GISBORNE will again unleash its relentless brand of pressure football on Eaglehawk on Saturday night as the two sides fight to stay alive in the race for the Bendigo Football League premiership.
The Bulldogs and Hawks meet in the BFL’s first semi-final at the Queen Elizabeth Oval from 6pm.
The Hawks are coming off a four-point qualifying final loss to Golden Square last week, while Gisborne belied its underdog status to comfortably account for Sandhurst by 41 points in the elimination final.
All of a sudden, having been considered by many as the ugly ducking of the finals going into last week, the Bulldogs have served notice that they’re not just making up the numbers in September.
“We think if we play our best footy, we’re capable of beating any team in the competition,” Gisborne coach Kevin Fitzgerald said on Friday.
“But we know there’s a big difference between wanting to play that style of footy and being able to produce it every week.
“Our style of footy is very taxing... we understand that, but on the flipside, going into a final having played a hard final the week before is a very good way to go about it.
“I’ll back our blokes to be able to again produce that same brand of footy as last week.”
The Bulldogs and Hawks split their home and away meetings 1-1.
Fitzgerald is full of respect for the Hawks and rates five of their stars in Kain Robins, Matt Gretgrix, Brodie Filo, Lucas Matthews and Darcy Richards as good a quintet as there is in the BFL.
“The big five there are probably as good as any going around in the BFL,” Fitzgerald said.
“I don’t think there’s a group of players in the league who can influence games more than those five.”
Excitement machine Filo has been the Hawks’ best in both games against Gisborne, and played one of the quarters of the season in the last term in round 17 at Gardiner Reserve when Eaglehawk cut a 47-point three-quarter time deficit to a final margin of eight points.
“Filo is the sort of player who is so good that even if you tag him, he’s going to play well... that’s how good he is,” Fitzgerald said.
“He’s got all the tools, kicks long distances with both feet, so he’s very dangerous, but we’ll back our onballers to be as good going the other way.”
The Bulldogs welcome back full-forward Matthew Knox from what had one stage loomed as a season-ending hip injury.
“He trained on Tuesday and Thursday and got through, so we’re very pleased he’s back,” Fitzgerald said.
“He’s a big presence for us. He takes a good mark and he kicks straight, and also probably keeps Eaglehawk’s Tim Hill deep in defence.”
Fitzgerald had been preparing to go into the game without captain Casey Summerfield.
However in a massive bonus for the Bulldogs, Summerfield had a two-match suspension overturned on appeal on Friday night.
This year’s meetings: Rd 8 at Eaglehawk – Eaglehawk 10.11 (71) d Gisborne 8.9 (57).
Rd 17 at Gisborne – Gisborne 14.15 (99) d Eaglehawk 13.13 (91).
Key match-ups: Kain Robins (Eh) v Ben Sonogan (Gis) – Sonogan was best on ground for the Bulldogs playing on Robins when these sides met three weeks ago in round 17. Robins poses a headache for any opposition, but Sonogan has the height, athleticism and ability to match the Eaglehawk superstar.
Brodie Filo (Eh) v Cameron Medica (Gis) – When X-factor Filo rests forward for the Hawks, Medica is likely to get the job of keeping him in check inside 50. Medica is disciplined and will stick to his task, but that’s only part of the job for Gisborne. There’s also the very dangerous midfield threat Filo poses.
Tyler Miles (Eh) v Darren Farrugia (Gis) – The Hawks will have put plenty of work into Farrugia, who was one of Gisborne’s match-winners last week kicking five goals. Miles held Farrugia goalless in round eight and kept him to two in round 17.
Tips: Adam Bourke - Eaglehawk 3; Luke West - Eaglehawk 13; Nathan Dole - Eaglehawk 7; Travis King - Eaglehawk 9; Richard Jones - Eaglehawk 19.