Pubished on 17 August 2022

By David Nagel

Phillip Island has delivered a ‘promoters dream’ ahead of this year’s West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) finals series with a magnificent 20-point victory over previously undefeated Tooradin-Dalmore on Saturday.

For the first time in almost three years, it felt like big-time football had returned to the WGFNC, with two magnificent teams going head-to-head in clearly the best game for the season.

This one had it all, with the ebbs and flows – normally identifiable with finals football – on full display in front of a bumper crowd at the Cowes Recreation Reserve.

The Bulldogs, who started brilliantly, led by 32 points at the three-minute mark of the second quarter, before the Seagulls lifted their intensity and fought their way back into the contest.

The Seagulls answered with replies from Stewie Scanlon, Liam Adams and an after-the-siren goal to Julian Suarez, to cut the margin back to 10 points at the major interval.

When Scanlon struck again, with a brilliant set shot from the forward pocket at the four-minute mark of the third, the Seagulls were back within four points and appeared to have all the momentum.

But goals to Max Blake and Orlando Kane Gillard gave the Bulldogs a 17-point advantage at three-quarter time.

Brady Egan then closed the gap to 11 points, before a turnover goal to Liam Adams saw the Gulls close to just two points at the 16-minute mark of the final term.

But the Bulldogs regained their composure, with Zach Wagner slotting a clutch set-shot, before a long-range goal from Blake opened up a 14-point margin after 23 minutes of play.

The next centre clearance then ended in the arms of Kane Gillard, who kicked a 40-metre goal on the run – from directly in front of the Phillip Island faithful – to begin some joyous celebrations.

Bulldogs’ superstar Cam Pedersen was at his absolute best, winning the ruck contests and being an influential figure around the ground.

The back-to-back league best and fairest winner said there was definitely some soul-searching to be done after the Seagulls thumped the Bulldogs by 74 points in round nine.

“We went back to the drawing board after we played them, and when you get used to winning you might lose that extra edge to want to win all the time,” Pedersen explained, from a buzzing changerooms after the match.

“They were just harder over the ball and opened us up last time, they came out through the front of stoppage and they’ve got some good marking forwards.

“They’ve got some strong boys around stoppage and they just bullied us around the ball and really put our defenders under the pump.

“We tried to make sure it was a one-on-one style of game today and make sure our defensive coverage was up to scratch.

“Tooradin is a really good team and now we look forward to playing them in finals.”

Phillip Island coach Beau Vernon pulled his players in tight to finish his three-quarter-time address, and told his players that others are forming an opinion that the Bulldogs are ageing and slow.

Pedersen disagrees and believes it was the younger players who made the difference from round nine.

“People say Phillip Island is an old team, but there’s only Damien Holmes, Brendan Kimber and myself, then the next two are only 30, and the next after that is 24…so we’re not an old team at all,” Pedersen said.

“Beau (Vernon) has been big on our younger guys stepping up the next time we played them, and that was the big difference today, everyone played like a senior player.

“The even contribution from the all the younger guys, the 18- to 20-year-olds, proves that they now believe they’re an integral part of this footy team.

“Our older players play consistently good footy, but the younger blokes are vitally important as well.”

So, what impact will the win have on the Bulldogs…just three weeks out from finals?

“It’s definitely a bit of a springboard, and they were undefeated, so it takes away a bit of that invincibility thing that they had going…defeating everyone and beating everyone really well,” Pedersen said.

”It just sets up a really good finals series and I think the win today sets us up to play them for a spot in the grand final, which is great.”

It certainly does…in what is sure to be a second semi-final to remember at Inverloch on Saturday 27 August.

Bring it on…a promoter’s dream!

Turn to FOOTBALL 3 for a full match review.