By David Nagel
Not even a NASA scientist could have planned things any better for Lachie Gillepsie and his Seagulls, who are looking to break a drought that is beginning to feel like it dates back to the start of the solar system…4.6 billion years ago.
It’s actually 25 years…but who’s counting!
That’s still a long time in football, and the gravity of the situation is not lost on anybody at Seagull-land.
Breaking the drought is going to be an astronomical task against a Bulldogs outfit that seem magnetised to the biggest show on earth.
They play in grand finals for fun!
But to win it this year, and make it three premierships on the trot, the Bulldogs have had to dodge some space junk and particles that have been orbiting the galaxy at the Cowes Recreation Reserve.
Injuries to their skipper, and arguably best midfielder, Jaymie Youle, and premium defender Daniel Pearce, both in the latter part of the season, have meant a new formation of stars was required.
And last week’s preliminary final win over Warragul Industrials, while one to be savoured, has to be factored in when looking into the horizon.
The Seagulls sat back and watched as the Bulldogs played a brutal four-quarters of football, then two periods of extra-time, in one of the most dramatic finishes seen in this part of the universe.
Gillespie loved it…to the moon and back…but is wary of the positives and negatives.
“It could go either way, they will believe it gives them belief and connection, and provides a real wave of momentum and emotion that they will play off,” he said.
“But they’ve also played another really tough game, and that’s tough both physically and mentally.
“Obviously we hope it has taken a toll, but the only thing I can control is us and making sure our processes are right and making sure we’re in the best position to go out and perform for four quarters.
“If we do that, we’re pretty confident we will acquit ourselves well.”
Gillespie says his confidence stems from solid systems and structures, and a healthy list to execute those plans.
“I think we’ve got a pretty healthy list, we’ve got our ones and twos in a grand final, which is a fantastic asset to have, having a full squad at training,” he said.
“And with the break we’ve had the ability to get our boys right and put time into our game as well.
“I feel confident that we’ve done everything well off-field to give ourselves the best chance of performing; now we just need to execute.”
Phillip Island coach Beau Vernon will step down after the grand final, with this week’s game seeming an added bonus after his Doggies looked dead and buried against the Dusties last week.
But up stepped 18-year-old Orlando Kane-Gillard, with a clinical after-the-siren goal.
It’s that emerging talent, and balance across the board, that gives Vernon hope that he could sign off in the best possible fashion.
It’s time to pass the baton!
“(Brendan) Kimber and Cam (Pedersen) are great players, but they’re in their mid30’s and we shouldn’t be relying on those blokes for us to play our best football,” Vernon said.
“They’ve led the ship over the years but we need these young blokes coming through and playing their part.
“They’re intimidating figures those two because they’re such good players, and have been such good players, but the younger blokes have realised they really need to step up, and we need them too for us to be successful.
“Everyone contributed today against the Dusties, it was awesome.”
Vernon is under no illusion as to the task at hand.
“No doubt they’ve been far and away the best team in the league, they haven’t won a flag in 25 years and there’s going to be a lot of pressure on those blokes,” Vernon said.
“They really want to win and I’ve been in that position at Leongatha, we’ve been a successful club and haven’t won a flag for a long time, so there’s pressure there.
“But no doubt they’re an awesome side and we’ll need everything to go our way.
“But we’re there and we give ourselves a chance.”
Gillespie heaped praise on this opponent in equal doses.
“They very rarely lose games of footy, and they just fight it out every time,” Gillepsie said.
“The second semi was tough the whole way through, physical, and Beau’s a fantastic coach that will come with a different look.
“He’ll change things up and we fully expect them to come out and throw absolutely everything at us.
“They’ll give everything; they don’t just give away games, particularly big ones like this.
“To underestimate them would be a silly thing to do.”
Gillespie said winning a premiership, and joining past coaching greats like Billy Morrison, 50 years ago, and Jon Gahan, 25, would mean the world to him, but not as much as his club.
“It would be huge, it would be a great honour to be connected in some way with those coaches…it would be an amazing honour,” he said.
“But I keep saying it, and I truly mean it, it would be such a great thing for the club more than anything else.
“For the players it’s fantastic, but for the whole community at Tooradin, the whole club, it would be more special and that’s where I would probably get most out of it.”
You will Lachie Gillespie…you’ll be a premiership coach at 5pm on Saturday after a 32-point triumph!
PLAYERS TO WATCH – TOORADIN-DALMORE
No 23 Midfield
A premiership player with Collingwood in 2010, Macaffer has been the premium midfielder in the WGFNC in his first year at Tooradin-Dalmore. He recently won the league best and fairest award and stands out with his clean hands in heavy traffic and composure under pressure. Macaffer is also a great on-field leader, and his finger pointing and clear direction to others is going to be a huge factor on the biggest pressure-cooker day of the season. Knocks up getting the pill, brings others into the game, and kick a goal or two…the complete package!
No 33 Half Back
Like Macaffer, Oxley brings AFL-quality to the table having played 34 games with Collingwood before finishing with the Pies in 2018. Still in his prime, the now 29-year-old is clearly the best distributor off half back in the league, bringing serious penetration with his dynamite right boot. The Seagulls have had the ball a lot in the front half this season, and Oxley sets up perfectly behind the ball and is the major hurdle that opposition teams need to overcome to set up forward thrusts. His opponent needs to hold him accountable or he will dominate.
No 18 Forward
A premiership player with Narre Warren, Stewie has a touch of class that can impact games in minutes. Scanlon is a very smart footballer who reads the play well and has the skills to kill goals from anywhere. If he gets off the chain the Seagulls are home and the big job of stopping him will probably fall to either Kai Mackenzie or Levi Robinson. Like most half-forwards, he can drift in and out of the game, but when he gets on a roll…lookout. Needs to be well held or the Doggies are cooked.
PLAYERS TO WATCH – PHILLIP ISLAND
No 19 Ruck
The former Melbourne and North Melbourne utility is clearly the best big-man in the competition and can do it all, either in the air or at ground level. His standing in the competition has been rubber stamped with two league best and fairest awards and a third placing this year – in just three years in the league. Pedersen was so dominant in the first half of the second semi-final that Tooradin-Dalmore coach Lachie Gillespie had to change his tactics just to nullify his impact. Can punch or tap at centre bounces, has a thumping right foot, and loves the challenge of taking on Piva Wright. The Bulldogs number-one weapon!
No 3 Mid/Forward
The best big-moment player in West Gippsland football. The dramatic finish to last week’s preliminary final against Warragul Industrials camouflaged this bloke’s impact. He is just so clean when gets near the Sherrin, and knows how to pop it through the big sticks. His two goals last week, both from extremely tight angles – and from range – were crucial to the Doggies big win. Zak is a classy midfielder, but you get the feeling he will need to be at his creative and accurate best up forward if the Bulldogs are to get across the line. A huge watch!
No 28 Forward
An explosive player that hits the ball at almost dangerous speed in the air, crashing packs and pulling in the occasional strong mark. Burst onto the scene as a forward at Phillip Island last year, but has dipped his toe into some defensive roles this season to add to his versatility. The Doggies need someone, either Blake, Zak Vernon, Harry O’Brien, Jack Taylor or Jesse Patullo to hit the scoreboard hard…and our money’s on Blake. Needs to grip a few early, and take his chances in front of the woodwork, if the Doggies are to hold the cup. Exciting to watch!