THE Esperance Bulldogs are the EDFA league premiers for season 2012 after a hard fought 10 point win over minor premiers Gibson on Sunday at Ports Oval. It was a great game of Football that wasn’t decided until Chris Harding slotted the sealer with only a couple of minutes left on the clock.
In a cruel blow to the Tiger’s the 3 to 4 goal breeze swung in the second term to only give them one term with the wind throughout the match. With Jim Finnerty in Bali I can only put the wind change down to the possibility that a little of his hot air managed to travel that far to help out his beloved Bulldogs.
The game started with Esperance kicking with the wind to the town end. But it was the Tigers who started best with Kingley Walker, Brad McLean and Jake Graham all getting their hands on the ball early. Brenton Bridges and James Hunt gave the Tigers first use with some good early ruck work. Esperance started with Ryan Neill in the middle and due to the Tigers’ early dominance and found himself in defence for most of the first term. Both coaches seemed happy to have speed on speed around the ground with Clarke on Clinch, Duffy on Brett Whiting, Jones on Jordan Whiting and almost the match winning matchup of Ferguson on Sampi. Despite the Tigers’ early good work the Bulldogs managed to settle and go into the first break only 5 points down. Gibson 2.2 Esperance 1.3.
As mentioned, the wind swung in the second term and Esperance took advantage kicking early goals. But the Tigers, led by centre half back Leigh West, settled themselves and, with better ball use and Tyson Tate pushing up the ground to give them a spark, managed to kick goals also. Most of the quarter was a battle between the defences: West, Guest, Wyber and Digby Graham for the Tigers and Ferguson, Crough, Jones and Sullivan for the Bulldogs. Hughes after coming on late in the first term started to get into the game going into half time. Gibson 4.4 ESperance 4.4.
The third term began in similar fashion to the first term with Graham, McLean and Walker being very good out of the middle for the Tigers. At this point, with Tate continuing to hurt the Bulldogs, it seemed the Tigers were going to put a large gap into the game come three-quarter time. But the Esperance ruckman Mitch Kaye and in particular Ben Sanford started to jump over Bridges and Hunt and with the A team of Parsons, Wood and Kirkup in the middle, Esperance finished the term full of running. Ferguson was still doing a job on Sampi and Neill was going deeper into attack as the game progressed, causing the Tigers some real headaches. The Tigers out scored the Bulldogs 4 goals to 3 but with the breeze freshening all the momentum and confidence seemed to be in the Bulldogs’ camp at the final break. Gibson 8.9 v Esperance 7.4.
Tigers coach Glen Quinlivan knew he needed to score some goals in the final term and try to get the spark back into his team if Gibson were going to take home the chocolates. He sent Leigh West to centre half forward and Tate back and Sampi in the middle. It seemed only a matter of time before Esperance bridged the gap but all the Tiger moves worked with Sampi, West and Tate creating some much needed run for their tired looking team. For Esperance this is when the selection of young legs paid dividends with Ferguson (left the ground mid term), Campbell, Hughes, Wood and Land all starting to work around their more seasoned team mates Damian Wood, Neill, Parsons and Kirkup. Eventually the Bulldogs got in front late in the term but the Tigers kept coming and the lead changed several times before the Bulldogs players and supporters heard the siren which sparked wild celebrations - which I’d imagine are still going. Final score: Esperance 12.8 to Gibson 10.10.
Esperance: Tom Ferguson, Ben Sanford, Ryan Neill (3 goals), Declan Hughes, Jamie Jones, Damian Wood and Brian Clinch (3 goals).
Gibson: Tyson Tate, Leigh West, Kingsley Walker, Tye Tyrrell, Branden Clarke, Jake Graham, Jonathon Wyber and Brett Whiting (3 goals).