By David Nagel
Tooradin-Dalmore is tantalisingly close to a first premiership in 25 years after the Seagulls booked the first ticket to the West Gippsland grand final with a magnificent second semi-final performance against Phillip Island.
The Seagulls were on shaky legs early – taking the Bulldogs best punch – but never hit the canvas…regaining their composure to score a meritorious 13.4.82 to 6.9.45 victory in front of a bumper crowd at Inverloch.
A glorious sunny day provided the perfect backdrop to the biggest game of the season so far, and the Bulldogs came out with some real intent.
Their tackling pressure was of the highest order, forcing the usually calm Seagulls into slight panic and error.
Goals to Billy Taylor, former Seagull Cam Brown, and Max Blake, got the Bulldogs off to the perfect start, and when Jordy Patullo took a courageous mark and kicked a bomb from the boundary – just a minute into the second quarter – the Doggies had a four-goal lead.
One question was buzzing around the Inverloch Rec Reserve.
Can the Seagulls respond?
The answer was a definitive yes, with Liam Adams and Stewart Scanlon snapping back-to-back goals within two minutes of play to cut the margin back to 10.
Matt Livermore, who played a huge role through the midfield, then converted a set shot, before Taylor kicked a late one for the Doggies to give them a two-goal lead at the main interval.
Tooradin-Dalmore coach Lachie Gillespie made some crucial moves at half time, moving ruckman Piva Wright forward, and using spring-heeled back-ups Brad Butler and Jimmy Trezise in the ruck in an attempt to dull the imposing influence of Cam Pedersen.
The moves worked, with the Seagulls a different side in the third quarter and taking the game away from their opponents.
Brady Egan ran into an open goal at the start of the third, before star midfielder Brent Macaffer ignited the Gulls with a long bomb of substance.
Livermore then produced a quick step that Fred Astaire would be proud of – in heavy traffic – to give the Gulls the lead for the first time for the day.
It would be a lead they would never relinquish.
Egan kicked two more in the third term, taking the lead out to 15, before Jesse Patullo answered with a late one to give the Bulldogs some hope, just nine points down at the final change.
It took eight minutes for the dam wall to break, but when it did it cascaded quickly.
Steve Robb nailed a set shot, and when Scanlon snapped another the margin was out to 20.
Trezise then put his classy left foot to work, kicking the sealer at the 14-minute mark of the last quarter.
Youngster Xavier Shinners then put the icing on the cake, kicking two in three minutes to see the Seagulls finish off in style.
They now have the opportunity to claim their first piece of silverware since 1997.
Macaffer, a 2010 premiership player with Collingwood, was thrilled to be one step closer to breaking the lengthy drought.
“It’s amazing, we qualified in top spot and we’ve touched on it the last few weeks, about the history of the club and the rough years that some of the guys have been through – 25 years without a premiership is a long time,” Macaffer said after the match.
“You can see in the rooms how much it means to everyone around the club.
“I’ve been here not even 12 months, but you get caught up in it, it’s such a welcoming club and we just want to do it so bad for the club and the community at Tooradin.”
Macaffer said the Seagulls were not surprised by the Bulldogs opening burst.
“First of all, they’re an awesome side, they haven’t won the last two flags for no reason, they were minor premiers last year, so the challenge was enormous,” Macaffer said.
“They’ve got so much talent and Beau (Vernon) is one of my good mates, we grew up together, and he’s a super coach.
“In finals you’re not going to get everything go your way and they really came at us hard, but the pleasing thing was – and we spoke about it post-game – was we were able to adapt to what they were doing.
“To do that in a big final was pretty impressive, we got it back on our terms.”
After their sluggish start the Seagulls booted 13 of the last 15 goals, but Macaffer insisted despite the momentum change the contest was still intense.
“You could feel the momentum swinging, but at the same time it was still a grind,” he said.
“Every single contest, right up until the final siren, was intense and everybody was still cracking in.
“Being an 18-degree day, with the sun out, was also a different dynamic because we haven’t had that all year as well.
“It was a hot game, a tough game, and its going to be the same in two weeks’ time so it was good to be tested like that and get through it.”
Macaffer said the change in the ruck had a two-fold effect.
“They’re very good behind the ball and we just needed some representation forward of the ball, and Piva (Wright) is the biggest bloke in the league so there was no-one better to do it,” he explained.
“Those young blokes, Jimmy (Trezise) and Brad Butler, they’ve pinch-hitted throughout the year and they can both run and jump, but when the ball hits the ground, they’re like another midfielder the way they apply pressure.”
Macaffer, who has experienced the greatest high in the game, said winning a premiership with the Seagulls would be equally as satisfying.
“It’s the same feeling, that AFL grand final was 12 years ago now and I haven’t tasted it since, and I’m not getting any younger, I’m 34, so this would mean just as much,” he said.
“I was 22 then and probably didn’t appreciate it as much, but now that I’m getting older it would mean everything, I want it so bad.”
While the Seagulls have qualified for the big dance at Garfield on Saturday 10 September, Phillip Island will now play Warragul Industrials in next week’s preliminary final.