By sports editor Russell Bennett
The tough times – all of those down years and heartache – have created a kind of scar tissue that has only strengthened the Tooradin-Dalmore senior side.
And on Saturday in a drought-breaking finals appearance at Kooweerup in front of a bumper crowd against the proven big game performers of the Cobras, the Seagulls proved exactly that.
In a picture-perfect day for footy, and with the pristine surface at Kooweerup’s home ground, it’s little surprise that the cars lined Denhams Road from early in the day.
On field, the rampaging Gulls seemed more desperate.
And that desperation for glory, that hunger for success, has been a recurring theme at the nest since the Seagulls returned to their west Gippsland roots for the 2019 WGFNC season.
“Who could possibly want it more than us?”
It was a question that had reverberated around the club.
The Gulls had embraced the excitement, the nervous – yet positive energy – surrounding their chance to prove they have what it takes.
That chance finally arrived on Saturday, and they took it with both hands outstretched – ultimately winning by 42 points, 13.18 (96) to 8.6 (54).
They had the better of a high-scoring, back-and-forth opening stanza – with Luke McKenna composed behind the ball, Cam Brown in a starring role through the middle and streaming forward, and Julian Suarez and Andrew Dean across forward 50 proving difference-makers in key stages as the clash wore on. Dean, in particular, benefited from composed ball use moving forward, though champion Cobra skipper Tim Payne still won his share of one-on-one contests.
It was the Gulls’ ability to turn defence into attack so effectively that was particularly noticeable in the early going.
So often they created goal-scoring opportunities from pure gut-busting running.
But Cora Lynn has proven its mettle time and time again, and on the biggest of stages. The list of premierships many of its core boasts is testament to that.
They weren’t going to just hand victory to the in-from Gulls. Lachie Gillespie’s boys had to take it.
And that’s exactly what they did.
For large parts of the contest, the play was on Tooradin-Dalmore’s terms. Their pressure on the ball carrier was elite at key stages – restricting so much of the usually-deadly outside run of so many of the Cobras’ potential match-winners or game-changers.
It just felt like the Cobras could never really settle into a rhythm, and some uncharacteristic skill errors at stages showed that.
There was plenty of feeling in the clash, predictably, between two strong, proud clubs at a ground so close to home for both.
And neither group took a backward step.
That speaks volumes for just how far the Gulls have come since way back in Round 1, when they were comprehensively beaten by the Cobras in their only other meeting this season.
Not only have they learned how to win, they’ve developed winning habits that are proven to stand up against the competition’s best.
It’s a world away from a kind of damage-limitation footy they were forced to play in the former SEFNL when they were so often outmatched against the likes of Berwick, Narre Warren, Beaconsfield, and Cranbourne.
The hardness of skipper Matt Livermore around the contest was particularly noticeable as he led by example, while Nick Lang, Waide Symes, Kris Sabbatucci and Nick Schumann also stood up right when they needed to.
The Cobras had the ruck advantage courtesy of big Billy Thomas winning huge numbers of hitouts through the middle and around the ground, but Dylan Sutton and Brad Butler still refused to be outworked against him – despite being outsized.
And that was a recurring theme throughout the contest – the Gulls refusing to be outworked. The consistent efforts of the likes of Jake O’Donnell, Adam Galea, Andrew Proctor, and Brad Lenders – often in situations where they wouldn’t necessarily be rewarded on the stat sheet – were proof of that.
A hand injury to Butler that forced him from the field and led to him finishing the game on the bench was the only sour point for the Gulls, while Cora Lynn key defender Mitch Wallace also had a hand injury of his own that, likewise, saw his day finish early.
Kooweerup, Inverloch Kongwak, and Phillip Island players all got a first-hand look at Saturday’s game as part of the bumper crowd, and they all saw that the road to the premiership will have to go through Tooradin.
If it wasn’t for some wayward kicking for goal, the margin would have been even greater than the eventual 42 points.
In summing up his side’s effort in a packed away room after the game at Denhams Road, Gillespie’s message was simple.
“I’m so proud of these boys,” he said.
“This is something we’ve worked at for years, for a lot of you.
“We spoke about it before the game, and for the past month or two – when we bottomed-out and had some really terrible times, we stuck together. We’re callused and scarred by that, and we want this more than anyone.
“What the boys have done, what they’ve been able to achieve, and the mental hurdles they’ve been able to jump are really incredible.
“But this is one tick – and we’ve spoken about needing three ticks to get to where we want to be.”
Click below to watch the Gulls belt out a huge rendition of their famous song…