THE Gippsland Junior Interleague Carnival returned last week, featuring all the top under 18 talent from around the Gippsland region at Ted Summerton Reserve, Moe for a chock-a-block day of junior football.

Smack-bang in the middle of school holidays beginning on the early hours of Wednesday morning through to late afternoon, West Gippsland were crowned champions and took home the Gippsland U18 trophy.

They were followed by the winners of yesteryear, the Gippsland League, who finished comfortably in second-place, losing the top-seeded battle just after midday, going down by 16 points, 5.1 (31) to 2.3 (15) against West Gippsland.

All-in-all, five leagues competed across the long day of football, including and in order of finish, following the two previous mentioned – Ellinbank & District, Mid Gippsland and North Gippsland.

Games were played in two 18-minute halves to jam in as much football as possible, with a total of 24 players picked from across each of the leagues that have not played Coates Talent League U18s football in the season prior (2023).

West Gippsland’s Zac Walker (Phillip Island) was judged the player of the carnival, splitting time between ruck and key forward with two huge games to conclude the day’s proceedings against the Gippsland League and Mid Gippsland to take home the individual medal.

Each team also awarded a player of the carnival. They were: Gippsland League’s Jordan Shields (Moe), Mid Gippsland’s Luke Cheffers (Yinnar), North Gippsland’s Ned Heathcote (Rosedale) West Gippsland’s Regan Awty (Warragul Industrials), and Ellinbank & District’s Cooper Brown (Longwarry).

Ellinbank & District’s Kai Mounsey (Neerim Neerim South) kicked nine goals across the four matches, followed by West Gippsland’s Jarvis Harvey (Inverloch-Kongwak) with six goals, and Mid Gippsland’s Cheffers and West Gippsland’s Rem Dal Pozzo (Inverloch-Kongwak) with five goals each.

The carnival in recent times has seen a number of juniors jump to the highest of levels in terms of football, with Gippsland League players Tew Jiath (Morwell) and Will Dawson (Leongatha) drafted into the AFL to Collingwood and North Melbourne respectively. Pick 1 in the AFL Mid Season Draft last year, Ryan Maric (Drouin) to West Coast also played interleague football in his time before starting his professional career.

Later in the week, Latrobe Valley won the Dahlsens Gippsland All Stars Under 15s Grand Final against Eastern Gippsland, ending 29-point winners in an 8.10 (58) to 3.11 (29) finale.

The youthful Latrobe Valley representatives led at every turn to come out on top, with Ben Raymond (Newborough) acknowledged as best-on-ground, along with Ford Gore (Traralgon) booting five goals in the sealer. Gore kicked the most goals across All Stars action with 10 majors to his name in only three matches played.

Other stand-outs included Lachlan Pass (Traralgon), Elias Romano, Riley O’Brien, and Mason Malady (all Moe boys).

The junior spectacular spanned across four months beginning in April with Latrobe Valley’s 32-point win over Southern Gippsland and Eastern Gippsland defeating Western Gippsland by 36 points.

Despite only winning that single game in their three bouts against the rival Gippsland sides, Latrobe Valley had a much better percentage than Southern and Western Gippsland, only losing their next two games by under 14 points including a two-point loss to Western Gippsland at Western Park, Warragul.