By David Nagel
On every great stage…in every great classic…it just feels right that the star of the show returns for the final curtain call where the crowd stands and gives applause.
It an absolute classic on Saturday, it was quite fitting that Phillip Island ruckman Cam Pedersen had the ball in his hand when the final siren sounded, with his Bulldogs prevailing 14.18.102 to 14.7.91 over a brave Inverloch-Kongwak at a cold, windy – and sometimes wet – Cowes Recreation Reserve.
This contest had everything, between two of what many would consider to be four premiership hopefuls this season.
It had a blisteringly fast start, where Inverloch kicked six goals to five, with the aid of a tricky cross-breeze.
It had a dour second quarter, where the skies closed in and denied the Bulldogs the dry-weather football that had been so enticing and appealing in the first quarter.
It had a brilliant third quarter from Inverloch, with Toby Mahoney on fire, who kicked 7.3 to 2.2 to take an 18-point lead at three-quarter time.
And it had a magnificent and highly-intense last quarter, where we got to see our best dress-rehearsal yet for the biggest stage shows in September.
It also had a stellar support cast, with Zak Vernon putting the final nail in the Sea Eagles coffin with a goal-of-the-year contender at the 22-minute mark of the final term.
But this contest most certainly had its star…with Pedersen the most imposing and dominant figure on the ground.
He opened this magnificent show with the first kick of the match, and at the 29-minute mark of the final quarter, took a strong grab as the credits began to roll.
He kicked the first goal of the match, towards the members end…one of two for the quarter when both teams were fresh and flexing their muscle.
Clinton McCaughan is no mug, he is a very good ruckman indeed, but such was Pedersen’s dominance around the stoppages that Sea Eagles coach Ben Soumilas was forced to mix up his ratios a bit.
Team of the Year defender Michael Eales is tall and thick set, a great physical match for Pedersen, and he performed admirably – won further respect – with his attempts to quell Pedersen’s huge impact in the ruck.
Inverloch’s midfielders, Oscar Toussaint, Ethan Park, Corey Casey and Lachie Scott, were also aware of the ever-present danger but…somehow…Pedersen continued to put his mark on proceedings.
And that last-quarter dress-rehearsal, well that is something that will also stick in the memory when we almost inevitably have to preview a clash between these two teams in September.
Bulldogs’ coach Beau Vernon saw his side 18 points adrift, with Pedersen, skipper Jaymie Youle, Eli Richards and Zak Vernon entrusted with centre-bounce duties.
Soumilas had Eales in the ruck, with the classy duo of Park and Toussaint joined by Scott in the engine-room.
Inverloch had an early opportunity to extend its lead in the final term, with Tristan Van Driel hitting the inside of the woodwork to kick the margin out to 19 points.
The Bulldogs then struck their first blow at the five-minute mark, when Harry O’Brien outfoxed Lewis Rankin and Josh Williams to toe-poke a dirty ball through from the goal-line, before Jack Taylor swooped on a loose ball to slam home the first of his two goals for the quarter.
Inverloch fought hard, with Shem Hawking and Dylan Clark putting their experience to good use, and winger Xavier Hughes not afraid to use his big-body as a battering ram.
But the Bulldogs drew level, at the 14-minute mark of the term, when Taylor took a strong mark and kicked truly after some great work from Cam Brown and Pedersen on the wing.
Pedersen’s effort to dig deep and provide a shepherd for his new teammate just typified the sort of intensity he was playing with.
Sea Eagles defender Todd Mackie then took a goal-saving mark on the goal-line…but it had the feeling of simply delaying the inevitable.
Pedersen then produced a 40-metre punch forward from a throw in to set Taylor up for a point, before a rushed behind, and a kick off the ground from Jordy Patullo put the Doggies three points ahead.
Vernon then produced his magic.
He spoiled the resultant kick-in from full back, and then gathered it near the boundary line, handballed to a teammate, got it back, and then unbelievably slammed one home off one step…from 50-metres out…to give his side a nine-point lead at the 22-minute mark of the term.
It had taken three quarters and 22 minutes for the Doggies to finally prevail in what was a gripping game of football.
Vernon and O’Brien would then kick points, before a Pedersen mark just before the final siren became the last act of a sensational show on centre stage.
Pedersen and Taylor kicked three each for the Bulldogs, while O’Brien and Billy Taylor chimed in with two apiece.
Pedersen was a clear top-pick for the Doggies, with Vernon, Richards and Youle also important, while the intensity of Brendan Kimber was also very noticeable in the final term.
Ben Soumilas, well he will take a hell of a lot away from this one with his Sea Eagles well and truly in the premiership hunt.
Mahoney kicked four against the best defence in the business, while Park and Van Driel kicked two each, with three of those four in the first term.
Park and Toussaint were brilliant through the middle for the Sea Eagles, with Park in particular showing he has the class, smarts and footy nous to match it with any midfielder in the competition.
This was a ripping game of football played between two magnificent sides…but one man stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Cam Pedersen…you deserve that final curtain call.