FOR the first three quarters everything Gisborne planned for Sunday’s qualifying clash with Sandhurst had worked.
The high possession game out of defence, run-with roles for Casey Summerfield, Shannon Greetham and Josh Govan, and Pat McKenna’s floating role from loose man in defence to roaming forward, had taken Sandhurst out of its comfort zone.
However, the first contest of the final quarter was the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs.
Summerfield copped a badly corked thigh and was sidelined for the rest of the game.
Impressive wingman Riley Paterson also had his day cut short by a corked thigh and the Bulldogs were down to two rotations.
The Dragons took control through the midfield and in the space of 15 minutes the game was over.
“Casey’s injury changed the game,’’ Sharp said.
“He’d done a great job on (Ryan) Maldenis, but once Casey went off Maldenis got off the chain and set them up.
“What we’d planned for all week went out the window.
“Not having our best personnel out there really hurt us.”
Sharp has openly talked up Gisborne’s prospects this season.
Two heavy losses in the home and away season to Sandhurst had few people believing the Bulldogs were a genuine threat to the Dragons.
“I’ve always had the confidence, but we just have to make sure we execute our skills and keep our concentration,’’ Sharp said.
“For three quarters we were really good today.”
Josh Govan was given arguably the toughest job of the day for Gisborne – stopping Sandhurst livewire forward Mitch Dole.
The 19-year-old didn’t let his coach or team-mates down, keeping Dole goalless.
It was only the third game this season that Dole hasn’t hit the scoreboard.
“Our young guys were up for the challenge today,’’ Sharp said.
“Josh Govan was outstanding on Dole. Shannon Greetham did a good job on Stagg. Patty McKenna was good all day and Trent Crosbie, who is a bottom age under-18, was sensational early on.”
In the absence of suspended ruckman Tom Waters, youngster Andre Headberry impressed on Sandhurst star Tim Martin in the first half.
However, Martin took over at centre bounces and around the ground in the second half.
“You have to try and exploit Martin because he doesn’t really man up,’’ Sharp said.
“I thought we worked it well in the first half.
“To his credit he pushed forward in the last quarter and he opened us up by feeding the ball out sideways to team-mates going past.”
Gisborne now faces arch-rival Golden Square in the first semi-final next Sunday.
Gisborne won the two home and away encounters this year against Golden Square by seven and eight points respectively.
“Not much has split us all year so no doubt there will be little between us again next week,’’ Sharp said.
Waters will return from suspension for the Golden Square game, while Scott Walsh and Anthony Belcher could also be available.
Sharp admitted Summerfield’s corked thigh was on the serious side of the scale when it comes to corked thigh injuries.
“We’ll manage him through the week and, hopefully, he gets up to play,’’ Sharp said.
“The extra day off will help.”