Cougars come back from the dead

Skip: Chris 'Squid' Williams was instrumental in Churchill's comeback win. Photograph Mick Tyas





WHAT a start to the 2023 North Gippsland Football-Netball League finals series.

The first qualifying final set the tone for a mammoth second qualifying final this weekend, while one of the best games of the year was witnessed in Yarram the following day.

Five has now turned to four, and as we enter the final three weeks of the season, this is the time were sides will want to be hitting their full stride.


WOODSIDE flexed their muscles.

The Wildcats seemingly eased their way into the second qualifying final, torching Heyfield in a dominant second half performance.

On a windy day at Gaskin Park, both sides appeared to be up to the task early in a back and forth encounter.

Woodside took an early advantage after the first quarter, going in with a three point lead, 4.0 (24) to 3.3 (21).

Heyfield were without young gun Asher Eastham, leaving more of the heavy lifting to others, and one option less down forward.

Despite having more chances on goal in the first quarter, Heyfield didn’t look as convincing around the ground, as Woodside capitalised on their entries.

From 11 second-quarter scoring shots, Woodside could only muster 3.8 (26) – still an improvement from their opening term, and they still managed to outdo the Kangaroos who kicked 2.2 (14) to end the half.

That 15-point half time lead would come in handy for the Wildcats, steering them in the right direction for the second half, where it was all theirs.

The game was blown out of proportion, considering what we had seen in the first half.

Woodside piled on another 5.3 (33) to Heyfield’s 1.1 (7), blowing the lead out to 41 points.

The repeated entries into Woodside’s half of the ground was too much for Heyfield to keep up with, while the Kangaroos appeared to be more hesitant with their use – their attacks were counterattacked.

The Wildcats capped off a four-quarter performance, adding another 4.3 (27) to 3.0 (18) in the final term, pushing the margin to a half ton to progress to the second qualifying final, 16.14 (110) to 9.6 (60).

When you give a team double the chances at goal, the likelihood of you coming out on top is slim to none, which was the case for the Kangaroos, as Woodside scored 30 times to their 15.

NGFNL senior leading goal kicker Daniel Farmer added another five goals to his 2023 tally, now up to 87 for the year, while Matt Dyke, captain Daniel Missen and Jai Williams were all multiple goal scorers.

Defender Ben Johnson was best on ground for Woodside in his 150th senior game – the third Wildcat to reach this milestone, while Josh Kennedy, Dyke, Alfred Jessup, Missen and Farmer were also highlighted in the monster win.

For Heyfield, their stand-outs were Alex Coleman, Thomas Marchesi, Liam Heasley, Kail Hole, Mitch Bennett and Max Van Der Zwart, while Leigh Brown led the way with three majors.

Heyfield’s Scott Anderson was unable to get the chocolates in his 200th senior game, but he and Roos will now have to put their second chance to use to keep his games tally rolling in 2023.

Woodside will now play the undefeated Traralgon Tyers United this Saturday (August 26) in the second qualifying final.

TTU have had the better of the Wildcats this season, but only just.

Back in Round 2, the Bombers only managed an 11-point win at home, before a 23-point away win in Round 13.

A win is not off the Wildcats’ radar, but of course they will need to put their best foot forward to cause a big upset.

Heyfield are down, but not done with yet, yet for their season to progress, they have to face the winner of one of the best games of football displayed this season.


CHURCHILL rose from the grave in an epic elimination final.

The Jets’ Darcy Shellcot was lining up for his 200th club game, undoubtedly hoping to make it one to remember – which I’m sure it will be – just shone in a different light.

The Jets took off with haste, as they usually do, putting Churchill to the sword in the first quarter to take a 21-point lead at quarter time.

The Cougars fought back in the second quarter though, dragging the margin back to nine points at the main break in a seesawing first half.

The wind blew across the ground so there was no real advantage for either team quarter-to-quarter, but there certainly seemed to be a scoring end – the opposite end to the scoring end in the reserves match prior to it.

YYN put themselves in the best position to progress in a scorching third quarter, kicking 6.2 (38) to 3.3 (21).

It looked all but over for the Cougars, proving in recent times that a comeback was off the cards.

But as it is always said, never write off the Cougars, especially in finals.

Coming out into the fourth quarter with a point to prove, Churchill rose to the occasion kicking eight goals in a row within the first 15 minutes of the final term.

Goals came from everywhere, whether they were set shots from 30 metres out, in the goal square, or even from the centre circle thanks to a thumping strike from Dillon Leys.

One of the biggest cheers came after Leys’ goal, which travelled around 70 metres as it bounced through.

The Cougars had gone from 26 points down to 24 points in front with half of a quarter to play.

Everyone was getting in on the act, from veteran Brendan Holt to Ben Kearns, and even Nick Celima, Chris Williams and utility Blake Slater.

The game was still very much wide open, and even though YYN had mayday signals going off left, right and centre, they made sure to make a comeback.

How often would you see a team leading by four goals at three quarter time make a comeback?

YYN put the pressure right back on Churchill booting three consecutive goals in 10 minutes to leave a kick in it for the final five minutes.

Everything was going right for the Jets, everything except the scoreboard.

The ball was locked inside their attacking half for the final five minutes, repeated entry after repeated entry.

But all they could register was minor scores.

One by one, they slowly chipped away at the six-point margin, which became five, then four.

Kurt Holt’s 60-metre kick-outs still weren’t enough to evade the Jets as they continued to drive inside 50.

YYN’s best chance at goal came from Dylan Bentley – who had kicked five goals at this stage – with a quick snap around the body was hit too thin and went across the face, only just, to bring the margin to three points.

By this time, there was about a minute remaining, and a Jets goals would see them win by the same margin they did just two weeks earlier, in a pretty similar fashion.

Churchill broke out on the outer wing, before YYN repelled and were moving swiftly on the top side.

Just as they entered the forward 50 the siren blew and the Cougars had confirmed their progression, 18.10 (118) to 17.13 (115).

The Jets had fallen from the skies as the Cougars prevailed in one of, if not the best game of North Gippsland football all season.

I don’t know if there has been an episode of Air Crash Investigations in Yarram before, but there might be one coming out soon, after the reigning premiers were shown the door on season 2023.

Churchill’s best rose to the occasion late, as Williams claimed best on ground honours (three goals), and was joined in the best by Leys, Joel Mason, Ryan Lowrie, Patrick Kearns and Slater.

Slater kicked another five goals, while Ben Kearns kicked four.

Bentley was the Jets’ best kicking five goals, also recognised was Mitch Luck, Jai Massese, Owen Budge, Campbell McInnes and Keenan Hughes.

Churchill keep their season alive in a remarkable effort which won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and will now be tasked with Heyfield in the semi final.

On a day where Churchill completed four wins from four finals (seniors, reserves, A and C Grade netball), YYN saw four teams knocked out on the Sunday, which included B, C and D Grade netball sides alongside their seniors.

They still have the reserves who finished on top of the ladder in the football finals.

Another mammoth effort will be needed from the boys in blue and gold, considering their last meeting with Heyfield resulted in a 40-point loss at home.

Nonetheless, I think were in to see some fireworks still in the final weeks of the season.