By Aiden Box
West Gippsland arrived in Morwell with 25 of their best under 18 footballers last Wednesday, in the hopes of taking the carnival title from reigning champions Gippsland.
From the outset it appeared as though the two leagues would once again be the ones to beat.
For the boys from the West, their campaign began against Ellinbank and District, who were left stunned by the immense West Gippy’ forward pressure and composure with the football.
Tooradin-Dalmore’s Jehi Esler bagged three, working brilliantly up forward with IK’s Will Turner and Phillip Island’s Jack Papas who also booted majors.
Bunyip’s Alex Dijkstra and Phillip Island’s Ben Taylor were also tearing it up through the midfield with Nar Nar Goon’s Tex Marsham doing plenty around the ground.
The West Gippsland back six were also superb, not allowing any Ellinbank score in their 43-point win.
Speaking to co-coaches Brent Clinnick and David Main postgame, they explained what it looks like to play the West Gippsland way.
“High energy, with a good focus on defence and how we defend the contest, to give ourselves opportunities to send the ball forward,” Clinnick said.
Main and Clinnick also lauded their boy’s ability to execute their plans and gave their thoughts on the win and where their team can go.
“It was a bit of an arm wrestle early, but we got some ascendancy and stuck to the task, each line backs, mids and forwards,” Clinnick said.
“We’ve been together about 9 or 10 weeks now, so we’ve got a really good understanding of how we want to play and how it’ll look if we play well.
Clinnick gave his thoughts on the championships, and the goals he and Main had for the day.
“I’m probably a bit disappointed the seniors don’t get to play interleague; I loved the concept of seeing other teams and other leagues,” he said.
“The exposure for our guys is going to be really good, hopefully they enjoy their interleague experience, that’s what were focused on, fun and connection, win lose or draw.
“As long as the boys enjoy it and create some really good memories of interleague footy.”
With Gippsland winning both of their pool A matchups, they earned a place in the ‘Grand Final’, with West Gippsland chasing a win over East Gippsland in order to join them.
Win is exactly what the Wests did, in emphatic fashion, putting the team from the East to the sword to the tune of 83-points, a mammoth victory in only two 20-minute halves.
The action again started with their strong midfield contingent putting their opponents under masses of pressure and surging the ball forward, led again by Dijkstra.
Esler and Turner continued to be a dangerous duo up forward, as the Wests found their connection in transition led by Garfield’s Will Pickering and Phillip Island’s Tully Dickie.
A clean centre clearance and handball chain led Inverloch Kongwak’s Hayden Lindsay into goal untouched, marking the highlight of what was a one-sided affair.
West Gippsland’s second win concluded the pool games, setting up the seeding games and an anxious two-hour wait until the decider.
East and North Gippsland played off for the fifth and sixth seeds for next year’s carnival with North Gippy just doing enough to secure a one-point win.
It was Mid Gippsland and Ellinbank and District facing off for third and fourth, which saw Ellinbank claim victory by 9-points.
It was then down to the final match of the icy cold day at Morwell, as the sun set behind the grandstand and the lights kicked into gear.
The West Gippy boys started brilliantly, catching the Gippsland boys off guard peppering the ball forward and owning much of the possession early.
Esler slotted another for the day and Papas started well again in the engine room as the boys from the West booted four first half goals.
A late goal to Taylor showed his, and the team’s class, their sustained pressure holding off a concerted Gippsland fightback to end the half.
The championship match got hot to begin the second, neither team able to find the goals for over five minutes of play.
Gippsland started to get their wheels in motion becoming the first team to really challenge the sensational West Gippy defence, who hadn’t allowed any score in their first two games.
The 2021 champions were moving the ball magnificently, creating many scoring opportunities and cutting into the deficit.
Gippsland dominated the second half, holding the potent Wests line-up to no score in the half, kicking two goals themselves to cut the margin to just five with two minutes to play.
But it was West Gippsland holding on in a nail-biter, defending stoutly, claiming the championship and the first seed.
Tully Dickie was awarded best on ground and Ben Taylor was adjudged player of the carnival, receiving his medal from West Gippsland champion Jaymie Youle.
Clinnick and Main spoke to the Sentinel Times after their title win.
“I’m really excited for the boys, 9-10 weeks to get to this point, they were fantastic, defended the right way, just hung tough, hung in there and got it done,” Clinnick said.
“Right from the start we identified that we wanted to win this tournament and the boys showed that today they’re the number one ranked side in Gippsland,” Main said.
“It’s a credit to them because they have put in a lot of work and a lot of parents have put in a lot of sacrifice and it’s just great to see them get the rewards.”
Clinnick was also bullish on the future for the league.
“The boys today showed there’s a really good future for West Gippy footy, it was a great game.”
West Gippsland will now go into the 2023 championships as the number 1 ranked team, with Gippsland in second.
Photos by Aiden Box
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