By sports editor Russell Bennett
Phillip Island superstar and former North Melbourne and Melbourne big man Cam Pedersen has stormed to his first senior WGFNC best and fairest award – winning by a whopping 15-vote margin.
In a result that would surprise no one, Pedersen claimed the award in a canter – polling 38 votes to topple his club captain, and the winner of last year’s award, Brendan Kimber with 23 (just one vote shy of his winning tally from last season).
In a sign of the Island’s dominance this season, Jaymie Youle also finished in the top five with 17 votes – behind Pedersen, Kimber, Cora Lynn full-forward Nathan Gardiner (19 votes), and Warragul Industrials on-baller Tyson Bale (18 votes).
The still undefeated Bulldogs tallied 101 of a possible 108 votes available to them through the 18 home and away rounds. Pedersen, Kimber, and Youle accounted for a whopping 78 of those votes.
The A Grade netball best and fairest was taken out by Inverloch Kongwak defender Renee Pilkington, who withstood a thrilling late charge by Nar Nar Goon player-coach Georgia Keysers.
The depth of quality on display in the senior level of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition went to incredible new heights in 2019.
Though the reigning premiers remained the benchmark throughout the home and away season, the Bulldogs had to constantly fend off no end of challengers to their throne.
But therein lies the mark of a champion side – in its ability to stand up time, and time again when tested.
This season’s team of the year features no less than seven Phillip Island representatives, including newly-crowned WGFNC senior best and fairest winner Pedersen, and his predecessor and Bulldogs skipper Kimber, while Beau Vernon – who led his side through an unbeaten home and away campaign – rightfully takes his place as coach for the second year running.
As a testament to the consistency of the Bulldogs, Zak Vernon, Kimber, Youle, Mark Griffin, and Beau Vernon have all been named for the second straight season.
Pedersen and key defender Jason Tomada join them in this year’s side.
And while the Island is well represented again this time around, there are still a number of Bulldogs who could count themselves unlucky to miss out on a berth – the likes of the brilliant Hayden Bruce among them.
But when it comes to the Island, it’s also well worth remembering just how many youngsters they’ve given a taste of senior footy to this season.
The Bulldogs are well and truly on the path to history-making greatness – and the scary thing for opposing sides is just how sustainable that looks like being.
While Phillip Island unsurprisingly has the most representatives of any club in this year’s team of the year, one slight surprise would be how many Kooweerup players made the final group.
Nathan Muratore, the evergreen Luke Walker, proven superboot Jason Wells, the exciting Nathan Voss, and hardened ball winner Joel Gibson have all more than earned their selections – while skipper Tim Miller, and Voss’ younger brother Matt could also consider themselves unlucky.
But often the stronger sides in any given season have less individual standouts on the path to team success.
And that’s the case this time around with finalists Tooradin-Dalmore and Inverloch Kongwak.
The Seagulls have three representatives (Julian Suarez, Andrew Dean, and Kris Sabbatucci) in their first season in the WGFNC, while the Sea Eagles have two (Lewis Rankin and key forward Sam Gibbins) but both sides impressed through the consistency of their whole line-ups, with a wide spread of players unlucky to miss the final cut.
Brad Lenders, Luke McKenna, Nick Lang, and Waide Symes were just some of the long list of other Gulls players to have outstanding seasons, along with the likes of Callum Beattie-Powell, Brendan Iezzi, and Tristan Van Driel from the Sea Eagles.
McKenna, along with the similarly unlucky Jake Smith from Nar Nar Goon, missed a number of games through injury this season which worked against their chances of selection.
Cora Lynn’s Jaxon Briggs was another who missed a number of games at clubland – in his case due to commitments with the Casey VFL side.
In the coming years, look for he and younger brother Heath to feature regularly in teams such as this season’s team of the year.
But there were other players named in the side who simply couldn’t be left out – like Nar Nar Goon’s gun young on-baller Trent Armour, who’s the first to see the opposition’s best midfield stopper each week.
Similarly, Bale from the Warragul Industrials demanded selection through his impressive consistency through how much he was relied upon each and every week at clubland.
Garfield’s Tanner Stanton was another firmly in that category, and the lifelong North Melbourne man’s form at local level played a significant role in him debuting for the Kangaroos’ VFL side in the second half of the season.
Bunyip tough nut Jeb McLeod was another whose selection was more than warranted, and he had a number of team mates who could rightfully consider themselves super unlucky not to join him.
But therein lies the prestige of the team of the year. What makes it is actually the quality of the players who miss out on selection.
Bailey Patterson, Ryan Silver, James Phillips, and Taylor Gibson were some of the other players right on the cusp of selection, for example, alongside the Goon’s Jake Blackwood and Trent Noy.
The captain of this year’s side – for the second straight season – is Kimber, with Pedersen named his deputy.
Each of the top five vote-getters in this year’s senior best and fairest count – headed by Pedersen, Kimber, and Cobras full-forward Nathan Gardiner – were named in the team of the year.
A total of 10 players who played senior interleague for the WGFNC this season were named to the side, with Pedersen a late withdrawal from that team back in May.
Opinions for the team of the year were gauged from a range of coaches and other leading figures from throughout the WGFNC.
The WGFNC’s A Grade Team of the Year was also announced on the night. It included: Alana McRae (GK, Dalyston), Rebecca Kinna (GD, Tooradin-Dalmore), Meaghan Winter (WA, Nar Nar Goon), Georgia Keysers (C, Nar Nar Goon), Ebony Dolan (WD, Tooradin-Dalmore), Kim Hillberg (GS, Korumburra-Bena), and Alex Maher (GA, Tooradin-Dalmore). Named to the interchange were Pilkington, Ebony Mumford, Sara Duncan, Grace McRae, and Kelly Boyd. Tooradin-Dalmore’s Kelly Andrews was named coach of the side.