By Justin Flynn
Ocean Grove snapped an 11-game losing streak against Bellarine Football League cross-bridge foes Barwon Heads in front of a massive crowd at Howard Harmer Oval on Saturday.
Behind at every change, and faced with the demons of a last-quarter fade out against Modewarre in round 3, Ocean Grove piled on five goals in the final term to run out winners, 16.12(108) to 15.7(97), amid delirious scenes after the game.
It was a fitting tribute to much-loved games record holder Jim Saarinen, who died last week.
“We learnt a lot from the Modewarre game about belief and what happens when you get to a point where you don’t think you can win,” Ocean Grove coach Pete Davey said.
“We never stopped believing on Saturday and mentally, that contributed a long way to how we closed the game out.”
Davey has coached other sides to premierships, but said his first Battle of Bridge was something he would cherish.
“I’ve been involved in some big rivalry games before but this was probably the most enjoyable as I could see how much the result meant to our supporters,” he said.
“There was no malice on the day which is a credit to both clubs. Sometimes derby games can get ugly but it was played in great spirit and the quality of football was incredibly high.
“I’ve never been to the Barwon Heads ground before and that was an experience with so many people being so close to the interchange, it’s a uniquely intimidating venue but I think we all embraced that.”
The game was a battle of the full forwards.
The Seagulls started former Collingwood premiership player Nathan Brown in the goal square and he immediately gave the Grubbers headaches with some strong marking. He booted four first-term goals and added another two in the second quarter.
“I don’t think there’s a match up in the league for Brown,” Davey said.
“He’s 6’4” and 100kg with 15 years of AFL preseasons under his belt, he’ll stretch every defence. Glenn Campbell had him for most of the day but the delivery to him, especially early, was first rate.
“We were far more concerned about shutting down the entries into their forward 50 than the actual match up down there.”
At the other end, James Paterson was electric and was causing the Seagulls huge problems with his leap and long kicking.
“Our game style is about moving the ball quickly and we know if we do that, we have a number of forwards who can all beat their opponent one on one,” Davey said.
“James has been really consistent for us but to be honest, I didn’t realise until after the game had finished that he’d kicked eight goals.”
Both spearheads would finish the game with eight goals each.
Numerous times Barwon Heads got a run-on and looked to have a solid three- to four-goal break, but Ocean Grove would reel the lead back each time. It was something that pleased Davey.
“Our boys just don’t know how to give up, which is a character trait that will serve the club well in the coming years,” Davey said.
“We know that Barwon Heads can score quickly but we also know that they have conceded goals in bursts so even when they got four goals up, we felt that we could still work our way back into the game.”
The Heads led by eight points at the last change, but Ocean Grove finished strongly to run out winners in one of the classic Battle of the Bridge matches.
Barwon Heads co-coach Mitch Herbison, who hopes to be back playing this week, said Ocean Grove deserved to win.
“Ocean Grove were harder at the contest for longer and in the end it was the difference,” he said.
“Hopefully, it was a learning experience for us. It shows how valuable attitude is. They were probably just that little bit hungrier than us.
“We need to work on being a harder team to play against. I think we’re giving up too many easy goals as a team which has hurt us over the past two games.”
Connor Pickett, Sam Donegan, Paterson, Joe McDonald, ruckman Kobe Annand and Ollie Monteath worked tirelessly for the Grubbers.
Brown’s eight goals were massive for Barwon Heads while Cam O’Leary and ruckman Brock Close were shining lights for the reigning premiers.
Barwon Heads won the reserves clash 18.15(123) to 3.2(20) with Charlie Walter best afield and Max Gumley snaring four goals.
In round four, Ocean Grove outlasted Newcomb to win by 14 points in a terrific team performance.
Down by two points at the final break, the Grubbers booted four final term goals to grab their second win of the season.
Jack Rawlings, Jake Ward (four goals), Jake Wilkie, Glenn Campbell, Kobe Annand and debutante Fletcher Keck were among the best players.
Newcomb won the reserves clash by eight points with Grubber forward Cory Connor booting three goals to take his season’s tally to 22.