Pubished on 2 September 2022

By David Nagel

A perennial powerhouse challenged by an emerging force in West Gippsland football – it will have a familiar tone to it when Cora Lynn and Warragul Industrials collide in the first semi-final at Cora Lynn on Sunday.

Much like Phillip Island will try and stave off the advances of Tooradin-Dalmore in the second semi-final – 24 hours earlier – the clash between the Cobras and Dusties sees a proven performer at this level trying to fend off a challenger.

Only 20 finals have been played since the 2017 re-emergence of West Gippsland football – and the Cobras have played in 11 of them!

It’s just what they do!

The Dusties were similarly strong in their former home in the Ellinbank league – playing in 17 finals in nine years – before getting a rude awakening in their first season in West Gippsland in 2019.

A two-win, 16-loss record proved to the Dusties that tasting the delicious nectar of finals would be a difficult task to achieve.

But fast forward just 30 games of football and the Dusties have already tasted the nectar, courtesy of a ripe picking of Inverloch-Kongwak last week.

And you get feeling it’s the beginning of a steady progression through the ranks.

“I feel like we’re growing every week as a club, we’re still building connections, but for me one of the really exciting parts of coming to a club like Dusties was to try and build something sustainable moving forward,” said senior coach Harmit Singh.

“Some teams climb then fall away but to already have 80 to 90 percent of our list locked away for next year speaks volumes for where we’re at.

“We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

The speed of that journey intensified last week with the Dusties dodging some early Inverloch bullets before playing the better footy after quarter time.

Matt Herbert, Luke Walker and key defender Wil McGillivray were superb under fire down back, while Kyle Beveridge, Kane Oldham, Shane Brewster and Will Gibson clawed and scrapped for every possession through the midfield.

The Dusties looked invested, committed and connected in all aspects of their game and will provide a great challenge for the Cobras this week.

“We lost by nine points to Cora Lynn at home, so we have confidence that our best footy stacks up, it’s just a matter of doing it for longer against the better teams and that’s what we did against Inverloch,” Singh said.

“The competition is getting stronger and stronger, and will continue to do so.

“We’ve come in as underdogs but there’s a strong belief within the group that we can achieve something special.”

One thing is assured for Singh and his Dusties…if they don’t find a way to stop Cora Lynn spearhead Nathan Gardiner then their season will be over in a hurry.

Gardiner has been on fire in recent times with his stunning eight-goal spectacular against Nar Nar Goon last week taking his tally to 41 goals from his last five games.

That included a seven-goal haul against the Dusties in round 18 in a grinding nine-point win.

“He’s done this at VFL level, he’s done it at Frankston, he’s done it at Casey in finals, he’s done it at Cranbourne when I was playing with him,” Cora Lynn coach Shaun Sparks said shortly after last week’s performance.

“I know what I’m going to get from him because if he’s not kicking goals, he’s making a contest and bringing others into the game.”

Gardiner currently sits on 86 goals and the century is now in sight.

The Cobras have won both games against the Dusties this season and produced a season-high standard of football when they disposed of the Goon last week.

The Cobra DNA was clear for all to see with Gardiner kicking goals, Billy Thomas producing a masterclass of tap-work in the ruck, and Jaxon Briggs delivering a clinic in lightning-quick gut running.

And Tim Payne stopped Goon dangerman Dermott Yawney from hitting the scoreboard in a royal command performance.

And his words before the game….they were simply inspiring!

“He (Payne) is the epitome of leadership to me and the best example of what a Cobra football player looks like,” Sparks said.

“I know I can take a step back before games because he speaks so well.

“The guys look up to Timmy and he gets them up and going, week in, week out.”

Sparks knows the challenge will be immense on the weekend.

“We respect the Dusties 100 percent and if our two games are anything to go by it’s going to be a great game of football,” he said.

“Our first encounter against them was a highly contested game of footy and we got away from them late, and then we jumped them in round 18 and held on there.

“We were a man down, and it was good to see our structures hold up defensively, but we’ve got a big challenge ahead, there’s no doubt about that.

“They have some good players, the Tex (Luke) Walker’s, the (Anthony) Bruhn’s, the (Jackson) Mockett’s, these sorts of guys, so we’ve got a bit of planning to do before next week.”

The Dusties have been sensational this year, but we’ll go for the Cobras to progress to the preliminary final with an uncompromising 13-point win.