Focused Gisborne rewarded


Tara Murray

Gisborne coach Rob Waters knew pretty early on his side was switched on heading into the Bendigo Football League grand final.

After a below par finals series which saw them just sneak into the grand final, the Bulldogs showed they were the side that they had been through the best part of the regular season on Saturday.

In tough conditions with rain falling all day, the Bulldogs were able to break through for their first premiership in 16 years, beating Strathfieldsaye, 5.20 (50)-2.10 (10).

Bulldogs coach Rob Waters said this had been a number of years in the making.

“All the work everyone has put in the last seven-eight years, to have six sides in grand finals and every team play finals,” he said.

“They lost the grand final in 2012 by a couple of points and a couple of preliminary finals similar since. They’ve been thereabouts for years.”

While the rain and the resulting muddy and heavy ground was most people’s worst nightmare, for the Bulldogs it was the perfect scenario.

Bulldogs co-captain Pat McKenna said the conditions were ‘Gisborne-esk’. The group had trained in the rain on Thursday night, a perfect lead up to the biggest day of the year.

“They are a quality side and they make you play on the outside,” McKenna said. “The rain evened out the contest and the conditions did help us.

“It was a bit of a muddy slug and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Both Waters and McKenna said the group weren’t happy with how they had played throughout the finals.

The group could have easily said they were okay with the season that they’d had, but they knew there was more on the line.

“It could have been perfect conditions but it wouldn’t have mattered as they were in the right frame of mind,” Waters said of Saturday.

“The things done in the other finals were a great learning curve. The boys showed in the last 10 minutes of the preliminary final that they were highly spirited with their backs towards the wall.

“That held us in good stead.”

The Storm had the breeze in the first quarter, with the Bulldogs taking the ascendency as they restricted them to just one goal.

The Bulldogs managed to hit the lead in the second quarter and led by 12 points at the break.

“It was a game of inch by inch and we had to slow them down,” Waters said.

“There were repeat stoppages and every time we won one, or halved one the confidence grew.

“Players were coming off the ground seeing what they were doing was helping.”

Waters said the key difference to the last few weeks was that all 22 players were contributing. He said in the previous two finals they’d struggled to pick their best six.

Neither team scored a goal in the third quarter, before the Bulldogs kicked three in the last quarter to open up a match winning lead.

Not that Waters realised.

“I was talking to a couple of the line coaches in the box and was yelling we shouldn’t have let them kick a goal,” he said.

“Boys were coming off and I was telling them to pull their heads in. They’re like there’s two minutes to go. It then dawned on me we had the result.”

Braidon Blake was named best on ground. Jack Reaper was another standout, while Brad Bernacki and Mckenna were named in the best.

McKenna said it was pretty special to win a premiership.

“It is really good and I was feeling pretty content last night,” he said.

“I watched as we lost 2012 and played in the preliminary finals in 2014 and 2019. It’s a great bunch of boys and a really gout unit.

“It’s still a really young group and it’s a pleasure being able to lead them.”

McKenna and Waters were quick to both point out the club’s junior program. Eight or nine players in the premiership side had come through from the under-18 side in the last three to four years.

McKenna said being able to win a premiership with his local club made it more special.

“Looking back it’s pretty special to have all three teams in the grand final, it doesn’t happen often,” he said.

“There’s so many players who have come and worked their way through the club, having played their whole life.

“A good core of us it’s our home club. Means so much more being a local. It’s great for the town, club and people who have been in so much work.”