By David Nagel
Winning is contagious…and it’s a feeling the Phillip Island Football Club continues to enjoy after a thrilling five-point victory – 8.7 (55) to 7.8 (50) over Cora Lynn at the Cobradome on Sunday.
Bulldogs coach Beau Vernon wanted his team to stand for something prior to the match, asking his players to set the scene for the season with a brand of football – but more importantly a supreme effort – that would be contagious throughout his group.
His skipper Jaymie Youle won the first clearance of the match…and the Bulldogs 2022 premiership tilt was off to a positive start, on a day where consistent drizzle made basic ball handling skills a less than simple task.
The Doggies hit the scoreboard first, with winger Matt Jones hitting Zak Vernon on the lead, after five minutes of play, with the classy mid-forward calmly converting from long range.
The visitors then went two goals up after Ben Taylor threaded the big sticks after taking a courageous mark running with the flight of the ball.
The pressure was intense from both teams, with the Bulldogs looking slightly more dangerous up forward with the Cobras undersized without the presence of big-gun Nathan Gardiner up forward, missing with a hamstring injury.
Both back lines were on top, with Jason Tomada, Luke James, Daniel Pearce and Mark Griffin doing a wonderful job for the Doggies, while Tim Payne, Lachie Peluso, Robbie Hill and Cranbourne-recruit Dillan Bass were making life difficult for the Phillip Island forwards.
The Cobras finally got reward for effort after 10 minutes of play when new-recruit Cory Machaya nailed a set shot at the netball end of the ground.
“No fuss football”…is what Vernon asked for at quarter time, and both teams delivered on that request.
Every ball was earnt, and every tackle felt, as both teams ramped up the intensity levels in the second term.
The two great protagonists from the 2019 grand final, Billy Thomas and Cam Pedersen, were having a wonderful duel in the ruck, with neither player conceding or asking for an inch.
The Cobras probably played the better footy in the second quarter, with Chris Johnson having a purple-patch through the midfield and key forward Matt Ryan contesting everything and bringing the ball to ground for his small forwards.
Jeremy Monckton, who suffered debilitating leg injuries last year, was having an influence on the wing and brought scores level after a goal from broken play.
Pedersen then marked and goaled, and when Taylor kicked his second the Bulldogs seemed to have repelled the Cobras best efforts.
Both teams then were forced to sit things out, with an ambulance called at the 22-minute mark of the second term after Cobra Hayden Spierings dislocated his hip.
Upon resumption, debutant Ollie Sail got the spinnaker out, from deep in the forward pocket, to close the gap back to just two points at half time.
The third quarter started with a real arm-wrestle, with a rushed behind to the Bulldogs coming after 10 minutes of play.
The Cobras hit the front after Luke Hartley received a free kick for around the neck, before Pedersen and Jordy Patullo answered, before Harry O’Brien missed a golden opportunity to extend the Bulldogs lead even further.
Alex Officer provided some great defensive efforts for the Bulldogs, towards the end of the third quarter, and the Doggies took a 10-point lead – 6.5 to 4.7 – at three-quarter time.
“Keep the ball in motion, make the game fast boys, we are built to run teams into the ground, you have to believe it,” Cora Lynn coach Shaun Sparks told his side
“Risky ball movement off half back; let’s back our leg speed to get this done.
“This is our time; this is our time in the sun, not theirs.”
Beau Vernon could sense the potential danger and started his four big guns, Pedersen, Youle, Zak Vernon and Brendan Kimber in the centre square to start the last quarter.
The Bulldogs struck a crucial blow at the three-minute mark, when Vernon found Max Blake on the lead, with the Doggies spearhead calmly slotting from 45 metres.
But the Cobras weren’t done with yet, with Heath Briggs converting a free-kick, and when Brent Urwin was awarded a free, and subsequent 50-metre penalty, the margin was back to just five points.
Kimber then weaved his way through traffic and found Blake on the lead again…the Doggies were 11 in front with 11 ticked off the clock.
Somehow, the desperation from both teams suddenly lifted again and the Cobras were back in the hunt after Jaxon Briggs found Tristan Fernandez-Phillips at the 22-minute mark of the final term.
The Briggs boys, Heath and Jaxon, were brilliant in the final quarter, but the Doggies held on for a very hard-fought win.
Blake, Pedersen and Taylor finished with two each for the Bulldogs, the only multiple scorers on the park.
Tomada, Griffin, Officer and James were determined in defence, while the brave up-and-back running of Zak Vernon was instrumental in the final outcome.
Thomas, Johnson and the Briggs boys were best for the gallant Cobras.
Cora Lynn heads to a much-improved Bunyip this week, while the Bulldogs will play host to first-round winners Warragul Industrials.