By David Nagel
Football careers are often judged by three things.
Premierships and best and fairests are quite often at the top of the list, but playing in grand finals is also something special, something unique, a defining moment in a career.
“I won two, but played in five grand finals,” a player might say, proud of what they’ve won but quickly to convey the achievement of playing on football’s biggest day.
It’s what players play for, and what Phillip Island and Warragul Industrials are fighting for when the Bulldogs and Dusties collide in the preliminary final at Dalyston on Saturday.
The Bulldogs go in a hot favourite, courtesy of a 16-win season, compared to the Dusties 10, but if this year’s finals series has taught us one thing…it’s to expect the unexpected.
Three of the four finals so far have been won by the lowest ranked team, with only Tooradin-Dalmore – who wait ominously in the grand final – being able to buck that trend.
The Dusties may have an inferior record, but have serious belief and hope after downing the Bulldogs by 38 points in round 12.
It reversed a five-goal loss to the Bulldogs in round two.
Dusties coach Harmit Singh is a master tactician and his tactical nouse was on full display against Cora Lynn last week.
He first took away the Cobras’ strengths, using sensible and controlled movement of the football to deny the opposition, before making his move offensively.
Dusties champion Shane Brewster is a massive fan of his mentor, who has taken the club from the bottom of the ladder to a prelim in 31 games…the number on Brewster’s back!
“He doesn’t get flustered or frustrated, he’s very cool, calm and collected, and delivers his message in a way that the guys understand,” Brewster said.
“His structures and processes are beyond anything I’ve seen before and it’s great to have someone like that around the club that can make us improve and take us to a whole new level.
“It takes a while to grasp it, but we’ve had a year and a half with Harmit now and we’re starting to get it right. It does take time, but it’s starting to work and the results are starting to come.”
The win over the Bulldogs, and the Dusties tight contested style of play, gives Brewster hope that another upset could be on the cards.
“I believe its finals football that we play, finals football is always hot, it’s always highly pressured, it’s a highly intense game, really contested football, and that’s the football that we rely on,” he said.
“Coming up against Phillip Island, who has been the best side over the last few years, we go in confident that we can take it up to them.
“If we play the sort of footy that we brought today (against Cora Lynn), we’ve got a sniff of playing in a grand final which would be fantastic.”
Brewster said he is pinching himself about the opportunity, taking place in the latter stages of his career.
“Don’t get me wrong, as you get older it gets harder and sometimes you second-guess yourself about what’s going to happen and where you’re at, but the feeling of finals football brings you back to the real world where you start loving footy again,” he said.
“The weather’s better, there’s a lot of people at games, and it’s the intense footy that I enjoy.
“The fact that we’re in contention to take it out, it just brings new life to me and everyone around the club.”
Despite finishing sixth, the Dusties are clearly no mugs, with Brewster, Will Gibson, Luke Walker, Mason McGarrity, Bailey and Todd Beck, Kyle Beveridge and Kane Oldham leading a very even group into battle.
But this week is a significant step up in class, with the Bulldogs possessing some serious match-winners.
Cam Pedersen, Zak Vernon, Jason Tomada and Brendan Kimber are four stars of the competition, while Jack Taylor will be at his ferocious best after being held goalless against Tooradin last week.
It’s been a great season Dusties…but it’s the Bulldogs to earn a shot at glory with a 13-point win.