Not until late in the final quarter of its clash with Frankston on Sunday did Werribee finally open up a clear match-winning lead, but the decisive moment arguably came much earlier in the day.
Shortly after half time, charging into the roaring headwind and along the SkyBus Stadium wing, Tom Gribble ran onto a Josh Clayton handball and avoided the oncoming Frankston tackle with a quick handball of his own to Jake Riccardi. An instant later, with ball in hand again courtesy of a textbook “one-two”, he curled a perfectly weighted left-footer into the path of Matthew Munro, who ran onto the bouncing ball and into an open goal. Seven minutes into the third quarter, Werribee held a 13-point lead and – much more significantly – had the first goal of the day against the breeze.
The roar that went up from the small but loyal band of visiting supporters who had made the trip around Port Phillip and braved the elements was perhaps the loudest of the day and reflected the significance of the moment. Against the freezing gale ripping into the ground across the water, the visitors had managed just two behinds to that point, while the Dolphins had been unable to score at all. In finally breaking the drought, the “big W” seemed to have struck a huge psychological blow. Even as the hosts proceeded to kick the next two goals to reclaim the lead and take a three-point lead into the final change, it seemed it was now only a matter of time until Werribee used its final turn with the wind to take back control and put the game away.
Gribble’s key hand in that crucial passage of play reflected his influence throughout the afternoon. Ever the prolific ball winner, his end haul of 32 disposals (18 of which were contested), seven clearances, and seven inside-50s stands alongside his most productive outputs. Just for good measure, with his side on the verge of running away with the game in the final term, he sent through two final-quarter goals on the run to help put things beyond doubt.
Yet even those numbers was perhaps overshadowed by the enormity of Matt Hanson’s performance. Somewhat down on typical output in recent weeks, the star midfielder gave himself a 24th birthday to remember with a game for the ages and a big return to form. He too finished with 18 contested possessions from a total of 31, but it was his astonishing 14 clearances that best told the story of his afternoon and the role he played in keeping his side in the contest. Indeed, five of those clearances came in first quarter alone, when Frankston threatened to blow the game open with the wind at its back and its control over the contested ball.
Errant kicking meant the Dolphins could only turn an early inside-50 count of 16-4 into a 17-point quarter-time lead, and the visitors faced similar issues with their turn into the wind, the sharp left-to-right of the breeze wreaking havoc with both side’s forays forward. By game’s end, it seemed there was also cause to question if a layer of magnetic paint had been applied to the ball, which slammed into the uprights at the scoring end no less than seven times.
Ultimately, though, Werribee found enough avenues to goal to wrest back control of the game through the second term. Riccardi opened his side’s account shortly after quarter time with a gather and snap off hands and then made it two in a row with a mark on the lead and set shot. With half time approaching, Jack Henderson deftly roved off hands in the goalface and dribbled through a bouncing ball on his non-preferred left foot to give his side the scoreboard edge.
Not surprisingly, the momentum continued to ride on the breeze after the main break, but Munro’s early goal and some strong defensive work from the likes of Nick Coughlan and Max Spencer prevented the Dolphins from making full use of its advantage, setting the stage for Werribee’s four-goal final term and ultimate victory.
Joining Gribble in getting in on the scoring act in the final quarter was Tom Boyd, whose mark and set shot gave him his first goal in the “big W” and seemed symbolic of the Werribee cause in being a fitting end reward after battling hard on a tough day. In contrast, Riccardi’s third and final goal – a gather and left-foot snap at the three-minute mark to give his side back the lead – could prove to be his last in the black and gold if whispers surrounding the AFL mid-season draft are anything to go by. With the emerging key forward boasting 13 goals already in from seven VFL games this year, the one thing that does seem certain is that he has plenty more exciting football to offer in 2019, wherever that may be.