All season long, the boys from the Island had been spoken about as the ones to watch when it mattered most at the business end of the campaign. From all corners, the chorus of opinion sang the same tune that not only were the Bulldogs the real deal, theirs was the group most likely to enjoy premiership success on the 15th of September. On Saturday in the type of dour conditions not normally encountered across the league, Beau Vernon’s men justified the hype putting the Demons to the sword in a commanding 10-goal, second semi-flnal win, 14.14 (98) to 5.8 (38). In doing so, they booked their ticket to the big dance and are now so close to the ultimate WGFNC glory they can taste it.
The persistent wintery conditions in the build-up to the senior clash did little to dampen the spirit around the ground, or the buzz of the crowd which turned out in impressive numbers. Once the colosseum of West Gippsland football, the ‘Cobra Dome’ again delivered an atmosphere befitting of such a blockbuster game. The Demons enjoyed much of the play in their forward half early in the wet slog, but it was the Island that was the first to capitalise with a Jack Taylor goal. It was always going to have to be a team effort from the Demons in trying to quell the influence of star Phillip Island ruckman Nick Higginson, but it was ultimately to no avail. He, along with the big-bodied hardness of James Taylor and Brendan Kimber, proved a genuine difference maker and caused the Demons no end of headaches in his ability to give his engine room first use. Two first-quarter goals to Jason Wells a virtual carbon copy of each other in front of the clubrooms in the forward pocket at the scoreboard end gave the Demons, who’d kicked with the advantage of the breeze, a one-goal advantage at quarter-time.
But their tackling numbers long a trademark of their game were worryingly down. As the game progressed, the Island’s midfield got on top and continually found space to work in forward of the centre. They kept the Demons to just a single point in the second term, while booting four goals of their own to take control. Though the rain stayed away throughout the senior game, it was still a clash of genuine wet weather footy and the boys from the Island adjusted to the conditions better. Truth be told, the Island should have been further in front at the main break with the way in which they were peppering the goals. At the half, Ben Collins’ message to his players was a simple one lift the intensity of their pressure, and man up one-on-one.
They’d run over the top of them twice before in 2018, but Saturday was different. The Demons played a more daring style in the third term and found more space than they had throughout the first half, but taking marginal control of the arm wrestle to start the second half wasn’t enough as the Island ultimately ran away with the contest earning a week off before the grand final, and leaving the Demons with much to ponder.
Jason Wells was the clear standout performer for the Demons and looked a likely goal-scorer each time the ball went inside 50 even though he was often double-teamed while Dom Paynter, Troy Dolan, and the ever reliable Craig Dyker also had a particularly positive impact.