By David Nagel
Executing your best brand of football is something every team strives for…and Phillip Island came mighty close to delivering football’s nirvana with an awesome first-half display against Nar Nar Goon on Saturday.
Just moments before his team ran onto the ground, Bulldogs’ coach Beau Vernon asked his players a very simple question.
“Do you older players still have the hunger for this, and you young blokes…do you want to be part of something special?” Vernon began.
“Today we need to have the fire in the belly…let’s enjoy it.”
Even by Phillip Island’s high standards, its level of play was electrifying in the first half on Saturday, as it built the platform for an ultra-impressive 15.11.101 to 10.8.68 victory.
Immense pressure, both at the contest and individual, forced the Goon into error, while a slick display of ball-movement caught the home side well-and-truly off guard.
It was like watching a rubber-band being slowly stretched when the Goon had the ball – there was plenty of resistance – before the rubber-band let go and the Bulldogs produced a slingshot forward.
Bulldogs’ skipper Jaymie Youle was in everything early, being caught twice for dropping the ball before kicking the opening goal of the game at the six-minute mark of the first term.
Youle then hit robust forward Jack Taylor with a terrific pass on the lead…and the Doggies were on their way.
Full-forward Dermott Yawney then answered for the Goon, out-marking Mark Griffin in an early sign the athletic forward was on his game.
Yawney looked very dangerous in the air, but the Goon just couldn’t give him the one-on-one supply in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs’ midfield then proved productive, with Brendan Kimber, Cam Pedersen and Eli Richards giving the visitors a 22-point lead at quarter time.
The Doggies looked sharp, up for the battle, and the amount of encouragement at quarter time suggests they were pretty happy with their work…while the Goon heirachy dug deep for answers.
“We need to lift our work-rate off the footy, and they’re hitting the packs harder than us,” said Goon coach Luke Young at quarter time.
“We dropped our intensity and we need it at every contest.
“Don’t think we can’t stop them, we can.
“Control the footy, maintain it, but the two main things are to lift our pressure and to be right upstairs,” Young said, with his finger pointing to his head.
The Goon started the second quarter well, with Mitch Homfray kicking truly, but normal service was resumed shortly after.
Ben Taylor was gifted a goal, from a 50-metre penalty, the same source as Kimber’s first-quarter goal, as the Goon struggled to break the shackles.
Yawney then marked again, from just his second opportunity in the air, and the Goon was back to 17 points.
But the next five minutes would prove critical to the final outcome, with the Doggies surging on the back of their relentless pressure.
Cam Brown produced a great run through heavy traffic to set Zak Vernon up for the first of his three goals, before a long-range bomb from Jordy Patullo kicked the margin to 30 points.
And when Vernon marked on the lead, and converted skilfully, the Bulldogs had punched out a six-goal lead at the main break.
It was brilliant footy to watch, with Pedersen a force around the ground and Daniel Pearce, Alex Officer, Griffin and Max Blake – who played across half back – providing plenty of resistance in defence.
And the two Taylor’s – an undersized Ben on the wing and Jack up forward – were having a major influence on the contest.
Full credit to Nar Nar Goon for bouncing back in the third quarter, with early goals to ruckman Eamon Trigg and Yawney cutting the margin back to four goals.
Tex Marsham began to have an influence in the ruck while JJ Peni and Trent Armour could sense the opportunity and produced a really good burst of football.
But just when the Goon looked a chance, they coughed up an easy goal with the Bulldogs’ pressure resulting in a miskick across goal.
Harry O’Brien converted from the error, and when Vernon kicked his third – via another 50-metre penalty – the Doggies had regained their previous half-time advantage.
Vernon played a tremendous third term, playing high-half-forward, taking at least a half-a-dozen marks for the quarter.
Troy McDermott and Mitch Homfray kept the Goon in the contest with late goals in the third, to cut the margin to 24 at three-quarter time.
But the Doggies steadied in the last, kicking 4.4 to 3.1, with two goals to Pedersen, and singles to Patullo and Brown, putting the final rubber-stamp on an impressive victory.
Pedersen and Vernon finished with three each for the winners, while Patullo contributed two to a goal-kicking list than had 10 names inscribed.
Yawney made the most of limited opportunities to finish with four for the Goon, while Mitch Homfray and McDermott delivered two each.
Aidan Pipicelli played a solid game in defence, while Brad Homfray joined Peni and Jake Smith as prime movers through the midfield for the vanquished.
The Goon heads to Korumburra-Bena this week, where it will bounce back in style, while the Bulldogs face their toughest test of the season…against Tooradin at Tooradin.
The Dogs may need to get even closer to football nirvana to keep their undefeated record intact.