WITH its pride almost back to full strength, North Gambier outplayed West Gambier in Saturday’s second semi-final at Blue Lake Sports Park to book the first place in the Western Border Football League grand final.
It was always going to come down to the team which showed up on the day and the Tigers did so in a fine display, while the Roos were a far cry from their best.
Kicking with a strong breeze in the first term North failed to take full advantage of the conditions and West looked the goods.
Garret Ha opened the scoring with a behind – which set an unfortunate theme for the Roos – but the Tigers answered with an accurate boot to claim a lead they would not give up.
Another West behind added to frustrations, before a quick play from North was rewarded with a second goal to extend the margin.
The Roos scored five points before they finally found the big sticks, when Sam Zeitz snapped the ball through on the siren.
That kept the margin at a respectable four points heading into the second term.
However, North addressed some issues at the change and a reinvigorated effort against the wind allowed it to gain a hold on the match.
At that stage the Zeitz brothers were all impressive for West, while North’s Jake Schutz was already making his presence felt in the defensive arc in his first game back from injury.
The Tigers opened the second quarter with two quick goals, before another major each was scored on the 15-minute mark.
No further goals were added before half time and the Tigers looked relatively comfortable.
West opened the third term with a goal from Dwayne Phillips, but from there it was all North.
Sam Stafford was at his best and answered with two goals.
After a miss from coach Justin McConnell, another strong mark from Stafford saw him pass off to Mayson Ashby for a third unanswered goal.
Was it not for the efforts of Tom Zeitz in defence the Roos could have found themselves in even more trouble.
Despite its control, North would have been disappointed to not have put the game away there and then, with its three majors hindered by six behinds.
However, the Tigers were in the box seat and looked to push on for an unchallenged victory.
It was fair to say the Roos were unhappy with their performance at that point and coach Brad Wilson spurred his team on at the final change.
His words seemed to get through as West doubled its score in the final term and pushed North to the line.
The fourth quarter opened with high intensity and after putting in the hard yards, West was rewarded with a goal from Ben Papps.
Michael Minuzzo then backed up that with another quick major, before Jordan Zeitz found himself within range moments later.
His shot missed its mark, but all of a sudden it was a 20-point game.
The grind continued and at the midpoint of the term Wilson found the big sticks to chip away at the deficit.
However, it was then it all started to fall apart for the Roos.
A timely McConnell goal at the 17-minute mark dampened West spirits, before Tom McLennan booted his third for the day to ice the game.
Play was then held up while Nathan Taylor was assisted off the ground, after a head clash with teammate Jesse Pfitzner.
With time running low, Josh Schapel popped up with a goal for the Roos, while another opportunity from Jordan Zeitz resulted in a point.
But from there North milked the clock and the siren sounded, handing the Tigers the early ticket into the season decider in two weeks.
McConnell was pleased with the result, but said the job is only half done.
Attention will now turn to the grand final on September 14, which will see North face either West or Casterton Sandford, depending on their preliminary final result this week.
McConnell said Saturday’s the game was played in “ebbs and flows”, but his Tigers stepped up when it counted.
“It was a good hard-fought finals victory,” he said.
“We probably did not maximise our use of the wind early, but we tidied up a few areas of our game at quarter time and went on to fight it out stoically in the last quarter.”
It was a full-team effort from North and everyone had their moments on the day.
“At some point of the game we got a contribution from everybody and guys who did not have great first quarters were able to rectify it,” McConnell said.
Showing plenty of class around the ground, the Tigers were able to move the ball forward and utilise their switch tactic to open up the ground.
Those efforts were then finished off well by the forwards.
“Sam Stafford and Tom McLennan up forward were real beacons for us – they had a real presence,” McConnell said.
“I thought our big guys were really good.
“Brett Kennedy in the ruck was pretty good and I thought Jake Stafford across half forward and in our forward 50 was really lively and dangerous.
“Then you have guys like Fraser Marshall and Nick McInerney and Dylan Munn in our engine room.”
Marshall’s driving dashes through the centre saw him named as the Tigers’ best, while Munn and Kennedy also received the nod.
Both Sam Stafford and McLennan were also deserving of a mention among the best, while Jake Stafford rounded out the list.
Schutz could easily have been an inclusion and his defensive efforts made a world of difference to North’s ability to deny West a foothold.
For West it was Lawry Bradley-Brown who was named as best-on-ground, while Jordan Williams also played a solid game.
Tom Holmes and Tom Zeitz also played their part, while Kyle Giddings rounded out the list.
The Roos have plenty to improve on looking to this week’s preliminary final clash with the Cats and if they can not fight hard for the full four quarters, the Victorians will make them pay.