By Ken Moore and Russell Bennett
Never, ever write off the Stars.
It was a line used countless times with sheer, unbridled emotion by its players and supporters alike on Saturday afternoon as Garfield clinched a stirring 10-point EDFL grand-final win over last year’s conquerors Bunyip, 10.12 (72) to 8.14 (62).
Exactly 20 years ago, the Stars bounced back from grand-final heartbreak the year before to find redemption on the top of the 1993 premiership dais.
And under glorious Warragul skies at Western Park on Saturday, today’s generation of Garfield heroes turned the tables on their 2012 nemesis.
Victory never tasted so sweet.
It wasn’t just last year’s result working against Garfield.
The Stars also had to find the fortitude to bounce back from an 85-point semi-final humiliation against these same Bulldogs. Despite nearly going through the home-and-away season undefeated, practically nobody tipped Garfield in Saturday’s blockbuster.
By most people’s estimation – even the Gazette’s – its form had taken too much of a nosedive and Bunyip was too high a mountain to climb.
But the Stars dug deep, displayed their famous never-say-die spirit, and wrote another chapter in a long history of big-game victories. Garfield only joined the league in 2010 but is fast establishing itself as a powerhouse in the competition, following a preliminary final and three successive grand final appearances – including a second flag to follow its victory over Neerim Neerim South in 2011.
Remarkably, that year Garfield beat the Cats in uncannily similar circumstances to Saturday, turning a 66-point drubbing in the second semi-final into another famous victory.
Bunyip went into the game with the same team that demolished the Stars in the second semi-final, while Garfield welcomed back gun midfielder Andy Soumilas, who tied during the week with Ellinbank and Cora Lynn player-coaches Daniel Barrand and Brendan Kimber for the Alf Walton medal as the league best and fairest player.
Saturday’s first quarter, while frantic in and around the packs, saw attacking play often forsaken for extreme caution from both sides, with only two goals kicked. But both went Garfield’s way. Big-bodied big-game specialist Daniel Fry steered through the first, with the second an opportunistic effort by small forward Ryan Louch – who was carried off the ground at the seven-minute-mark of last year’s grand final with a horrific leg injury.
The Stars went into the quarter time break with a well deserved 11-point lead. They were energised in the opening term by Gippsland Power ball-magnet Eddie Morris, while swingman Jim Bow produced a host of timely spoils as a loose man in defence.
Garfield strengthened its position early in the second quarter with goals by Fry, and Soumilas – who was nursing an ankle injury and clearly not fully fit.
But his class remained as he played a major role in setting up a 23-point advantage at the four-minute mark.
But then the Bulldogs began to snarl and, with goals by coach Callum Pattie, Josh Taylor and league-leading goal-kicker Brent Heus, reduced the margin to six points and looked set to take control of proceedings.
However, Garfield saw off the mid-quarter mini-crisis. Despite the busy Taylor kicking his second goal for Bunyip, replies by Ned Marsh and Luke Bee-Hugo gave the minor premiers an eight-point cushion at half-time.
It was a show of composure not seen by the Stars in last year’s decider. Goals were hard to come by in the third quarter, with majors to Ned Marsh and Morris cancelled out by efforts from Heus and Jarrod Marolla – the latter producing a stunning snap late in the quarter to see Garfield’s lead reduced to only seven points at three-quarter-time.
Bunyip fired the opening salvo of a tense last quarter when Adam Rakip drilled through his first to trim the margin to just two points.
But Garfield was up to the challenge, dictating play for the next 10 minutes. And just when it seemed the Stars’ efforts would go unrewarded after behinds to Ned Marsh, Brett Reid and Louch, that composure remained.
Fry and ‘Mr Everywhere’ Ned Marsh both pierced the big sticks for clutch goals. The Marsh goal came from a wonderful snap from a tight angle and put the minor premiers 17 points to the good at the 12-minute mark.
Pattie gave his team a lifeline when he reeled in an absolute screamer and kicked truly to peg the difference back to 11 points.
But that proved to be the reigning premier’s last meaningful forward thrust and Garfield were able to withstand the best the Bulldogs could throw at them over the closing stages.
Stars coach Brent Eastwell praised his players after the game for the outstanding pressure they were able to exert and their relentless attack on the ball all day.
AFL draft hopeful Morris replicated his TAC Cup form of recent weeks, simply oozing class and en route to the VCFL best on ground medal.
His ability to navigate his way through heavy traffic and make sound decisions is almost Pendlebury-esque.
Utility Jim Bow was also superb. He came to the rescue across the halfback line a number of times each quarter; while Ned Marsh, Brett Reid and Daniel Fry led the way in the forward 50. At the other end, Heus was held to just two goals through a combination of tight checking by Jamie Ferguson and a lack of delivery from Bulldog midfielders muzzled for large parts of the match.
Rory Hower did well to nullify the influence of Callum Pattie, likewise Ryan Munro on Robbie Hughes. As usual, half-back Ben Marsh got to work and put his head over the ball where others feared to tread.
Pattie, following his last game as Bunyip coach, was understandably despondent in the rooms afterwards.
“Full credit to Garfield,” he said.
“They outplayed us, constantly locked the ball in and were able to smother our running game.” With the clear exception of superb halfback Zac Vansittart, some of the Bulldogs’ biggest names were well down on their norm on the day. Brad Wolfe chopped off many attacks in defence, Ben Jostlear, Michael Whyte, Jeb McLeod and Josh Taylor all got the Bunyip engine room whirring at various stages, while Mitch Davies chimed in with some handy disposals at both ends.
BUNYIP 8.14 (62)
GARFIELD 10.12 (72)
BUNYIP Goals: J. Taylor 2,
C. Pattie 2, B. Heus 2,
J. Marolla, A. Rakip.
Best: Z. Vansittart, J.
McLeod, M. Davies, M. Whyte,
J. Taylor, A. Rakip.
GARFIELD Goals: N. Marsh
3, D. Fry 3, A. Soumilas, R.
Louch, L. Bee-Hugo, E. Morris.
Best: E. Morris, J. Bow,
T. Marsh, B. Marsh, D. Collis,