ALL four of the South Gippsland players in Saturday’s winning Gippsland League team; Leongatha trio Aaron Heppell, Jake Best and Shem Hawking; along with Wonthaggi Power’s Bryon Dryden were praised by coach Steve Hazelman in his after-match address to the team.
He said Heppell, who played almost the entire match on the ball, got first hands on it regularly for Gippsland.
“Besty”, he said, “was a bit quiet in the first half but really came on strong for us in the third quarter.”
He was instrumental in Gippsland kicking away from their opponents, Yarra Valley Mountain District, after what had been a tight defensive contest in the first half.
“Bryon Dryden has been in really good form in the past 18 months and continued on with that here today, running off half back early and then going to centre half back for us on Scott (Yarra Valley power forward) when Lippy had to come off.”
It was a credit to Shem Hawking, he said, that in his first year in the Gippsland League he had stepped up to representative level and performed really well, regularly “gut-running” for the team down the wing and providing a great contest.
It was strong conformation that the locals had played their roles in an emphatic, 71 point drubbing of a lesser resourced, regional league.
The win will see Gippsland climb back up the AFL Victoria Country Championships ladder to eighth and take on a much stronger opponent, Bendigo, in 2016.
Gippsland’s all-star line-up started the match by dominating possession but they couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard, leading 2.6 to 1.1 in perfect conditions on an excellent surface at Drouin.
Traralgon coach Mark Collison opened Gippsland’s account after four minutes but the home team managed just one more major in an inaccurate opening term prompting a warning from coach Steve Hazelman.
“Look it was a really good start but 12 shots to one for two goals six is not enough, is it.
“They are pushing a lot of numbers back so we need to be smart and look for our players that are spare when going forward.”
Hazelman said the team had over-used the handball, clearly trying to bring team mates into the play, but he asked them to be more direct in term two.
Gippsland had the upper hand early in the second quarter but the game tightened up with both teams playing an extra man in defence and with defenders easily sweeping the ball away. Wonthaggi’s Dryden was one of the Gippy defenders doing a good job and Hawking was busy down the flanks.
After a very defensive term, Gippsland went in 4.7 to Yarra Valley’s 3.3 with the game appearing to be in the balance.
Gippsland was two players down heading into the second half, with Jack Lipman (kidney bruising) joining Sale teammate Jordan Dessent (hamstring) on the sidelines.
“We are a couple down, it’s a big ground here and we need to make sure this second half we don’t give them a sniff,” Hazelman said.
His side was able to open the game up in the third term taking a 31-point lead into the final break and both Aaron Heppell and Jake Best were instrumental in that, while Dryden got the key defensive job on big Scott.
Heppell regularly won the contested ball in tight and Best was the go-to-man at half forward, at one stage taking a fine contested mark before handing off quickly to Tim North for a goal in the defining moment of the match.
With the team’s captain, Bob McCallum winning in the ruck and Drouin’s Daniel Nichols having a real impact front and back, Gippsland careered away from the opposition with six goals to none in its best quarter of the afternoon.
They ran out the convincing winners, 13.17.95 to 3.6.24.
Drouin’s Nicholls was predictably awarded the medal for best-on-ground but big Bob McCallum wasn’t far behind him, named among the best and finishing with two goals.
“I’m pretty happy with the performance. It’s pretty tough coming together at short notice, but I thought we did well,” McCallum said afterwards.
“At a couple of points I saw the Drouin boys link up coming out of the back line and do exactly what we do at training.”
Other standouts for the home side were Traralgon team mates Mark Collison and Michael Stockdale and late inclusions Luke Dyer (Bairnsdale) and Kane Martin (Sale).
Nicholls capped his performance with three goals, McCallum and Tim Northe finished with two each, while Martin, Collison, Hughes, James Gibbs, John Gooch and Jarryd Drew also contributed majors.
The Gippsland League also tasted success in two of day’s three other matches.
Morwell’s Riley Hogarth was awarded the best-on-ground medal in Gippsland’s 28-point win in the Under 18 football match which featured a bevy of Leongatha talent including Anthony Argento, Kyle Cooper, Hudson Kerr (vc), Wes Graham, Lachie Wright and Jack Ginnane (vc). The team was coached by Kristian Gray of Leongatha with Geof Forrester and Matt Davies among the assistant coaches.
Cade Waters flew the flag for Wonthaggi Power.
Gippsland’s 17 and Under Netball Team, which included Wonthaggi’s Aimee Tessari, won their match, with Kasey Guttridge of Traralgon named best-on-court in the 41-35 win.
Unfortunately Gippsland was unable to record a clean sweep, with the league’s Regional State League Champions Challenge team falling to a classy Yarra Valley side 63-38. The side was captained by Wonthaggi’s Courtney Blair.
All-in-all a most successful day for Gippsland but with bigger challenges ahead.