By David Nagel
Kilcunda-Bass coach Stephen Wright hopes the momentum and confidence that his team has worked hard to ignite will continue to serve it well when the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) emerges from its current lockdown.
The Panthers currently sit ninth, with just one win from seven matches, but were showing great signs of improvement before a Covid outbreak brought a sudden halt to proceedings.
The Panthers were disappointing in the opening two games of the season, losing by 67 and 79 points to Phillip Island and Warragul Industrials respectively, but have since shown some real steel to become competitive.
The Panthers defeated Dalyston by 15 points in round three, while subsequent losses to Tooradin-Dalmore (25 points), Inverloch-Kongwak (44), Korumburra-Bena (3) and Cora Lynn (8) have all been painful, but acceptable performances.
“We were very disappointed the way we started the season, but we’re a new group and I thought before the lockdown we were really starting to gel,” Wright said.
“The brand of football we played in our last game against Cora Lynn was really good and that was definitely our best performance of the season.
“Our ball movement has started to improve and there were times where we moved the ball from one end of the ground to the other without the opposition touching the ball.
“There were some signs there that we were starting to hit our straps and play some good football.”
Wright, who played 246 games for South Melbourne and the Sydney Swans, had his team primed for a mid-season surge before the Covid lockdown kicked in.
While not automatic victories, consecutive games against Kooweerup and Bunyip would provide an opportunity for the Panthers to get some wins on the board and start a confident push up the table.
And this week’s scheduled game against Dalyston, which may or may not go ahead, would provide a chance to further embed some momentum.
“We weren’t too worried about who we played to be honest, it was more about us and the type of football we’ve been starting to play,” the South Melbourne Team of the Century member said.
“And that opportunity might not be lost. The league has indicated that it might re-do the draw so that every team will play each other at least once. The games against Kooweerup and Bunyip might be rescheduled but we’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Wright said the slow start to the season had made finals participation difficult, but was confident his team would be hard to beat moving forward.
“We started the season poorly and haven’t put enough wins on the board early, but I think we can definitely shape what happens with the top six and have an impact in the second half of the season,” he said.
Wright agreed that Darcy Atkins had been his side’s most consistent performer this year, while a couple of unsung heroes were also paying their way.
“Darcy has been excellent, a good solid contributor each week, and we’ve had others that have been consistent throughout the year,” he said.
“Sam Watson has never played in the ruck before, but is learning his craft quickly, and Aiden Paton has done a great job for us at full back…he’s been a consistent performer all year.
“We’ve been okay across the board but it’s just been one quarter a week that has really cost us.”
The Panthers have all the ingredients of a very potent front half – if only they could get a full complement of players on the park.
Kael Bergles has been a goal-kicking machine at community level since beginning his career in 2005 – kicking his 1000th goal in 2017 – but has only played one game through injury, while former Hawthorn hard-nut Campbell Brown has kicked eight goals from his three outings.
And Taylor Gibson has the ability to rip a game apart, as he almost did against Cora Lynn.
“He kicked 6.5 or 6.6 and took 15 marks and had 30 kicks,” said Wright, in admiration.
“He had no pre-season and was just starting to hit his straps, which is another disappointing aspect of the lockdown.”
Wright said preparing his players for a recommencement had been difficult, considering the implications of the lockdown.
“We have players from the metro area, so we haven’t been able to get together as an entire group, but we did have about 15 of the locals get together last Friday and we’ll continue with sessions on Tuesday and Thursday,” Wright said, before explaining the communication channels from within the group.
“I put together an email, which has gone up on the players’ facebook page, and I’ve sent texts to some of the players to see how they’re going and to tell them they can call me if they would like to have a chat.
“You don’t want to over-burden the players with messages and communication, but it’s important to stay in touch and look after each other as a group.”
Wright said it would make sense for the league to re-do the remaining part of the draw to make sure every team played each other at least once.
He was also happy to play on Saturday, 3 July, currently scheduled for the bye, and was happy to play the rescheduled games either home or way.