In a picture-perfect day for footy, and with the pristine surface at Kooweerup’s home ground, it’s little surprise that the cars lined Denhams Road from early in the day.
On field, the rampaging Gulls seemed more desperate.
The Gulls had embraced the excitement, the nervous – yet positive energy – surrounding their chance to prove they have what it takes.
That chance finally arrived on Saturday, and they took it with both hands outstretched – ultimately winning by 42 points, 13.18 (96) to 8.6 (54).
They had the better of a high-scoring, back-and-forth opening stanza – with Luke McKenna composed behind the ball, Cam Brown in a starring role through the middle and streaming forward, and Julian Suarez and Andrew Dean across forward 50 proving difference-makers in key stages as the clash wore on. Dean, in particular, benefited from composed ball use moving forward, though champion Cobra skipper Tim Payne still won his share of one-on-one contests.
It was the Gulls’ ability to turn defence into attack so effectively that was particularly noticeable in the early going.
So often they created goal-scoring opportunities from pure gut-busting running.
But Cora Lynn has proven its mettle time and time again, and on the biggest of stages. The list of premierships many of its core boasts is testament to that.
They weren’t going to just hand victory to the in-from Gulls. Lachie Gillespie’s boys had to take it.
And that’s exactly what they did.
For large parts of the contest, the play was on Tooradin-Dalmore’s terms. Their pressure on the ball carrier was elite at key stages – restricting so much of the usually-deadly outside run of so many of the Cobras’ potential match-winners or game-changers.
It just felt like the Cobras could never really settle into a rhythm, and some uncharacteristic skill errors at stages showed that.
There was plenty of feeling in the clash, predictably, between two strong, proud clubs at a ground so close to home for both.
And neither group took a backward step.
That speaks volumes for just how far the Gulls have come since way back in Round 1, when they were comprehensively beaten by the Cobras in their only other meeting this season.
Not only have they learned how to win, they’ve developed winning habits that are proven to stand up against the competition’s best.
The hardness of skipper Matt Livermore around the contest was particularly noticeable as he led by example, while Nick Lang, Waide Symes, Kris Sabbatucci and Nick Schumann also stood up right when they needed to.
The Cobras had the ruck advantage courtesy of big Billy Thomas winning huge numbers of hitouts through the middle and around the ground, but Dylan Sutton and Brad Butler still refused to be outworked against him – despite being outsized.
And that was a recurring theme throughout the contest – the Gulls refusing to be outworked. The consistent efforts of the likes of Jake O’Donnell, Adam Galea, Andrew Proctor, and Brad Lenders – often in situations where they wouldn’t necessarily be rewarded on the stat sheet – were proof of that.
A hand injury to Butler that forced him from the field and led to him finishing the game on the bench was the only sour point for the Gulls, while Cora Lynn key defender Mitch Wallace also had a hand injury of his own that, likewise, saw his day finish early.
Kooweerup, Inverloch Kongwak, and Phillip Island players all got a first-hand look at Saturday’s game as part of the bumper crowd, and they all saw that the road to the premiership will have to go through Tooradin.
If it wasn’t for some wayward kicking for goal, the margin would have been even greater than the eventual 42 points.
In summing up his side’s effort in a packed away room after the game at Denhams Road, Gillespie’s message was simple.
“I’m so proud of these boys,” he said.
“This is something we’ve worked at for years, for a lot of you.
“We spoke about it before the game, and for the past month or two – when we bottomed-out and had some really terrible times, we stuck together. We’re callused and scarred by that, and we want this more than anyone.
“What the boys have done, what they’ve been able to achieve, and the mental hurdles they’ve been able to jump are really incredible.
“But this is one tick – and we’ve spoken about needing three ticks to get to where we want to be.”Russell Bennett - Pakenham Gazette
The last time Kooweerup played a wet weather final, the side was whitewashed by Phillip Island in last season’s grand final in astonishing scenes at Garfield.
But when the wintry conditions hit Cora Lynn on Sunday afternoon, the Demons stood strong on the big stage – refusing to turn to water when it was their turn to go.
And it was a combination of their experienced stars and rising young guns who led the way.
Former Cora Lynn premiership captain Ben Collins was coaching potentially his last game at the helm of the Demons if their elimination final clash against Inverloch Kongwak didn’t go their way.
The clash could potentially have marked the last in Demons colours for some of their more experienced players, too.
But this was a group that had no intention of bowing out of the finals race at the first hurdle, and boy did these Demons play like it.
The day started out under bright sunshine but with a blustery breeze.
Inverloch Kongwak went into the clash without the likes of Brendan Iezzi, Josh Clottu and of course Andy Soumilas but still seemed to have the advantage in a number of key areas across the ground.
And with the aid of the breeze early they led by 10 points at quarter-time, 3.4 (22) to 2.0 (12).
Their back six stood strong in the opening stanza with a number of Kooweerup’s inside 50s not able to be converted into scoreboard pressure.
But the Demons took plenty of confidence into the contest. They’d won their only other clash of the season – by three points in Round 8 at Inverloch – and weren’t perturbed by the Sea Eagles’ red-hot form leading into Sunday’s game, despite Tom McQualter’s side having won four on the trot, including victories over both Cora Lynn and Tooradin-Dalmore.
In the opening 15 minutes of the second term, the Demons had kicked three unanswered goals to lead by seven points.
Their trademark defensive pressure was obvious, and the game seemed to be played on their terms.
While there were a number of costly turnovers from both sides, Inverloch Kongwak’s seemed more pronounced – particularly given their struggles in front of the big sticks.
The Demons took a narrow four-point advantage into the half, 5.3 (33) to 3.11 (29), and Collins knew his side was on. It was only the little things they had to sharpen up. An undersized back six, featuring the likes of Brad Harding and Troy Dolan, had featured strongly in the first half – restricting the taller firepower of the Sea Eagles.
But it was the Demons’ engine room that could be thanked largely for that.
The experienced trio of Luke Walker, Dave Collins, and Joel Gibson was simply outstanding, with former skipper Walker – in particular – turning in a vintage performance.
But the group’s young guns weren’t to be outdone. The strong-bodied Mitch Cammarano was inspirational with his attack on the Sherrin, while Liam Hetherington’s disciplined role, and Matt Voss’ polish as they rain arrived were no less impactful.
A brilliant Nathan Voss snap from 45 metres out ended a run of frustrating misses from the Demons at around the 17-minute mark of the third to put the side 13 points up before two big goals late in the term from Shannon Marsh and Darren Sheen extended the margin out to 23 with a quarter left to play.
It was around the seven-minute mark of the last that Sheen effectively iced the game for the Demons with a long-range effort on the move – finishing off some Cammarano brilliance.
He finished with a cool half-dozen majors, delivering a reminder to the Cora Lynn faithful of just what he used to deliver in their colours back in the day.
He kicked more than 370 goals in just three years in a Cobras guernsey early in his senior career, including two season hauls of more than 130 majors.
Some outside the walls of Kooweerup had written off Sheen as having any significant impact in the latter stages of his career. They were horribly mistaken.
Come the moment, come the time for the big man to deliver – and that’s exactly what he did.
Nathan Muratore, yet another former premiership-winning Cobra, was hugely influential throughout the contest – particularly with his booming kicks clearing the defensive 50 and setting up attacking forays.
And fittingly, these former Cora Lynn players will take on their old side next.Russell Bennett - Pakenham Gazette
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