By Aiden Box
INVERLOCH-KONGWAK looked to defend top spot on the West Gippsland League ladder when they travelled across the bridge to face familiar foe Phillip Island.
Both sides started their 2022 campaigns with four consecutive victories, setting up a blockbuster clash at ‘the kennel’.
As the sun broke through the overcast skies, both teams looked to move the ball with pace and precision early.
The hosts surged the ball inside 50 repeatedly and were able to find Cam Pedersen who converted his set shot for the first major of the contest.
The Bulldogs were able to score again not long after, finding another six points thanks to a clever crumbing play at ground level.
However, the visitors were not going to give up momentum that easily, using the wind to their advantage and booming the ball in deep to Tristan Van Driel.
He played on and kicked their first of the afternoon, which was followed by a massive finish from Thomas Wyatt from outside 50.
The ‘Dogs were able to capitalise on IK’s skill errors and use their ‘thrust it forward at all costs’ style of play to produce several scoring opportunities.
Although the brave Sea Eagles continued to keep themselves in it, using the wind brilliantly to find young star Jenson Garnham for his first.
The first quarter showed the match had all the ingredients for a shootout.
The Sea Eagles went into the first break five points ahead with the score 38-33 as the heavens opened and dark clouds brought heavy rainfall around the ground.
The second term began with more forward surge footy from the hosts, ending in a sharp dribble goal from young gun Harry O’Brien.
As the rain continued to pour, the skill level dropped, and scoring dried up as the end-to-end flair disappeared.
IK were able to break from stoppage and find Garnham on the wing who wasted no time getting it in deep to his captain Toby Mahoney who slotted his first.
From here the ball lived between the arcs for much of the quarter until Pedersen broke the stalemate with his third major.
Both teams continued to move the ball quickly in what kept proving to be an exciting game despite the conditions.
The Taylor brothers Jack and Billy combined for another great goal for the Bulldogs and the strong Sea Eagles defence was consistently put under fire.
Phillip Island’s strong midfielders continued to pummel the ball inside 50 to their potent forward six, although as the wind died off, they managed just three goals.
IK had a chance out the back with Xavier Hughes, although a clutch smother robbed them of six points as the siren blew.
It was anyone’s game at the half, Island leading the contest by 13 points.
IK’s Dylan Clark drew first blood in the second half, with a sensational finish from the right pocket.
Before Oscar Toussaint snapped truly from stoppage to trim the Bulldog lead to just two points.
Corey Casey bagged the Sea Eagles’ third in a row to put the visitors back in front as the sun broke through the strong cloud cover yet again.
Mahoney caught Daniel Pearce holding the ball from the kickout and converted his second, firing up his teammates in celebration.
The ‘Dogs were able to reply through champion midfielder Brendan Kimber, snapping truly under pressure to get them back within 12 points.
The hosts ill-discipline began to hurt them as multiple free kicks got IK inside 50, finding star recruit Ethan Park for his first.
But as they had all day, the hosts were able to reply to thanks to an excellent goal by Marcus Wright, willing on his team.
Both sides kept producing miraculous plays despite the inclement weather, showcasing why they both sit atop the league ladder.
Another fast play led Mahoney out the back for his third, much to the delight of the Invy faithful.
The late major gave the visitors a lead of three straight kicks at the final break.
The fourth started with some controversy as the hosts converted on the goal line to cut into the deficit.
The ‘bash it forward’ style worked once again for the Bulldogs as Jack Taylor slotted their second of the term from 40 metres out.
A brief stalemate ensued with the Sea Eagles clinging to a seven-point lead.
A hush of anticipation filled ‘the kennel’ as the crowd realised the importance of the next goal, coming back out from their cars and grandstand to urge their team on.
The ball again pinballed back and forth until Phillip Island were able to find the sure hands of Jack Taylor who kicked truly to tie it and reinvigorate the home crowd.
With the match locked at 91 apiece, a sun shower fell on the exhausted players as the crowd found its voice, it was game on.
The Bulldogs were magnificent in the final term, pressing and locking the ball in their forward half for much of the quarter.
Eventually they were rewarded with the boot of gun midfielder Zak Vernon gifting them a 7-point lead with only minutes remaining.
The back-to-back reigning premiers simply would not be denied, kicking four goals to none in the last quarter to roar home for their fifth consecutive win.
Despite a gallant effort from the Sea Eagles, Phillip Island got the four points, winning 102-91 in the end.
IK will look to start a new win streak this weekend at home against Bunyip, while Phillip Island will travel up the highway to face Koo Wee Rup.