Gisborne breaks premiership drought
A PREMIERSHIP drought of 16 years was broken by Gisborne’s senior footy team in Saturday’s grand finale to the Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League season.
On one of the coldest and wettest days in BFNL grand final history, the Rob Waters-coached Gisborne marked a 28-point win against Strathfieldsaye at Queen Elizabeth Oval.
Conditions meant it would be a contest marked by many stoppages and test the determination of every player in the fight for the Bendigo Advertiser premiership cup.
First goal would not be scored until the 24th minute when Boden Alexander was on target from a set-shot after Caleb Ernst’s chase and strong tackle on the 50m arc was rewarded with a free kick from which he passed to Alexander.
At quarter-time, Strathfieldsaye led 9-2.
Gisborne’s Luke Ellings sprinted toward the skidding ball and slid like an eel to gain possession, regained his feet and kicked a brilliant goal to make it 10-9 in Gisborne’s favour in the sixth minute of the second term.
In the 16th minute a collision between Gisborne’s Jaidyn Owen and Storm on-baller Boden Alexander meant both went to the bench for treatment.
Owen had a sore shoulder but returned to play, while Alexander had a bloodied nose and did not play on.
Storm was also hampered by the classy Kallen Geary, who had his right thigh strapped, but kept going.
After a series of rushed behinds, Matt Merrett was on the end of a series of passes which began from deep in defence to kick truly for Gisborne to lead 19-9 in the 21st minute.
A sign of the Bulldogs’ dominance of general play was a tally of 11 scoring shots in the first half to lead 2.9 (21) to 1.3 (9) at half-time.
Defences were on top in a goalless third quarter.
Among the highs was the play of Storm’s Patrick Blandford who went back with the flight of the ball and then parried the ball, a la goalkeeper style, for a point.
The Bulldogs won the quarter, 3-1, and more importantly were going to the city or Rosalind Park end where most goals had been kicked throughout the day.
An Ethan Minns snapshot out of a contest near goal gave Gisborne the perfect start to the final term.
When brilliant midfielder Brad Bernacki was caught high and goaled the Bulldogs were up 38-16 in the ninth minute.
A soccered goal by Storm captain Lachlan Sharp in the 12th minute gave Strathfieldsaye a glimmer of hope.
But it was the Bulldogs who kept the pressure on.
In what would be his final game for Gisborne because of ongoing shoulder issues, Jack Scanlon provided another high with a great leap and mark on the grandstand wing.
After a downfield free it was Ellings who slotted his second goal to cap a 50-22 victory.
The Nalder Medal for best afield was presented to Gisborne ruckman Braidon Blake, a premiership winner with Sandhurst and son of Michael, a premiership winner with Castlemaine 30 years ago.
Key defender Jack Reaper was presented with the Worksafe AFL Victoria medal.
Best for the Bulldogs were Braidon Blake, Jack Reaper, Brad Bernacki, Pat McKenna, Ethan Minns and Jack Scanlon.
Storm’s best were Shannon Geary, Bode Stevens, Ben Lester, Jake Moorhead, Daniel Clohesy and Callum McCarty.
From the presentation dais in the grandstand, Gisborne coach Rob Waters congratulated Strathfieldsaye on another brilliant season.
The Darryl Wilson and Shannon Geary-coached Storm played two outstanding finals to again another crack at winning the cup.
“Congratulations to Darryl and Shannon and all at Storm for the year you have had.
“The past five or six seasons by your club has been amazing.”
Waters said the premiership capped the dedication of so many at Gisborne Football Netball Club.
“We had a playing group of 68 and all have played their part.
“The 22 we had on-field today were outstanding, but there are so many who have helped the club be where it’s at.
“It was 120 minutes of commitment in the grand final, but more than 4000 hours to get here,” he said of the many weeks put into a season.
In the rooms were the jumpers of injured players Macklan Lord, Jarryd Lynch, Jake Normington and Scott Walsh which were draped on the wall for all to see.
It was poignant moment as the Gisborne players and supporters belted out the club song from near where those jumpers were.
Gisborne’s song includes the line, “we’re as happy as can be” and after such a hard-fought victory there was plenty for the players, coaches and supporters to be rapt about.
“We have such a young group and the way they worked for each other in this grand final was superb,” said Waters.
It was an 11th premiership win for Waters who has tackled a variety of roles at various clubs.
“We did this the hard way,” he said of having to bounce back from a two-goal loss to Strathfieldsaye in the second semi-final.
Saturday’s conditions could have been ordered by the Gisborne coaches, players and supporters as the Bulldogs revel in the wet, especially in the depths of winter at Gardiner Reserve.
“It was all about winning the contest more often than Storm, and also putting on plenty of pressure when they had the ball,” said Waters.
“Our effort across every quarter was incredible.”
Gisborne had to resort to various training venues across the past eight weeks of the season.
“We used five different clubs,” Waters said of switching between grounds such as Woodend and Sunbury.
Grand final victory was also reward for the club’s committee, coaches and volunteers.
“Without you we would not be here,” said Waters.
The fight of the Gisborne Bulldogs was clearly on show in the last 10 minutes of the preliminary final and then in that “one day in September” to claim their fifth senior premiership.
Gisborne captain Pat McKenna said the fans support was incredible.
“The roar of the crowd meant so much to us.
“It was a tough game last week and then again today, but the fans play a huge part.”
AFL Victoria medallist Jack Reaper capped a brilliant fightback after he did not play in 2019 because of a knee injury.
Reaper’s intercept marking and spoils were crucial against a powerful Storm attack.
“To win a premiership is unbelievable,” he said.
A knee injury a week before the start of the 2019 season meant Reaper did not play at all.
Then there was no footy season in ’20 because of Covid, and there were no finals after the ’21 season was called off.
“It’s been a long journey to get here, but it’s worth it,” Reaper said of playing in the first grand final of his career.
“I was able to sag back quite a bit and either win the footy or spoil an opponent.”
Number one ruckman Braidon Blake joined Matt Fitzgerald, twice, and Ty Elliott as Gisborne stars to earn the Nalder Medal awarded to best on ground.
At the age of 24, Reaper and Blake will play crucial roles in Gisborne’s quest for back-to-back premierships.
“The average age of this grand final team was 21, so there is a lot to look forward to,” Reaper said.
For now it’s enjoy victory before the hard work starts again.
Although disappointed with the result, Storm co-coach Darryl Wilson said the grand final defeat would be an experience to toughen every player, whether it was first or not.
Wilson said he was incredibly proud of the team’s run to a seventh clash for the premiership cup in eight seasons.
Storm was chasing a fifth senior premiership, but would be denied by Gisborne.
Wilson said Gisborne’s work around stoppages was superior to Storm’s for most of the match.
“Conditions were incredibly tough for all players, but we really battled to get a flow into our game.
“Congratulations to Gisborne. They have been the benchmark all year.”
Wilson said Storm had played two excellent finals to be in the season decider.
“I am absolutely proud of you all,” he told the players.
Wilson said Storm had the nucleus to contend again in ’23 and beyond.
“We just have to keep working and always strive to be better.”
It’s that mindset which has put and kept Strathfieldsaye on or near the top of the league for so long.
Gisborne’s premiership-winning team:
B: Liam Rodgers, Jack Reaper, Zachary Vescovi.
Hb: Liam Spear, Jaidyn Owen, Sam Graham.
C: Seb Bell-Bartels, Brad Bernacki, Matt Weber.
Hf: Ethan Minns, Jack Scanlon, Ethan Foreman.
F: Matt Panuccio, Pat McKenna, Josh Kemp.
Foll: Braidon Blake, Nicholas Doolan, Flynn Lakey.
Inter: Matthew Cassidy, Luke Ellings, Ben Eales, Matt Merrett.
Written by Nathan Dole.