Ladson full of praise for new-look Bendigo team
BENDIGO Football League coach Rick Ladson admitted to some pre-game nerves contemplating how his side with 15 first-time Blue and Gold inter-league representatives would perform against Gippsland.
But by the end of Saturday's match at the Queen Elizabeth Oval - a 19.14 (128) to 13.16 (94) victory for Bendigo - Ladson couldn't have been more prouder of the 23 players who represented the league.
"In my eyes and the rest of the coaching staff, I couldn't be happier with every one of those individuals in that squad of 23. They were all superb," said Ladson, who coached his first inter-league game.
"To get a win like we did today was a credit to all the boys. We might lose a few at the end of the year, but hopefully, they all stick together and that was the idea of picking a young squad.... to build for the future.
"In the past, the side has probably picked itself with all the guns in the league, but with so many leaving after last year, it opened the door to create opportunities.
"I'm confident the group will stick together because of their youth and they really enjoyed it today."
Bendigo led all game, including by 17 points in the second term and 22 points during the third quarter, but each time the Blue and Gold gained momentum, Gippsland rallied and kept itself in the contest.
From 17 points down at three quarter-time, Gippsland cut the deficit to eight points during the final term, before Bendigo finally killed the contest with the last four goals.
"There were a few times we'd get three goals up, and then let them kick a couple in a row, but that was credit to Gippsland because they played very well," Ladson said.
"It was a great game of footy in terms of the way both teams attacked and had a crack and it was good at the end to kick a few goals and put the icing on the cake."
Stephen Milne, who played out of the goalsquare, starred for Bendigo with a match-winning bag of nine goals to be the difference between the two teams.
"Milney's body positioning and strong marking changed the game a couple of times and it was a great reward for him to kick nine," Ladson said.
"The experience of Corey Jones (four goals) was also really valuable."
Midfielders Matt Smith and Nick Stagg - both among the 15 debutantes - were superb with their work in the contest, while half-back Jon Coe rebounded well and was part of a backline that drew high praise from Ladson.
"It was a very young and inexperienced defensive unit," Ladson said.
"Tyson MacIlwain normally plays in the ruck, but we put him down to full-back and he just competed like a beast.
"Matt Thornton at centre half-back was outstanding, Jon Coe was fantastic and then the smaller guys like Clayton Anderson and Tim Walsh did their job, but overall, I thought the defence really stood up when they needed to."
After winning last year's Derrick Filo Medal as Bendigo's best, Brodie Filo continued his impressive inter-league form to be among the best players.
First-time inter-league captain Jack Geary also again proved just how much he relishes the big stage with a typical hard-working midfield game that also included a goal after the half-time siren to give Bendigo a 17-point buffer at the main break.
"Other than Milney kicking nine, it was a really even spread from the boys today with a lot around that 20-disposal mark," Geary said.
"The game was very free-flowing and most of the day felt like it could have gone either way, but inter-league is about attacking footy and when you've got guys like Milney and Jonesy down in the forward line, it's all about getting it down to them quickly."