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On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football, the latest book from prolific country footy author Paul Daffey.

In his book on his country travels during the 2019 football season, Paul Daffey follows several stories. Nathalia, Kyabram and Sandy Creek all share a sizeable chunk of the well written yarns.

Paul Daffey with Kyabram gun and Morrison Medalist Mick Mattingly

Another part of his travels focuses on the West Gippsland FNC Grand Final between Phillip Island and Cora Lynn, as well as Cam Pedersen – the Bulldogs’ ruckman.

The following is an edited excerpt from the book:

In the aftermath of Phillip Island’s victory in the West Gippsland competition’s 2018 Grand Final, the Bulldogs saw the chance to sign a prized recruit when a footballer who had just been released by an AFL club moved down to the coast.

Cam Pedersen had grown up in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, around Lilydale, and played junior footy for Mooroolbark. As a young senior footballer, Pedersen joined the VFL club Box Hill Hawks. He was drafted by North Melbourne after the 2010  season, and he made his AFL debut with the Roos the next season, in 2011, at the age of 24.

Two years later, in 2013, Pedersen transferred to Melbourne, where he settled into a role as a marking forward and occasional relief ruckman for the Demons’ star big man Max Gawn. Pedersen played with Melbourne for six seasons. In late 2018, he was 31 years of age when the Demons delisted him after an AFL career in which he had played eighty games and kicked seventy goals.

In an interview for this book, Cam Pedersen said he was not surprised when he got the chop from the Demons after the 2018 season. “I knew it was coming,” he said. “But it didn’t make is it any easier. It’s like losing any job. It’s part of your identity.”

Pedersen and his wife Sarah and their three daughters had lived in Bayswater during Cam’s AFL years. With his professional footy career over, Cam and Sarah wanted to live in a small community near the water. With family down at Phillip Island, it made sense to move down there. Pedersen, having studied education, scored his first job as a teacher when Newhaven College, a school on Phillip Island, employed him to assume teaching duties with a Grade 4 class. None of the pupils in Pedersen’s class had ever had a male teacher. And none, certainly, had ever had a teacher who was 193 centimetres and about 100 kilograms.

Cam Pedersen made a big impression when he walked on to the school grounds for the first day of his new working life. Sarah Pedersen began to run a restaurant, called Citrus Vine, with her mother, Janet Tongue. After the initial discomfort of life after the AFL, the Pedersen family soon found their feet on Phillip Island.

Away from work, Cam Pedersen fielded inquiries from almost thirty clubs about pulling on the boots in 2019 . Fourteen clubs from the Eastern Football League, based in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, made offers to sign him. The other inquiries were from VFL clubs, or clubs on the Mornington Peninsula. Pedersen signed with Phillip Island because he wanted to play in the community in which he now lived.

Cam Pedersen found the Phillip Island footy club to be very welcoming. He was impressed by the coach, Beau Vernon, whom he found to be thorough and thoughtful, and open to ideas. During the practice matches, Pedersen played as a key forward. In his first foray outside AFL footy, he became frustrated by the delivery from teammates upfield. When he asked Vernon whether he could switch in to the ruck and find his own ball, the coach gave him the all-clear.

Pedersen felt he had truly settled in to his new club when he began car-pooling with his fellow veterans Jaymie Youle and Mark Griffin on road trips to away games. He enjoyed the trips to Dalyston, Garfield and Nar Nar Goon just as much as he had enjoyed the journeys to Subiaco and the Gabba during his days in the national competition.

Pedersen, by his own admission, struggled in the Bulldogs’ opening match of the 2019 season, on a windy day against Bass-Kilcunda at the Bass Recreation Reserve. Jack Taylor, a brother of the 2014 premiership player James Taylor, kicked four goals and was best on ground.

In Round 2 of the 2019 season, against Korumburra-Bena at the Korumburra showgrounds, Cam Pedersen hit his stride. Playing in the ruck, he got his hands on the ball at every stoppage. He had forty disposals, and he kicked six goals. The rest of the season continued in a similar vein, albeit without quite the same phenomenal output.

At the end of the home and away rounds in 2019, he polled 38 votes, including maximum votes in ten games, to win the award for the best and fairest player in the competition by fifteen votes. The second place-getter was Pedersen’s Bulldogs teammate Brendan Kimber, whose tally of 23 votes was just one fewer than the total that had earned him the medal the previous season, in 2018.

The Cora Lynn full-forward, Nathan Gardiner, finished third in the vote count with nineteen votes, ahead of the Warragul Industrials midfielder Tyson Bale (18) and the Phillip Island midfielder Jaymie Youle (17). The fact that three Phillip Island players had finished in the top five was a clear indication of the Bulldogs’ dominance in 2019.

Halfway through the 2019 season, Phillip Island and Cora Lynn were both undefeated when they met at Philip Island’s ground, the Cowes Recreation Reserve, in Round 9. The match had been scheduled for the Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend so as to attract holiday-makers who had gone to the island for the long weekend. The crowd, estimated by Phillip Island officials at a few thousand, saw what officials from both clubs described as one of the best country footy matches they had seen.

The lead changed throughout the game. Phillip Island had their noses in front by six points when Nathan Gardiner, the Cora Lynn full-forward, took a mark  in the shadow of the final siren. Gardiner kicked a goal  — his seventh goal for the match — to level the scores. The final result was a draw, 11.9 (75) to 12.3 (75). Gardiner’s accuracy had kept his team within reach.

The Bulldogs’ best players in the drawn match were Cam Pedersen and the midfielders Alex Duyker and Billy Taylor, another member of the esteemed Taylor family.

Phillip Island suffered one scare in their remaining games. In Round 17, the second-last round of the season, the Bulldogs struggled to shake off Tooradin-Dalmore at the Tooradin Recreation Reserve. Late in the final quarter, Cam Pedersen protected Phillip Island’s slender lead by repeatedly punching the ball out of bounds. The Bulldogs defeated their accurate opponents by two points 13.13 (91) to 14.5 (89).

The next week, in the final round of the 2019 season, Phillip Island defeated Kilcunda-Bass to confirm their minor premiership with seventeen wins and one draw.

Before the Second Semi-final, between Phillip Island and Tooradin-Dalmore, Phillip Island’s fortunes were boosted by the return of Jack Taylor, the bustling centre half-forward, who had spent ten matches on the sidelines overcoming a persistent hamstring injury. The Bulldogs won by four goals to proceed straight through to the Grand Final.

On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football (2020), by Paul Daffey is available in bookshops for $35.

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