It’s certainly no two-horse race but Phillip Island and Tooradin-Dalmore have elevated expectation levels in West Gippsland football with a classic contest at the Cowes Recreation Reserve on Saturday.
The Bulldogs won the battle by 20 points, 11.8.74 to 7.12.54, but the war is far from over with the Seagulls showing great resilience at various stages of the contest.
Lachie Gillespie’s men trailed by 32 points, just three minutes into the second term, after being comprehensively outplayed, but somehow regained momentum midway through the second term.
When Tooradin’s Johnny Duff caused a turnover in the Bulldogs back-half, at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, it felt like the first mistake the Bulldogs had made for the afternoon.
Beau Vernon’s men were playing imperious football, with their pressure rating through the roof, causing Tooradin’s deep defence to be tested like it hasn’t been all season.
Cam Brown was hugely influential against his old club in the first term, with his attack on the ball inspiring his Bulldog teammates to great heights.
Eli Richards was terrific around stoppage, while a tap and centre clearance from Cam Pedersen set the tone right from the very first bounce.
Vernon was thrilled with his team’s performance at quarter time.
“How good boys, defence, contest and pressure,” he said with a smile.
“Now we need to be harder for longer, maintain the hunt, maintain the hunger…let’s go again.”
The Bulldogs responded perfectly to Vernon’s urgings, kicked two in three minutes, and threatened to blow the game to pieces.
Noticeably…some Seagulls’ heads were dropping for the very first time this year.
But the Gulls first stemmed the bleeding, then turned their fortunes around with some great defensive pressure of their own.
It was like the teams had changed jumpers for the latter half of the second quarter, with Brent Macaffer, Liam Adams and Steven Robb really lifting through the midfield, changing the course of the match.
Cutting the margin to 10 points at half time…well it really impressed Gillespie.
“It didn’t look good boys, and the question was thrown at you, but you should be proud of yourselves for showing the character to fight back the way you did,” Gillespie said.
“But the job’s not done yet, I’m confident if we’re near them at three-quarter-time we can get over the top of them.
“Rest up, we’ll make some changes, and we’ll go again.”
When Stewie Scanlon kicked the second of his two goals, at the four-minute mark of the third, it was hard not to fear the worst for the Bulldogs.
The dominant, undefeated team of the competition was coming hard – surging – and looked set for a comfortable victory.
But the Bulldogs are a champion team, champion club, for a reason, and goals to Max Blake and Orlando Kane-Gillard saw Vernon and his boys take a 17-point lead to the final change.
“The thing we have done all day is support in defence, don’t think you have to be the man, or the defender, that has to get forward and kick a goal, let the forwards get to work, we hold our structures behind the ball,” Vernon instructed his team.
“They’re going to come hard; they’ll chip it around and look for the hit up inside forward 50.
“Big moments boys, the first five or 10 minutes here, they’ll come, but we’re going to raise the bar again.”
The last quarter was a classic, with Tooradin closing to 11 points in the early minutes of the term before fluffing its lines slightly in front of goal.
Macaffer, twice, and Piva Wright missed opportunities to close the gap even further.
But there would be a significant twist in the tale.
Jason Tomada, the Bulldogs best defender for the day, took a brave contested mark at the 16-minute mark in the centre circle.
Tomada then dished off an errant handball to Pedersen, who fumbled, with Liam Adams capitalising on the mistake with a brilliant running goal…the margin was two points!
Macaffer was clean, Wright was strong, and it had the feeling that the Gulls – two men down on the bench – were going to snatch a famous victory.
But Zak Vernon then showed his class, taking a great contested mark at centre half forward and finding Zach Wagner loose inside 50.
Blake then launched a bomb, before Kane Gillard brought a fitting end to a memorable contest with a magnificent goal on the run.
The Bulldogs were understandably buoyant after their victory.
“What’s the energy in the room like, this is what footy is all about, we’re getting towards the back end of the season and these are feelings we want to feel…in big games and standing up,” Vernon said to his team.
“Every single bloke today played their role, and the heat on the ball…it might be the best I’ve seen us ever play.
“The tackle pressure was fantastic and it was great to sit on the sidelines and watch you boys go about it.”
Spot on Beau Vernon…it was a privilege to sit on the sidelines and watch a great game of football.
PHILLIP ISLAND V TOORADIN-DALMORE
BLOW BY BLOW
Jack Taylor competes in a ruck stoppage and gets a quick kick out of the pack, 9-2
Cameron Brown converts a forward-50 turnover with a set shot in front of the scoreboard, 15-2
Lead, mark and set shot for goal from resting midfielder Eli Richards, 22-2
Free kick to Jordy Patullo, who allows for a left-to-right cross-breeze beautifully, 28-2
Trent Adams gives the Gulls a lift on the siren with a tight set shot from the pocket, 28-8
Harry O’Brien allowed far too much space in forward-50, set shot, scores 34-8
A Max Blake hanger at the top of the goal square, 40-8
Stewie Scanlon kicks his first. Lead, mark, set shot, cross-breeze not a problem
Liam Adams crumbs perfectly, two on the bounce for the Gulls, 40-23
Piva Wright finds Julian Suarez, great mark, even better kick on the siren, 41-31
Scanlon kicks a great set shot from a tight angle, four on the bounce for Tooradin, 41-37
Cam Brown finds Max Blake, scrambled set shot sails through, 48-37
Tooradin nervous in defence, Orlando Kane Gillard snaps classic pressure goal, 56-39
Opportunistic right-foot snap from Brady Egan closes the gap early, 56-45
Liam Adams swoops on a terrible mix up between Jason Tomada and Cam Pedersen, 56-54
Great mark Zak Vernon, finds Zach Wagner, clutch set shot from forward pocket, 62-54
Mark, long bomb from Max Blake almost seals the deal, 68-54
Centre clearance, Kane Gillard from 40-metres out on the run, in front of the home crowd, perfect sealer, 74-54