for the Cobras, his composure was a defining trait of Saturday’s game. In fact, had he chosen the easy option and rushed a behind late, the Island would have won.

For the Island, it was the likes of Al Duyker, Marcus Wright, and Billy Taylor.

Duyker is team-first, through and through – and like White, he’ll do anything within his power to positively affect the contest.

His biggest legacy play on Saturday was an incredible front-on, bone-jarring tackle on a Cobras opponent streaming through the corridor. Instead of a shot on goal for Cora Lynn, Duyker’s inspirational play led directly to a 45-metre set-shot goal for Zak Vernon at the other end.

Taylor showed he’s every bit the big game player, with three crucial goals. In his first full year up from the thirds, he’s been incredibly impressive up forward all season for the Bulldogs, and his role on Saturday was particularly important with big brother Jack suffering a recurrence of his hamstring injury in the second quarter of his first game back in around a month.

Luke Hartley was another youngster who made his presence felt – with the Cora Lynn young gun putting his body on the line in a telling tackle of his own, against Bulldogs champion and former Cobras player-coach Brendan Kimber.

But two players, in particular, on Saturday threatened to blow the game wide open for their respective sides – and they both had telling impacts.

Bulldogs big man Cam Pedersen was once again nothing short of incredible – particularly with the penetration of his searing passes by foot from the centre of the ground to dangerous areas deep inside forward 50.

The former North Melbourne and Melbourne utility would surely strike fear into the hearts of his direct opponents most weeks, but on Saturday Cobras big man Billy Thomas refused to take a backward step against him.

Their battle was one of the highlights of the day, with Pedersen taking the honours around the ground but Thomas’ ruck craft shining at a number of key centre bounces and boundary throw-ins.

Of course, along with Pedersen, it was Cora Lynn key forward Nathan Gardiner who loomed a class above – slotting 7.0.

Not only did he kick the first major of every quarter, but he kicked the last goal of the third term – pegging the Island’s lead back to four points at the final change – and the very last goal of the contest.

His seventh and final major came with just four seconds left on the clock as his snap from the left forward pocket in front of the scoreboard sailed through.

In the wake of that snap, there was only time remaining for one last ball-up in the centre of the ground – from which neither side could get an effective clearance.

Every nail-biting game of footy comes right down to the wire, but this one will rightfully live long in the memory of everyone who was lucky enough to witness it unfold.

The two sides were undefeated heading into the clash, and it was only fitting they remained that way at the final siren.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs and Cobras will have to wait for their next match-up. They’re not fixtured to play again for the rest of the home and away season, but if their form holds true their next showdown could be on the biggest day of them all.

 

Click below for video footage of Gardiner’s seventh goal, with just four seconds left on the clock…

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