By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
SENIOR GRAND FINAL – THE WINNING CLUB
At Phillip Island, it’s all about team, club, and community first – and individual players after that.
It’s arguably the biggest strength of this particular Bulldog breed, and it was obvious even driving over the San Remo bridge on Saturday night.
Red, white, and blue streamers lined the way – all pointing to ‘The Kennel’ at Cowes.
Rarely would anyone from within the club talk about themselves, and the impact they’ve had on the larger, united cause.
So, on Saturday night back at the Island’s packed clubrooms, the Gazette spoke to assistant coach Brent Clinnick about a number of key people who made up a side that went through a whole season undefeated.
He started with the coach – Beau Vernon.
“Beau is by far the best people manager I’ve ever seen. His ability to connect with people, read his players, push the right buttons for the coaching staff, and just get the best out of people is amazing,” Clinnick, the midfield coach, said.
“There are a couple of guys in this year’s side who were playing genuine twos footy a couple of years ago, but Beau just instilled this incredible belief in them that they had a role to play in our senior side.
“Beau’s ability to connect the whole footy club is pretty special. He’s a really special guy, and I’m just so glad that my wife and I chose to move down here.”
The Clinnicks moved to the Island from Cranbourne East towards the end of 2017, and soon made The Kennel their new footballing home.
Brent had met Beau at a Level 2 coaching course, and knew full well the quality of the person leading the way at the Bulldogs.
“I’d followed his story a little bit, and he’s just so inspiring,” Clinnick said.
“I say this to a lot of people when they ask me what he’s like – he’s clearly the happiest person I’ve ever met.
“He had an opportunity for his mind to go the other way down this negative path (after his on-field accident) but he just said he wouldn’t do it, and instead he’d be thankful for all the things he has in his life that other people don’t necessarily have the opportunity to have – family, kids, and a loving wife.
“I just love the man.
“He’s really measured in the fact that he knows everyone’s got their own challenges and things they’re going through.
“Not everyone has the challenges he’s facing in life, but he’s really empathetic for what everyone’s situation is. He supports everybody and he’s an amazing human being and a brilliant coach who just really loves community footy.
“His ability connect with people is what sets him apart. It’s off the charts.”
But so, too, is the respect he has for the game, and opposition sides. It’s something that’s echoed throughout the club – including with the likes of forwards coach Steve Duggan, defensive coach Andy Walton, and head of footy operations Scott Huther.
“Their record speaks for itself,” Clinnick said of a Cora Lynn side that was desperately unlucky to not walk away with Saturday’s premiership.
“Their ability to go from being a dominant force in Ellinbank, to also competing for premierships in West Gippy has been outstanding.
“It didn’t work out for them a couple of years ago against Inverloch, but they reloaded last year and still won a final against the odds as a really young side.
“They’ve had a fantastic year this year, and we’ve got enormous respect for people like David Main.
“He’s a very, very good person. Beau went into the opposition rooms after the game, and he came and had a chat.
“Dave was clearly shattered, but still really proud of his boys – and rightfully so. They left nothing out on the park.
“If a couple of moments here and there went their way and they would have been deserving champions as well.”
On speaking about the Island’s senior side this year, Clinnick’s assessment was a simple one.
“The boys play their roles perfectly to instruction,” he said.
“It’s always team first, and to go as long as we have without a loss is pretty remarkable.
“We’ve had a lot of debutants this year, and to maintain that level of performance is amazing.”
A number of teenagers got their first taste of senior footy this year at the Island, including the likes of Mitch Moschetti – who became a senior premiership player at just 15 on Saturday.
But despite their youth, they all stepped up and played their roles whenever they were called upon.
After finishing on top of the ladder and winning their first final, the boys from the Island had the more straightforward route to the decider.
But they’d leave nothing to chance in their weeks off – which included physically-demanding training sessions.
And through those they backed in key players – such as the likes of Jack Taylor – who’d had their injury battles throughout the year, to stand up and be counted when it mattered most.
And that faith was absolutely rewarded.
Another player who’d had his own injury battles in the past couple of seasons was Hayden Bruce. And on Saturday, the silky-skilled, high-IQ midfielder won the best on ground medal.
“’Pencil’ is a really good fella,” Clinnick said of Bruce, with a nickname referring to his initials, HB.
“Even last year when he had his broken ankle he was at every game and getting around the juniors. I’ve probably never seen a young player quite like it – a guy who comes into a club and gets around the juniors as much as he does.
“He’s just a ripping guy who fits our mould really well, and he’s got a great footy brain when it comes to some of the things he does and sees out on the ground.
“There’s no doubt he could coach footy down the track.”
Bruce was one of five players who kicked more than 20 senior goals for the side this season – and they’re all midfielders, including ruckman Cam Pedersen who tops the list with 51.
“Beau is really big on that,” Clinnick said.
“It’s about a spread. Some clubs can be pretty reliant on a couple of guys, and it can become predictable when a lot of their entries go to those players, but we’re really big on our midfielders kicking goals and being dynamic because we rotate them through there, and they’ve got to play their roles when they’re down there.
“We try to aim for nine-plus individual goal-kickers every week.”
One such player is a star and standout leader in his own right – Jaymie Youle.
Clinnick – who’d previously coached at Poowong and his home club Devon Meadows, and served in development roles at the Stingrays and Frankston Dolphins – praised the likes of Youle and just what they mean to the Island.
“I’m so fortunate to be the midfield coach with someone like Jaymie Youle in the midfield,” he said.
“We set really simple things that we want to achieve, and that’s based off the fact there’s a Kimber in there, there’s a Youle, there’s a Wright, and there’s a Vernon.
“We just know they’re going to give such a high amount of effort, and these boys are just so consistent.
“We have a couple of things about our identity as a midfield group, and we play to that every week. It’s really important to us, and it’s who we are. When that’s off, sides can take things away from us. But we do that 9.5 times out of 10, and that’s led by Youley. His ability to get the ball from a clearance and work so much harder than his opposition, his love for his club and team mates, his fitness, and his want to do the best things for the team – it’s all there in spades.”
Clinnick also paid tribute to the groundwork Phillip Island president Chris Ross had done in helping the club reach its current sustained level of success, and every player and club person who’s had an involvement along the way.