By Sam Watson

LOCAL football didn’t have the end everyone was hoping for in 2021, but there was still some incredibly enjoyable and exciting moments in the games that were played.

So, here’s the Sentinel-Times’ top five moments from the season just gone.

1. Footy’s back with a bang

AFTER 18 months of no local footy, the excitement was at an all-time high on Easter weekend for round one of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition this year.

Inaugural West Gippsland grand finalists, Inverloch Kongwak and Cora Lynn were locked in for a huge clash at Inverloch and Phillip Island were hosting traditional rivals Kilcunda Bass in front of a packed crowd at Cowes.

With the temperature over 30 degrees, many probably would’ve been expecting the players to blow up in the last quarter, especially after 18 months out of action.

But the Sea Eagles and the Cobras quashed that train of thought and they continued pushing right to the final moments.

While the Bulldogs were handling Kilcunda Bass at Cowes, IK and Cora Lynn were locked in an intense battle and when the final siren sounded the Sea Eagles were in front by three points.

But the IK faithful weren’t celebrating yet, as Cora Lynn’s Anthony Giuliano, who was playing in his first game back after a stint at Koo Wee Rup, had the ball in his hands just outside the 50-metre arc.

The four-time Cora Lynn premiership player was one of the smaller players on the field, but that didn’t worry the Sherrin as it launched off his bright red boot towards the Reilly Street end.

As soon as the ball left his boot, Giuliano started sprinting to the Cora Lynn bench to celebrate with his teammates and coaches, leaving the Sea Eagles stunned.

Footy was back.

Wonthaggi Power coach Jarryd Blair addresses his players ahead of their monumental final quarter against Leongatha in round two. wa11_1621

2. Power prevail over Parrots

WONTHAGGI Power fans dared to dream when they successfully travelled to Leongatha for the first time since 2014 in round two this year.

Played on a Sunday, footy fans from all over South Gippsland came to watch the local rivals battle it out after both enjoying big wins in round one.

The match was locked at 41 points apiece heading into the final term, but Jarryd Blair’s squad took their game to another level in the closing quarter, playing inspired footy that saw them kick three goals to Leongatha’s one.

You couldn’t have fit another person in the visiting changerooms as the players belted out “Join in the chorus”, and Power fans were beginning to think a premiership in the Gippsland League might be possible.

When the two met again in round 11, Wonthaggi were undefeated and Leongatha’s only loss was to Wonthaggi.

The Parrots were able to get the better of the Power in that match, picking up the win by 29 points, but Wonthaggi were still very confident they had what it took to win it all, especially when they beat Moe on the road the following week.

The two local rivals looked destined to play off in what would’ve been an enormous grand final, but restrictions meant we’d have to wait another year to see if the two clubs can both make it to the big dance.

Jarryd Roughead and Cam Pedersen went head-to-head in the ruck when Phillip Island hosted IK in round nine. Photo: Carol Ratcliff at Phillip Island Football Netball Club Images.

3. Clash of the titans at PI

UNDOUBTEDLY the two best teams in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition met for a huge clash at the Cowes Recreation Reserve in round 9.

Phillip Island, headed by reigning league best and fairest and former Melbourne Demon Cam Pedersen took on Inverloch Kongwak, headed by Hawthorn legend Jarryd Roughead.

Coming into the game, both sides had only lost one game, with IK going down with a kick after the siren against Cora Lynn in round one and Phillip Island slipping up in the last quarter falling to Nar Nar Goon by five points.

Unfortunately, wet conditions meant the contest was sloppy at stages but that didn’t stop the two juggernauts trading goals.

The travelling Sea Eagles jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first quarter, but the home side wrestled back the momentum in the second quarter, taking a nine-point lead into the half-time break.

The Sea Eagles came out firing in the third quarter, putting two quick goals on the board but Phillip Island responded beautifully again, and the 15-point lead they took into three-quarter time eventually extended to a 34-point lead by the final siren.

Despite the near six-goal win, the match was an incredibly hard-fought and entertaining one, leaving many people at the ground thinking they may have just seen an early preview for the 2021 grand final.

Both sides continued their good form after that clash, with neither losing another game, but after round 11 football never got the chance to resume, potentially robbing us of a huge grand final matchup between Phillip Island and Inverloch Kongwak.

Bailey Harfield-Park was one of Fish Creek’s finest performers in their phenomenal win at Yinnar. Photo: Mark Drury Photography.

4. Fishy find a way

NEVER had Fish Creek’s backs been more against the wall than their round 15 clash at Yinnar in 2021.

A week earlier, the Mid Gippsland Football Netball League announced they would get back underway for two rounds before finals, but all clubs would be without their Melbourne players, with greater Melbourne still in lockdown.

The unavailability of Melbournians, many of whom were former locals, left Fish Creek without around 10 senior players, along with a few in the reserves, prompting them to hit the phones on the Wednesday night.

By Saturday morning they had mustered up a reserves side, which included former players over the age of 40, and even one over 50, all of whom hadn’t played in over 10 years.

Obviously, most of the usual reserves side were now in the seniors, making it tough for them to compete with Yinnar, eventually going down by 139 points.

The club viewed it as a win to just get a side on the park, but in the next game it was more than just a moral victory.

The young Fish Creek side, with little experience, managed to hold off the fifth placed Yinnar by five points.

The Magpies thought they were certainties to take home the four points that day, but the spirit the Kangaroos played with earned them one of the best wins in the club’s history.

President Ray Stefani, said outside of grand finals, it was the most enjoyable win he’s experienced in his many years at the club.

And the good times kept rolling after the game when news broke that Foster, who were also missing plenty, had been beaten by Boolarra, allowing Fish Creek to move above the Tigers into third position.

Nyora’s Matt “Nugget” Layton, who played his 400th senior/reserves game for Nyora, was one of many milestone men in 2021.

5. Milestone men

THERE are too many milestones from 2021 to name, but seeing dozens of local footballers acknowledged for their contributions after making significant milestones was fantastic.

Every milestone celebration is a timely reminder of what being loyal to a club brings, especially in the extremely trying times of the last two years.

Hopefully those who missed out on significant game totals in 2021 get their opportunities next year.