By David Nagel
The growing reputation of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) has received a significant boost after winning a first title at the Under-18 Gippsland Interleague Carnival.
Co-coached by Cora Lynn premiership mentor David Main, and recently appointed Drouin coach Brent Clinnick, the WGFNC team made a clean sweep of its pool games – keeping both Ellinbank and East Gippsland scoreless in dominant performances, before defeating reigning-champions Gippsland League in the grand final.
Phillip Island pair Ben Taylor and Tully Dickie were acknowledged for their individual performances, with Taylor adjudged Player of the Carnival and Dickie earning best-on-ground honours in the grand final.
Main was thrilled with the WGFNC team, who dedicated time and effort to represent their league with pride.
“It was a great experience for everyone, including myself and Brent (Clinnick), who began our friendship through interleague when the seniors last played against Ellinbank, we were both assistants to Mark Lafferty,” Main said.
“We see footy very similar, so it was easy for us to put together a program that would give the players the best experience.
“We also took it dead serious about wanting to do well and trying to have some success with it.
“With that came a strong commitment from the squad, originally 55 guys, and we trained for nine weeks, firstly at Korumburra and then the last month at Garfield.
“There was a lot of sacrifice, not just from the players, but from the parents to run them around for nine weeks in preparation for a one-day carnival.”
Main and Clinnick put together an elite-level program that was designed to cater for all participants.
“If they’re not playing senior footy, we wanted to show them what is required to play senior footy, and for the guys who want to play VFL or NAB League, we wanted to give them an insight into what that looks like as well,” Main said.
“And then there were players who just want to play interleague footy with their mates, so we tried to cater for all three categories.
“The beauty of the group was that 21 of the final 25 players selected had played senior footy for their club’s this year.
“From that point of view, the club’s should be applauded for giving young players an opportunity at senior level, because with the reputation of the league growing it’s these players that are going to build that brand.”
Main said the buy-in from the most talented players in West Gippsland, to put team first, was the defining element that made the group so special.
“Normally it’s the most talented side that wins these carnivals, but to our guy’s credit they really bought in to the team defence that we wanted to run and sacrificed their own games at times for the betterment of the team,” he said.
“We had a really good mix of smalls and key players, and when we looked at it closely, we realised we had something special.
“They played outside their comfort zones to make the team better.
“They really stayed strong under immense pressure in the final…it was very rewarding for everyone involved.”
In the final, played over two 20-minute halves, West Gippsland jumped Gippsland to lead by 19 points at half time.
The Gippsland League came home strong, but fell five points short in the 4.2.26 to 3.3.21 scoreline.
Main said it was great for the coaches and players alike to be part of a significant milestone for West Gippsland football.
“I’m tremendously proud, because everything you go into you want to win, that’s the competitive side of football that we just can’t ignore,” he said.
“We wanted to have some fun and educate the guys but we wanted to win this thing.
“To do it, and be the first team to do it for our league, that’s a pretty big achievement to be recognised as the number-one team in all of Gippsland.
“Hopefully it’s a really good stepping stone for our boys and for the age groups coming through to be a part under-18 teams for West Gippsland in the future.”
Main and Clinnick has some serious talent to work with.
Taylor was outstanding in his role as a mid-forward, while Luke Ryan took intercept marks for fun across half back.
Jehi Esler played a Max King-type role at full-forward, while Ethan McDonald and Dickie were superb in defence.
The height and athleticism of Tex Marsham made him a unique proposition as a ruck-rover, while skipper Joe Soumilas stood tall with his leadership skills.
“How well the guys gelled over a short period of time and got to know each other was unbelievable,” Main said.
“To see them comfortable around guys they don’t really know, laughing and getting on well together, that was really rewarding to see that.
“If senior interleague kicks off again, these boys have a taste of what it feels like and might be the leaders of West Gippsland football moving forward.”
Main wanted to thank WGFNC Administrator Brandon Milburn for his tireless work behind the scenes, Team Manager Bobbie Lee Blay for her efforts, and to trainers Kylie and Charlie Rout for volunteering their time across the entirety of the nine-week program.
WEST GIPPSLAND SQUAD
Co-Coaches: Brent Clinnick and David Main
1 Ben Taylor Phillip Island
2 Lleyton Cartmel Kilcunda Bass
3 Jed Pinkerton Garfield
4 John Zaccari Garfield
5 Luke Walker Korumburra-Bena
6 William Turner Inverloch-Kongwak
7 Tully Dickie Phillip Island
8 Alex Dijkstra Bunyip
9 Jack Papas Phillip Island
10 Joe Soumilas Inverloch-Kongwak
11 Tom Niven Phillip Island
12 Jett Edwards Cora Lynn
13 Joel Cuman Korumburra-Bena
14 Hayden Lindsay Inverloch-Kongwak
15 Tyson Twite Koo Wee Rup
16 Seth O’Hehir Koo Wee Rup
17 Xavier Shinners Tooradin-Dalmore
18 Max McDermott Cora Lynn
19 Will Pickering Garfield
20 Ethan McDonald Koo Wee Rup
21 Jehi Esler Tooradin-Dalmore
22 Tahj Murphy Bunyip
23 Ben Sellings Tooradin-Dalmore
24 Luke Ryan Cora Lynn
25 Tex Marsham Nar Nar Goon
ELLINBANK AND DISTRICT 0.0 0.0 0.0(0)
WEST GIPPSLAND 3.2 3.5 6.7(43)
Ellinbank Best: Bryce Joyce, Hardy Kenny, Jarrod Meggetto, Liam Lisle, Ned Ashton, Cooper Brown.
West Gippsland Goals: Jehi Esler 3, Jack Papas, Ben Sellings, William Turner. Best: Ben Taylor, Alexander Dijkstra, Jack Papas, Luke Ryan, Jehi Esler, Ben Sellings.
EAST GIPPSLAND 0.0 0.0 0.0(0)
WEST GIPPSLAND 6.4 7.1 13.5(83)
East Gippsland Best: Ben Dekkers, Jet Kellow, Jack Betts, Emmett Carroll, Angus Burchall, Tarkyn Nicol.
West Gippsland Goals: Max McDermott 5, Joel Cuman 2, Jehi Esler 2, Seth O’Hehir 2, Tully Dickie, Hayden Lindsay. Best: Alexander Dijkstra, Max McDermott, Ben Taylor, Ben Sellings, Tully Dickie, Tahj Murphy.
GIPPSLAND LEAGUE 1.1 2.2 3.3(21)
WEST GIPPSLAND 4.2 0.0 4.2(21)
Gippsland League Goals: Not Provided. Best: Hunter Tiziani, Zayne Atkins, Todd Gowans, Wil Dawson, Tew Jiath, Tom Stern.
West Gippsland Goals: Jehi Esler, Max McDermott, Ben Taylor, Tyson Twite. Best: Ethan McDonald, Tully Dickie, Tex Marsham, Ben Taylor, Jehi Esler, Jack Papas.