A clash fit for finals

Phillip Island star Hayden Bruce was at his dynamic best on Saturday at Tooradin. 196228 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Russell Bennett

WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION

REVEW – ROUND 17

The Seagulls have soared in the upper echelon of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) throughout the season, but at quarter-time on Saturday it looked every bit as though they were about to take their game to new heights.

They opened up their clash with the unbeaten reigning premiers with a power statement – 7.0 to 4.5.

Perhaps one of the biggest question marks hovering over the Gulls heading into their inaugural WGFNC season surrounded whether or not they could play a positive enough brand of footy to match, and beat, the best.

After all, so many of their previous contests in the now-defunct SEFNL – against the likes of Berwick, Narre Warren, and Beaconsfield – had almost been about damage limitation.

But from early in their 2019 campaign, the Gulls had learned they had the firepower to match it with the best in their new home competition. Though they don’t have the tall timber of some of their opposition sides, they do have a number of avenues to goal – and supremely skilful players on all lines.

Saturday was another example of that.

At quarter-time, the Island was only 13 points adrift – despite the Gulls starting their contest like a proverbial house on fire.

But Bulldogs coach Beau Vernon was hardly impressed with the early signs

He urged his men to communicate more effectively, and come together as a team. They’d been outnumbered all over the ground, it seemed. Communication, work-rate, and leadership were the three areas he called for a significant lift in.

And as a sign of just how strong the Bulldog pack is, it responded.

The Gulls maintained a double-digit advantage at both half-time and three-quarter time, but in the final term the Island’s engine room rolled the sleeves up and got to work.

The likes of Brendan Kimber, Jaymie Youle, and Mark Griffin were particularly influential, while Cam Pederson (two goals) was at his dominant best both in the ruck, and when he pushed forward.

Hayden Bruce (three goals) is one of the classiest users of the footy in the competition, and that was also on full-display on Saturday, while young forward Keith Robinson also displayed his confidence with two key majors of his own.

Kimber’s Gulls counterpart Matt Livermore was outstanding for the home side, as was Cam Brown but it was Brad Butler who was one of the game’s biggest shining lights through his work-rate and clinical finishing.

With less than two goals separating the sides heading into the final term, Vernon and his charges knew they were up to their eyeballs in a finals-like clash against a truly top-class opposition.

They flipped the script to ultimately win by just two points – 13.13 (91) to 14.5 (89) – but this seemed exactly like the sort of contest both sides craved this close to the business end of the season.

The Island had the bulk of the final quarter possession in their forward half and was composed enough both in front of, and behind the ball right when it mattered most.

But this was clearly a game the Gulls could have won, and they’ll take huge confidence from that fact moving forward.

Of the other games across Round 17, clearly Kooweerup’s showdown with Bunyip at Denhams Road carried the most interest.

The two finals aspirants went toe-to-toe, with the Demons overcoming a slow start to prevail comfortably in the end, 10.11 (71) to 5.7 (37).

Nathan Voss booted three majors for the home side, while Rory Connelly, Matt Voss, and Liam Hetherington all starred. Michael Whyte was once again one of Bunyip’s strongest contributors.

There were particularly one-sided margins in each of the remaining games, with Inverloch Kongwak far too strong for the Panthers at Bass, 16.12 (108) to 2.2 (14); Cora Lynn annihilating the Warragul Industrials 23.17 (155) to 6.6 (42); Garfield cruising past Dalyston 14.13 (97) to 2.10 (22); and Nar Nar Goon defeating Korumburra-Bena at the showgrounds, 14.12 (96) to 6.9 (45).

This week, all eyes will be on the live scores doing the rounds across the competition – and there may be more desperation than usual to keep them updated.

There are just four percentage points separating Nar Nar Goon in fifth from Kooweerup in seventh, with the sixth-placed Bunyip also in the middle of the race to clinch the last finals spot.

Though the Goon is in the driver’s seat, the side could easily find itself on the outside looking in come 4:45pm on Saturday.

Dean Blake’s men have the toughest final round fixture of them all – taking on the unbeaten, ladder-leading Phillip Island – while Bunyip and Kooweerup both have contests they should emerge with the four points from. The Yips take on the Giants at Bunyip, while the Demons head to Western Park to take on the Dusties. Clearly, margins this Saturday will be key – and the destiny of both playing groups is in their own hands.

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