By Colin MacGillivray
KILMORE got its Northern Football Netball League division three season off to a dream start on Saturday with a hard-earned road win against a combative Old Eltham Collegians.
Played in steady drizzle at Eltham College, the match remained a low-scoring slog through three quarters before Kilmore booted five goals to two in the final term to seal a 9.7 (61) to 7.9 (51) victory.
The Blues were far from their best in the first half, notching only one goal in each of the first two quarters as the Turtles took a 13-point lead into half time.
Chris Jackson played a lone hand in Kilmore’s midfield with 16 first-half touches, but some adjustments from coach Nathan Phillips had the Blues playing with renewed vigour in the second half.
Luke Chapman created opportunities for team mates with his hard work across half forward, full forward Bailey Taylor-Egan rotated into the ruck and began to dominate marking contests across the ground, and Leigh Irons stepped up in the midfield.
Hayden Phillips, in his first game for Kilmore in five years, also began to shine, keeping his feet well amid the greasy conditions.
Defender Grant Paxton was recast as a forward, kicking two crucial goals, while Jaxson Kinnear was solid across half back.
Nathan Phillips said his side’s confidence never wavered despite trailing for much of the game.
“We were a little bit handball-happy [in the first half], trying to force it forward by hand, which played into their hands because they were able to sit back and attack the loose ball,” he said.
“We went back to a bit of old-school footy, just slamming it on the boot and putting on pressure, and we caught them out trying to play a bit too high.
“We were able to get out the back and score a few goals where we outnumbered them inside our forward 50.
“At no point throughout the game was I worried. The boys have played together for a long time and they’ve matured together.
“The players said nobody felt pressured or panicked at any stage. They all had that feeling that we were going to get it done.”
Phillips said his side’s late-game clock management as it protected a two-kick lead was a sign of growing maturity.
“The boys all sensed the occasion and were happy to have the footy in their hands in the last five minutes,” he said.
“We made the right decisions. We weren’t trying to bring the footy inside, we were waiting for numbers and going long down the line trying to create repeat stoppages to chew up as much time as we could.
“In the past we’ve tried to continue to play a fast brand of footy and bring it into dangerous positions through a bit of inexperience.”
Phillips said his side would face an even tougher challenge in Saturday’s round two match against Laurimar at JJ Clancy Reserve.
He said he expected the Power to be ‘cherry ripe’ after an easy 24.20 (164) to 1.1 (7) thrashing of Reservoir.
“We’ve got to make sure we match their physicality. They’ve got a few young kids, so I’d expect them to be a bit quicker and more youthful than they have been in the past,” he said.
“We were rapt to win on the weekend. The boys enjoyed the moment and enjoyed the night, but it’s back to work now and we’re looking to get another four points.”
Saturday’s home game is sponsors’ day for Kilmore, as well as its ‘20-plus-one’ year anniversary of its 2001 premiership, after last year’s celebrations were scrapped due to COVID-19.
Whittlesea lost its opening division one match against Greensborough, but there was plenty to suggest Eagles fans will be treated to an entertaining season.
Whittlesea kept pace with Greensborough – one of the best teams in the league last year – through the first quarter before conceding four goals to two in the second term.
The Eagles continued to apply themselves in the third quarter despite making no headway on the scoreboard, before finishing strongly with a five-goals-to-four last quarter in the 9.10 (64) to 12.17 (89) loss.
Former AFL player and assistant coach Jarrad Waite showed why the Eagles were excited to sign him, booting a game-high three goals, while Benalla recruit David Mennen was the team’s best.
Blake Watson, Xavier Dimasi and Clancy Bland were among the other strong performers for Whittlesea, which will turn its sights towards West Preston-Lakeside in an away game on Saturday.