Moe & Morwell off to a flyer in Gippsland footy

Burst through: Moe’s Trent Baldi looks to fend off during the opening round of the Gippsland League against Warragul. The Lions began the season with a 35-point victory. photograph julie sim



NORMAL service resumed as the opening round of the Gippsland League season got underway last Saturday.
The new season presented a larger than usual degree of the unknown, as teams squared off to play for premiership points for only the 11th time since 2019.
It did not take long however for feelings of normality to return, as spectators took up postings either at the bar, in the canteen or in the clubrooms – as if they had never left.
Behind the scenes, administrators undertook their final preparations to make sure all was in readiness.
If there was any doubt Round 1 had arrived it was surely squashed by the traditional mad scramble of club volunteers running around trying to arrange last minute clearances and registrations, made all the more difficult by the new PlayHQ system, sure to become the bane of every administrators existence.
With the set constructed it was left to the players to take the stage.
The air of anticipation during the warm-up returned, as did the distinct sound of multiple football boots running over concrete, leaving the rooms and out onto the ground, ready for the umpire to throw the ball up and announce ‘action’.
MOE broke away from Warragul to win by 35 points.
The Lions kicked seven goals to two after the main break to give new playing-coach Declan Keilty a 13.15 (93) to 8.10 (58) win on debut.
A greasy Ted Summerton Reserve made for a tough contest before the match opened up in the last quarter.
Much interest surrounded Warragul’s two AFL recruits Jed Lamb and Nick Graham in the lead-up to the game.
Unfortunately spectators did not get the chance to see much of Graham as he left the ground before half-time, while Lamb’s presence was not overly telling, although there was a noticeable change structurally as Gulls key forward Brayden Fowler played a lot further up the ground than he has in previous years, and looked dangerous at times hitting up around centre-wing.
Moe midfielder Riley Baldi provided the highlight of the day in the first half, after receiving a handball from Harry Pepper deep in the forward pocket at the Can Bar end of the ground and slotting an outrageous checkside goal.
The Lions took some ascendancy in the third term, but lost Keilty on the eve of the break due to concussion.
Keilty was unable to address the team at three quarter time, so the task was left to assistant coach Shane Paynter.
Kicking to the famous Can Bar end in the final quarter, Moe came home full of running, and put the game out of reach for Warragul with four goals to one.
Pepper kicked three goals in the last quarter, the first courtesy of an unselfish Harri Sim who handed one over the top, which was duly launched by the former Hawthorn-listed player onto South Street.
A pinpoint set shot from 40 metres followed, which had the Can Bar natives going wild, before a clinical snap around the body came later in the piece.
The knowledge garnered from spending time in the AFL system was evident in the way Pepper kicked his last goal, as he read the trajectory of the ball coming inside 50 so well he was able to intentionally avoid body contact and see the ball bounce at a perfect height for him to snap it through off one step.
As well as flashes of brilliance, Moe’s desperation to see the game through right to the end would have also pleased onlookers.
Lions’ midfielder Trent Baldi typified this at the 28-minute mark with a gut-running effort to deny Warragul a pass back into the corridor.
The act generated no individual stat for Baldi, but his work rate gave Moe a chance to win the ball back.
Pepper ended with five goals to be among the Lions best, along with James Blaser, Brock Smith, Jacob Balfour, Riley Baldi and Sim.
Best players for Warragul were Cooper Alger, Jake Hughes, Mitch Nobelius, Sean Masterson, Ryan Coulthard and Fowler.
With 16 players under the age of 23, the young Moe team acquitted themselves admirably.
As he was feeling the effects of concussion during the last quarter and unable to coach, Keilty said it was pleasing to know the group had enough autonomy to make decisions for themselves.
“That is the culture we have tried to create – it doesn’t matter if I am there or not, things can still get done the way they need to get done, people can still operate the way they need to,” he said.
“The guys are quite mature for their age. You get the effort and commitment from young players, they’re the ones that come to training more often than anyone and it shows on game day.
“We just wanted to focus on the contest and to make sure we knew that Warragul was going to come out hard. They have rebuilt their team and they’re a completely different side to last year, so we just had to prepare for that and come out without the mindset that we were easily going to win, clearly in the first half they really took it to us and it is probably testament to what they have done over the preseason.
“In terms of the contest and us attacking the ball I thought the guys did a pretty good job. Overall I was pretty happy with our effort … always good to get the first win.”
The first impacts of COVID affecting a side was seen in the days prior, as Lions ruckman Ben Morrow had to withdraw, forcing selectors to bring Clinton Taylor up for his first senior game since 2015 – 2409 days to be precise.
Strangely enough, Warragul had ex-AFL players in both grades, with former Collingwood rookie Leigh Sheehan playing for the Gulls reserves.
The Moe reserves had their own victory to saviour, holding on for a six-point win with quite possibly the biggest team of misfits ever assembled for a game of football.
MORWELL returned home victorious from the toughest road trip in the Gippsland League.
The Tigers made the long trek to Bairnsdale City Oval, and walked off 12-point winners 10.10 (70) to 8.10 (58).
Morwell trailed at every change, but was in front when it mattered most, kicking three goals to one in the final term to start its season on a positive note.
The contest was tight from the outset, with the biggest margin at any of the breaks just 11 points at quarter time.
The Tigers went into the last quarter only three points in arrears, and finished full of running to deny the Redlegs in a pulsating final term that saw the lead change several times.
Having joined Morwell in the offseason from Rosedale to add to their scoring power, Brandon McDonald did just that, slotting three majors.
He received good support from Brad Brereton who kicked two, and like McDonald, was named in Morwell’s best players.
Young Tiger Sam Walsh had an impressive debut and looks a player of the future after being voted best afield.
At the other end, enigmatic Bairnsdale forward Brayden McCarrey kicked four of the first five goals for the Redlegs to be judged best for his side.
TRARALGON went down in a low scoring grind against Leongatha.
The Maroons took it right up to a team expected to be in the premiership race this season, with the match decided by just seven points 8.11 (59) to 8.4 (52).
Playing at Leongatha, Traralgon led by 10 points at three quarter time, but a strong finish by the Parrots saw them kick three goals to one in the last term to snatch victory.
Traralgon officials got their first look at the Maroons new three-pronged forward line of Dylan Loprese, Jake Best and Brett Eddy, and the trio combined for six of the side’s eight goals.
Loprese kicked three, Eddy two and playing-coach Best managed one against his old team.
Traralgon’s new and returning brigade all had immediate impacts, with ace recruit Tom Schneider best on ground, followed by David Brinker-Ritchie and Haydn Hector.
Tye Hourigan was also prominent, as was Luke Johnson and Tate Marsh.
Best for Leongatha was Sam Forrester, Cameron Stone and Jacob Lamers.
Despite the result, Traralgon will surely take confidence from the performance, and look forward to the rematch later in the season when the team has had more of an opportunity to play together.
ELSEWHERE, Maffra did what most expected, defeating Drouin on their home deck.
The Eagles set the game up with a five goal opening quarter and were never threatened thereafter.
Daniel Bedggood and Mitch Bennett kicked four goals each, and had plenty of supply from midfielder Ed Carr.
Best for Drouin was Tom Johnstone and Tim Hancock.
WONHTAGGI almost paid the price for inaccuracy against Sale.
The Power had eight more scoring shots, but only won 7.17 (59) to 7.9 (51) at home.
Tim Knowles, Ryan Sparkes and Shannon Bray led the way for Wonthaggi.
Reigning league best-and-fairest Shannen Lange was best for Sale.