September specialist North Gambier has sent a fierce reminder it has what it takes to defend its Western Border Football League crown by destroying East Gambier’s dreams at McLaughlin Park on Sunday.
After three tight quarters of sudden-death footy, the Tigers turned up the heat in the final 15 minutes to come from behind and score a memorable win to stay alive.
North entered the clash as the underdog after losing three games on the bounce, while the red and black had the bragging rights from all three previous clashes and a big win over flag favourite South.
The Bulldogs had also played a strong brand of football since the COVID-enforced break, but the Tigers backed their finals experience to come to the fore after some big names returned to the team sheet.
Nick McInerney overcame his injury issue to resume his key midfield role alongside fellow co-captain Brad Stafford, who paused a move to Queensland to be available for the big league.
With the midfield’s engine room back on the field, North was back to its best and took the fight up to the fancied Dogs.
The yellow and black hit the lead off the boot of coach Justin McConnell, who nailed a set shot from the 50-metre arch.
His long bomb gave the Tigers an opening and after a courageous mark from Brett Shepherdson they lead at the first change.
The power struggle in the middle continued throughout the second term as both teams struggled to escape the tough tackles of their opponents.
Despite East stars Brad Rathjen and Jayden Eldridge starting to make their presence around the ground, North protected its lead before the main break.
But with the likes of Giancarlo Cooper, Matt Ferguson and Mark Rumbelow circling the goals and often finding them, it did not take long for the Bulldogs to hit the lead for the first time.
A Todd Lockwood burst from the pocket was the critical kick in East’s premiership quarter blitz which added a new complexion to the game.
Fans were sitting on the edge of their seats with the Bulldogs carrying a slender nine-point lead into the final term with everything to play for.
East appeared to be the hungriest following Ben Gaffney’s boosted its lead into double figures less than a minute after play resumed.
However, they were the last cheers heard from the “Kennel” as North showed off its finals finesse.
Thanks to the desperation of Dylan Munn in the middle, plus the key roles filled by defenders Jake Schutz, Sam Egan and Tim Scarth, the Tigers clawed back the deficit until Shepherdson’s opportunistic skills regained the lead with 10 minutes to go.
As the pressure ramped up, the North showed its strength and held on by two goals.
Shepherdson was the chief destroyer with three timely majors, while Nick Moretti was the only other Tiger to kick multiple goals.
McInerney said it was a much-needed fighting win where every individual did their bit to get over the line.
“We were certainly aware we had not performed to what we are capable of against East this season, but we play our best footy at the right time of year,” he said.
“So we were confident having a few players with lots of finals experience we could hopefully get the job done.
“It was an even goal-for-goal shootout and it did not break open until late in the last quarter.
“In the last few weeks we probably did not have enough contributors across the board, so the big difference was everybody chipping in when they needed to.
“Dylan Munn was unbelievable in the midfield as a good ball user, Tim Scarth played on (Mark) Rumbelow and gave nothing away in just his fourth A Grade game.
“It was a really tough arm wrestle, but we are very proud of the team’s effort to wrestle back East’s momentum.”
The Tigers now turn their attention to Millicent for this weekend’s preliminary final at Blue Lake Sports Park where South Gambier’s partner in the big dance will be decided.