By David Nagel
History is littered with brave warriors that refuse to surrender their territory without a fight…and reigning-champion Phillip Island will need to stave off the biggest uprising in West Gippsland football when the Bulldogs collide head-on with Tooradin-Dalmore on Saturday.
The two teams lock horns in the second semi-final at Inverloch – with a grand final place up for grabs – with the back-to-back premiers of 2018/19 taking on the minor premier of this year.
And with all due respect to Cora Lynn – who lost to the Bulldogs by four points in the 2019 grand final – this appears to be the biggest threat yet to the Bulldogs recent reign of supremacy.
Beau Vernon and his team will need to channel the traits of some of the great warriors in history to make it three premierships on the trot.
Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and William Wallace (and David Noble) all fought the bravest of battles…Are the Doggies up for the ultimate challenge this year?
These two met at the same stage in 2019 – in the Seagulls inaugural year in the WGFNC – with the Bulldogs prevailing by 24 points in a huge first-step towards two flags on the trot.
The Seagulls would bow out at the preliminary final stage…being trounced by Cora Lynn by 50 points.
Then of course we missed the last two years – with Covid giving us all a good smack around the ears.
It’s fair to say the Gulls look a completely different unit to the 2019 model.
Joining the likes of loyal locals, Adam Galea, Jordy Kelly, Julian Suarez and Matt Livermore, is a cast of identifiable stars that have transformed the Gulls into an absolute force.
Brent Macaffer and Adam Oxley bring proven AFL quality to the list, while Piva Wright and Blake Grewar are elite performers at this level of the game.
Stewie Scanlon, Brad Butler, Brady Egan and Jimmy Trezise have brought skill and fire-power to the front half, while Stevie Robb, Liam Adams, Dylan Paarlberg and Cooper Shipp have added elements missing from seasons gone by.
The bottom six at the Gulls is a lot more powerful than three years ago!
The Gulls put that extended fire-power and consistency to good use when they first confronted the Bulldogs in round nine this year.
A 74-point flogging broke the Bulldogs eight-game winning streak…and caught everyone a little off guard.
“It was clearly one of the better performances that I’ve been involved with in my time at the club…it was great,” said Tooradin coach Lachie Gillespie at the time.
“And it’s such a great win because of the quality of the opposition…they’re a quality football team and have been for many years.
“The boys were really impressive around the contest and we won our own footy, which is always good, and everything went our way from there.
“Phillip Island had its one bad day in probably 50-odd games and we had a good one…it was one of those days where everything goes your way.
“We’re a club that’s coming from some pretty hard times so I think we just enjoy it.”
Fast forward to round 16 – Saturday 30 July – and a different tale was told.
In a see-sawing affair, Phillip Island jumped out to a 32-point lead before the Gulls gradually clawed their way back into the contest.
It took three late goals, from Zach Wagner, Max Blake and Orland Kane Gillard to see the Bulldogs square the ledger with a thrilling 20-point victory.
“What’s the energy in the room like, this is what footy is all about, we’re getting towards the back end of the season and these are feelings we want to feel…in big games and standing up,” Bulldogs’ coach Beau Vernon said to his team after the game.
“Every single bloke today played their role, and the heat on the ball…it might be the best I’ve seen us ever play.
“The tackle pressure was fantastic and it was great to sit on the sidelines and watch you boys go about it.”
The Bulldogs had the hunger back at the Cowes Recreation Reserve that day, playing a high-pressure brand of football that the Seagulls struggled with at times.
Former Seagull, now Bulldog, Cam Brown hit his old mates with ferocity, while star performers Jason Tomada, Cam Pedersen, Eli Richards, Jack Taylor, Zak Vernon and Max Blake resembled a rejuvenated group of stars that needed that earlier Seagulls touch up to stoke the fire in the belly.
The Bulldogs won the Battle of Cowes, but just like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and William Wallace (but not David Noble this time) the Seagulls live to fight another day.
They were exposed for the first and only time this season in the first 40 minutes against the Doggies, but somehow found a way to claw their way back into the contest.
That mid second-quarter fightback – when all looked lost – was super impressive to witness close up!
Phillip Island is a brave warrior – a superb and respected football club – but it’s the Seagulls to invade their territory – and win the first ticket to the big dance – with a fighting four-point victory.
It will propel the Gulls to their first grand final since 1999 and give them the chance to break a 25-year drought that extends all the way back to 1997.
But the bigger battle…as Alexander, Genghis, Julius and William will tell you…is certainly not done with yet!
3 K.Sabbatucci 2 5 0
7 N.Lang 2 0 0
20 A.Dean 1 2 0
72 W.Symes 0 6 0
11 A.Proctor 0 4 0
4 L.Mckenna 0 3 0
16 J.Kelly 0 1 0
24 C.Brown 0 0 0
5 M.Hobbs 0 0 0
6 A.Galea 0 0 0
2 J.O’Donnell 0 0 0
8 R.Hillis 0 0 0
90 L.Hill 0 0 0
25 J.Suarez 0 0 0
12 M.Livermore 0 0 0
37 J.Smaluch 0 0 0
23 N.Schumann 0 0 0
17 B.Lenders 0 0 0
42 T.Lenders 0 0 1
14 D.Sutton 0 0 0
15 D.Wilson 0 0 0
2019 First Year for TD in WGFNC
Q CL 54 v TD 96
E IK 47 v Koo 76
2S PI 58 v TD 34
1S CL 121 v Koo 61
Prelim TD 51 v CL 101
GF Phillip Island 65 v Cora Lynn 61
Q NNG 46 v Koo 113
E IK 38 v CL 45
2S PI 98 v Koo 38
1S NNG 109 v CL 50
P Koo 69 v NNG 59
GF PI 102 v Koo 3
Q Cl 124 v dal 69
E NNG 21 v PI 94
2s IK 95 v CL 89
1S Dal 63 v PI 87
P CL 116 v PI 27
GF IK 126 v CL 31