FANS can anticipate an exciting finish to the 2019 Western Border football season after West Gambier returned to its best and knocked-out Casterton Sandford under lights in the preliminary final at Vansittart Park on Saturday.
The Roos ensured the Cats’ fairy-tale came to an end with a 25-point victory in windy and slippery conditions.
The crucial win saw West earn its first grand final berth in five years and will resume its rivalry with North Gambier in this weekend’s decider.
But it was heartbreak for Casterton Sandford, after the Victorians fell short in the preliminary final for the third season in succession.
It ensured a maiden 21st century grand final appearance still remained out of reach for the Cats.
Heading into the high-stakes clash, the Victorians felt confident with the stronger form of the two sides after a late charge into the finals.
Casterton Sandford won five of its last six games, while the Roos arrived on slightly shaky ground with defeats in three of their past four.
When Roos’ captain Lawry Bradley-Brown won the toss and did not hesitate to kick down-breeze, he would have hoped his side could dictate the early running.
However, the exciting hype around the Cats reached a new fever pitch when star-forward Dylan Ayton kicked the opening goal of the game against the wind to spark wild celebrations among the Casterton faithful.
He ensured West would pay the price for a turnover and booted the ball out of the ground to open the scoring emphatically.
But despite the slow start, the Roos began to control possession and regularly penetrated inside 50.
Castertons Sandford’s backline offered significant resistance with Trent Nesbitt leading the way.
However, the Roos ran riot after Garrett Ha kicked truly and dominated the remainder of the opening term.
West playing-coach Brad Wilson led from the front with two majors as his side kicked four straight goals to take control.
Forward Ben Papps appeared in ominous form with an impressive straight kick from outside 50.
On return from Glenelg commitments, young-gun Reid Kuller proved his importance to the Roos’ midfield with his pinpoint passing, while Bradley-Brown and Michael Minuzzo also made a heavy impact with their run and carry.
The commanding passage of play saw West build a solid 21-point lead by quarter time, while the taller Cats struggled to move the ball as freely with the wind.
The Roos’ pace saw them get to the ball first on a number of occasions and forced the Victorians to fight hard.
Big-man Will Macdonald showed his versatile skills with his relentless pressure on the ball, while Daniel Richardson offered much-needed speed for the Cats to keep the ball moving forward.
It started to pay off with increased opportunities in front of goal, but the Victorians did not convert regularly.
It took Macdonald to step up and a kick vital goal.
But Casterton Sandford failed to make full use of its chances and remained 11 points down at the main break with the advantage well in West’s favour.
The drizzle settled in during second term and the conditions became increasingly slippery.
The weather favoured the Cats’ pressure-centred style and brought the Victorians back into the game.
Tom Sullivan found his feet in the middle and provided stern resistance against Bradley-Brown.
The strong wind was less of a factor in the second half and allowed Casterton Sandford to remain in touch at the final break.
A thrilling finish to a hard-fought encounter was in store, but the Roos found their best at the crucial moment.
Bradley-Brown continued to be a cut above with his impressive clean skills.
His highlight came when he set up Ha’s second goal from a strong mark and pin-point kick off half-back.
Ha suddenly found his third major moments later and the Cats were left startled.
Papps’ strong marking ability allowed him to join Ha and Wilson in the three-goal club.
Tom Zeitz led a strong defensive display to limit the determined Victorians to a single major in the final term.
West’s ability to move the ball more freely through the middle proved to be the difference.
Jordan Zeitz also provided solid link up across the centre to be named in the best alongside Bradley-Brown, Tom Zeitz, Kuller and Ha.
Casterton Sandford’s campaign was led by the impressive backline efforts of Nesbitt and Cowland, while Macdonald, Richardson, Luke Kelson and Daniel Wombwell performed up the ground.
After the wild celebrations, West playing-coach Wilson said it was a relief to reward a season of hard work with a grand final berth.
He pointed out the younger members of the side in particular, who have fought through a tough period and now have the chance at a premiership.
“It has been a long journey for us,” he said.
“We have seen the other side of it and are pretty happy with the effort.
“They (the younger players) have done their apprenticeship the hard way and are the ones who are driving it.”
Wilson said he was proud of his team’s four-quarter effort despite the challenging conditions, which played into the Cats’ hands.
“They (Casterton Sandford) are a lot bigger side than us and it is not our strength playing that style of game,” he said.
“We tried to stick to our own guns, play a full four quarters and not to lapse at any stage.
“I was pleased with how some guys stepped up and how the backline responded as a unit in particular.”
With the biggest game of their careers on the horizon, Wilson said his improving team will give the flag its best shot.
“We are going to have a crack,” he said.
“They (North) certainly showed us a few areas we had to work on, which we are now better at.
“But they are flying and had the week off, so it is all to play for.”