GISBORNE captain Casey Summerfield attributes simply good old-fashioned hard work for the Bulldogs’ surge back up the Bendigo Football League ladder over the past two seasons.
Two years ago in 2010 the Bulldogs looked headed down the rebuilding path when they won just four games and finished second-last on the ladder – the first time since 2001 the successful club had missed the senior finals.
But from the disappointment of the 2010 season has emerged a new breed of Bulldog that has led Gisborne back to its familiar standing as one of the elite teams of the competition.
Last year under new coach and favourite son Luke Saunders the Bulldogs improved from their four wins in 2010 to finishing just a kick away from playing in a grand final when beaten by Eaglehawk in the preliminary final.
This season the upward trajectory has continued, with the Bulldogs finishing on top of the ladder and now set to meet rivals Golden Square in this Saturday’s grand final at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
“Looking back on the 2010 season, Ty (Elliott, coach) did the right thing by the club in playing the young kids like Lachie Crosbie, Tim Walsh, Heath Simpson, Michael Thornton and Jarad Lynch and investing games in the young Gisborne guys, rather than going out and buying players,” Summerfield said yesterday.
“That’s what senior football is all about... getting games into the young guys and then they become senior footballers and it is starting to pay off for us now.
“As well as getting the games into the young blokes, it has all been about hard work and we keep it pretty simple down here.
“I don’t think Gisborne’s gamestyle has changed in my time at the club, and even going back to juniors, you grow up with that culture of playing pressure, hard-working football.
“Everyone understands it and you train for that specifically.”
While the likes of Golden Square, Sandhurst, South Bendigo and Strathfieldsaye attracted most of the attention pre-season when looking at the premiership contenders, Summerfield was always confident the Bulldogs could build on last year’s preliminary final and again be a contender.
And they’ve done exactly that, winning 15 matches to finish a game clear at the top of the ladder, before overcoming a second semi-final loss to Golden Square with a 19-point preliminary final victory over Strathfieldsaye last Saturday night to earn this weekend’s shot at the flag.
“I thought after losing Tom May and James Petran last year that we might drop off a little bit, but that we could still be a top-three side,” Summerfield said.
“But to the credit of all the blokes, they’ve worked extra hard and we were able to finish on top of the ladder.
“After last week’s win over Strathfieldsaye we’ll take confidence that we’ve got our gameplan back and we played how we wanted to play, but Golden Square is the best side in the competition and it’s going to take our best to beat them.”
Summerfield – who played in Gisborne’s last grand final team in 2007 when it lost to Eaglehawk by two points – in his first year as Bulldogs’ skipper, having taken over from Ollie Messaoudi.
“I’m loving the captaincy... and it obviously helps when you’re winning,” Summerfield said.
“It has opened my eyes as a footballer and I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching the younger players coming through, whereas maybe three or four years ago it might have been all about by myself.”