West Gambier has jumped back into finals contentions after knocking over Millicent away from home to claim a vital win the round 8 of the 2021 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season. Sitting second to last on the ladder, the Roos needed results to fall their way and the exciting win at McLaughlin Park has given their finals hopes a significant boost.
However, a West win almost appeared impossible after the first bounce. Inspired by the home crowd, the Saints marched away, locking the ball inside 50 and dominating the clearances. Millicent recorded all 11 scoring shots in the first quarter, but could not land the knockout blow by kicking truly just three times.
Roos’ coach Steven Wenman admitted his men were outplayed in the opening stages, but said the home side’s inaccuracy in front of goal left the door open. “We were not playing badly, but Millicent got the jump on us by winning the ball out of the middle, so we had to do a lot of chasing and tackling,” he said. “We only had two inside 50’s and lost all centre clearances, but their wayward kicking early kept us in the game. “We were lucky they did not make us pay otherwise it could have been a different result.”
When play resumed after quarter time, it was game on as the visitors came out to play. Boosted by the emergence of Brayden Olds in the ruck and the class of Lawrey Bradley-Brown in the middle, West hit back emphatically. Unlike the home side, the Roos hardly missed a shot as they snatched the lead during the second term.
The turnaround was sparked from the middle as the likes of Bradley-Brown, Tom Holmes, Michael Minuzzo and Jordan Williams beat Millicent’s Sam Willis and Clint Gallio to the ball. Many of the plays were finished off by Garret Ha, who showed off his foot skills with five majors. In the space of just two quarters, West had kicked 10 goals to Millicent’s one to create an unlikely 28-point lead as the final term approached.
Wenman said the midfield shifted the game in his favour. “We regrouped at quarter time and hit back with a great effort,” he said. “We started to get on top in the middle and to their credit after getting beaten, they were faultless for the rest of the game. “We knew once we got the ball forward and asserted our dominance, we could start putting scoreboard pressure on them with our attack.”
The coach said youngster Olds was a major influence behind the fightback after his coming-of-age moment. “We had a good chat with Brayden at quarter time telling him it was his big moment to take the step up with Millicent’s number-one ruck Finn Grimes not there,” Wenman said. “He was very impressive, setting the scene straight away and giving our midfielders first use which was great for his development.”
Although the Roos were sitting comfortably at the final break, Wenman admitted he felt some nerves as the Saints made a late charge inspired by Gene Robinson. The goal-kicking machine kicked a bag of seven to become the first forward to reach the half century in 2021. At the halfway mark of the home-and-away season, Robinson has kicked 51 goals, 22 more than North Gambier runner-up Justin McConnell.
But the tattooed star could not kick his team to victory as Millicent fell 17 points short. After a slow start to the season, West is only one win away from joining the Saints, Tigers and Bulldogs in the intense fight for a finals berth. Having drifted away slightly from the battle, Wenman said it was a relief to put the third victory on the board after sensing time was running out.
“Obviously with how the wins and losses have gone do far, it was going to be now or never,” he said. “We knew if we did not get a win heading into the halfway point of the season we were going to be up against it, so we put pressure on ourselves making it a win at all costs. “We still have five to six injuries to come back in, so we think we can get better and it will be an interesting run to the finish line.”