The first cats and dogs battle of the 2022 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season did not disappoint, and it was the feline variety taking home the premiership points after a hard-fought battle at the “Kennel” on Saturday.
It was an important fixture for both teams with East Gambier desperate to perform for its home fans after dropping the first two games, while the Casterton Sandford wanted to bounce back following a touch up from the reigning premier.
With a lot on the line this early in the season, both teams came out swinging and the impetus shifted back and forth throughout the four quarters.
Eventually a gutsy second half and greater efficiency in front of goal paved the way for the Cats to claw a critical win.
The Bulldogs created 26 scoring shots, but missed 18 of them, while the Victorians slotted 12 of their 17 which proved deceive with only 11 points the difference on the electronic scoreboard.
It was Casterton Sandford’s second win from as many attempts on the road and coach Kane Forbes said it was nice to prevail after a topsy-turvy afternoon.
“It was a funny game because we both had momentum at different stages and no one could break away,” he said.
“Luckily for us East did not kick straight, but I thought we played a pretty good four-quarter game.”
The arm wrestle started under sunny skies and Garret Ha got the home crowd vocal by slotting an early set shot.
But the Cats went bang, bang instantly to snatch the lead before the hosts retook it on the stroke of quarter time thanks to Matt Ferguson.
Both teams had adapted to the conditions well in the first term and looked at ease during set shots, but that was about to change for the Dogs as the wind picked up.
Even though East bombarded its forward 50 and a smother from co-coach Matt Scanlon allowed Ha to kick another, it struggled to convert on its chances and kick the Cats away.
At the other end Casterton Sandford got inventive with Justin Carlin and Diarmid Cleary snagging goals from what appeared to be innocuous stoppages.
These were big blows levelling the scoreboard at the main break which also inspired the visitors to go on a match-defining run.
As the Bulldogs continued their struggle finding the big sticks, the Cats went on a rampage kicking four goals to one.
The biggest cheer arrived when Jack Thompson leaped high to take a mark at full stretch, while Hamish McCrae continued his good form.
The Bulldogs saved their most productive quarter to the last, with Patrick Hatch and Carl Slape working hard to ensure Ha completed his hat-trick and keep the contest alive.
But a series of kicks from point-blank were enough for the Cats to hold on.
Forbes said he noticed a big shift from quarter time which helped his team as the game went on.
“East probably won the first quarter, but we got some momentum back in the second,” he said.
“We tightened a few things around quarter time mainly around stopping East getting the ball laterally from stoppages because that was hurting us.
“I think from that point we made it more of a contest and played a bit more on our terms.
“We felt like we were in a bit more control because we were more predictable as a side going back to the basics that we know work.
“Even when East was able to lock it in their forward 50 for about five minutes in the third quarter, our pressure made them have a lot of rushed shots on goal.”
Forbes said an unfortunate event was also a contributing factor as both sides battled in what became a war of attrition.
“We lost Matt Killey early in the game and had to restructure a little bit,” he said.
“So Jack Thompson went up forward and had an immediate impact on the scoreboard with some nice marks which was a big turning point, while they also lost Matt Scanlon, who did a hamstring.
“Ethan Currie had a great impact in the midfield rotation in his first senior game.”
Having entered the year without a win since 2019, few would have anticipated Casterton Sandford to sit safely inside the top four with two away wins in three weeks and Forbes is a happy coach.
“Getting early wins this year will be really important, so I am very pleased with our start to the season,” he said.