Gippsland disappointed in Bendigo

Gippsland League returned disappointed from another AFL VicCountry championship campaign at Bendigo on Saturday.

But the team put up a great fight before lowering its colours 19-14 to 13-16 in front of a big crowd at Bendigo’s Queen Elizabeth oval.

Gippsland never hit the lead at any stage although always in touch, several times during the second and third quarters cutting the margin to under a goal.

It was former St Kilda sharp shooter Stephen Milne that was the difference.

He kicked a match-winning 9 goals.

Another recently retired AFL player Corey Jones (ex-North Melbourne) was also influential for Bendigo but Milne was the star of the show and clearly best on ground.

The Gippsland selectors had a tough time with a number in the original squad unavailable because of injury and had to make another two changes to the team named midweek with coach Harmit Singh and Morwell team mate Michael Duncan also unable to shake off injuries.

Bairnsdale’s Andrew Nelson and Shaun Mooney were the late inclusions.

Bendigo led 3-6 to 2-4 at quarter time and 10-7 to 7-8 at half time, two goals in the final 90 seconds of the second quarter.

Two early third term goals to Gippsland’s one stretched the margin to 23 points before a terrific fightback got Gippsland within three points.

A couple of missed shots on goal denied it the lead.

Again it was Milne that bobbed up to restore order for Bendigo and get it to a 15-10 to 12-11 lead at the final change.

The Gippslanders threw everything at Bendigo early in the final term.

Three successive behinds to start the quarter didn’t help the cause.

The home team steadied and gradually pushed the gap wider.

It was a brave performance by Gippsland that has now again dropped to 9th place on the ladder of 40 country leagues and will face Yarra Valley-Mountain District in next year’s championship round.

The quirk of the draw had Gippsland having to travel to Bendigo for the third time in five years, losing after hard-fought matches, and there is a reasonable case to the argument that the results might have been different had the games been hosted in Gippsland.

Wonthaggi’s Aaron Ware was awarded the VicCountry medal as Gippsland’s best player.

The on-baller was in the thick of the action from start to finish.

His on-ball team mates James Blaser, Luke Collins, Jack Blair, Aiden Lindsay, Michael Geary and Brad Scalzo also were sound contributors as was Ben Kearns on a wing.

Ruckman Jack Lipman and back-up Wes Russell won most of the hit-outs.

Key forwards Darren Sheen and captain James Gibbs at times looked as if they might take charge of the game but overall Gippsland’s delivery of the ball into attack was down on the standard that Bendigo provided Milne in particular.

Sheen finished with four goals, one in each quarter, while Gibbs booted three – a couple inspirational from beyond 50 metres – and was the kay play maker in a couple of others.

Tom Hutton had first crack at Milne with Andrew Quirk getting the tough job for the final three quarters, but Bendigo’s ability to leave Milne one out and with plenty of space made their task unenviable.

Ryan Pendlebury and centre-half back Chris Verboon were disciplined and prominent for four quarters both winning their positions on the day.

Verboon won the team trainers’ trophy, awarded in memory of long-serving Morwell and inter-league trainer Keith Bailey who died four years ago.

Coach Singh was high in his praise of his team’s performance in a high standard and strong physical clash and there was a strong resolve in the dressing rooms after the match to atone next year and push up the championship ladder again.