Werribee has been denied a fairytale return to Avalon Airport Oval, going down to a fast-finishing Casey Demons outfit by 16 points on Saturday night.
In front of a bumper crowd that braved the cold to witness Werribee’s first true home game since August 2016 and the historic occasion of the launch of the club’s $11.75 million dollar redevelopment, the home side started strongly and looked well placed to cap off a memorable homecoming when it led by 18 points late in the third quarter.
But a sudden change of pace and shift in momentum saw the Demons kick three quick goals approaching three-quarter time to snatch the lead before stretching clear in the final term.
Werribee coach John Lamont was full of praise for his young side, making particular mention of its ability to honour its commitment to starting games better after being caught on the back foot early a number of times of late.
“Over the last few weeks – in the practice matches and round one – we haven’t had great starts to the game; but today, we started well and were in front for the first half and much of the third quarter,” said Lamont.
“The Casey Demons, credit to them, were unfortunately a bit strong for us in the last quarter and ran out deserving winners, but there were some real positives from our guys.
“After eight debutantes in round one, Jack Brauman made his debut tonight and acquitted himself really well, so we’re getting games into players and the group is still coming together.
“We had a really good debrief after the game with some good input from the players. They’re disappointed but at the same time feel they’re on the right track, so there’s still a really good feeling among the playing group.”
Setting the improved early tone from Werribee was skipper Michael Sodomaco, who seemed to be settling well into his more permanent move into the midfield as he racked up seven disposals and three clearances across the first quarter.
With the ever-reliable Matt Hanson and Ben Moloney in tow, Tom Gribble finding plenty of the footy, and the returning Josh Corbett marking strongly and kicking truly up forward, the home side took the early ascendancy and a one-goal quarter-time lead.
As the earlier rain and evening dew made things increasingly slippery and restricted scoring after quarter time, Werribee held firm, continuing to apply fierce tackling pressure and find plenty of open marking space as it pushed the margin out to 11 points at the main change.
With Casey having failed to kick consecutive goals throughout the first half, it seemed Matt Munro’s snap goal to extend the home side’s advantage to an even three goals for the second time at the 16-minute mark of the third quarter might have been enough.
But it was then that the Demons sprung to life, kicking six of the final seven goals of the match to come home with a wet sail as their class shone through.
With 30 disposals, one goal, five tackles, and six clearances – five coming when the game was on the line in the final quarter – Gribble finished as the pick of the Werribee midfielders, though Moloney (18 disposals and a team-high 10 tackles) and Hanson (24 disposals, six tackles, and a team-high nine clearances) were also among their side’s best.
In the absence of Josh Porter, Corbett shone up forward with three first-half goals and four out of his five marks contested, showing he is more than capable of serving as the focal point of a forward line that is looking increasingly exciting through the impressive ground-level work of Munro and Andrew Hooper.
Best on ground in Werribee’s round-one loss to Geelong, Sam Collins again provided a strong defensive marking presence and was well supported by the returning Ryley Barrack, but it was through the daring run and carry of Dane McFarlane that the home side looked at its most dangerous coming out of the backline.
Left to shoulder the majority of the ruck duties in the absence of Jack Berry, Nick Nott took another big step forward in his VFL development, turning out an impressive performance to rack up 29 hitouts against the AFL-listed Mitch King and Sam Weideman.
After battering winds and heavy downpours earlier in the day threatened to quite literally rain on Werribee’s homecoming parade, players and spectators alike were ultimately treated to cool, still conditions perfect for evening football.
In honour of the momentous occasion, local dignitaries and Werribee stalwarts joined the pre-game dinner at the club’s spectacular new function venue, Chirnsides by the River, before spectators in the 350-seat grandstand enjoyed an on-field performance from the Werribee Concert Band and a pre-game rendition of the national anthem from local artist Nicole Condos.
Lamont said he was proud of the way his playing group dealt with the enormity of the occasion.
“I thought they handled it really well,” he said.
“There was a good level of excitement about the whole thing, but then they were able to channel that into how we want to play our football, so it was really positive from that aspect.”
Werribee can now enjoy a seven-day break ahead of what shapes as another big occasion: a home clash with traditional rivals Williamstown on Sunday, April 22.
Werribee: 3.1 5.4 7.6 8.7 (55)
Casey Demons: 2.1 3.5 7.8 10.11 (71)
Werribee: Corbett 3, Barrack, Hooper, Gribble, Munro, Robinson
Casey Demons: Pedersen, Scott 2, Balic, Hunt, King, Maynard, T. Smith, Weideman
Werribee: Gribble, Moloney, Corbett, Nott, Hanson, McFarlane
Casey Demons: White, Hunt, T. Smith, King, Lockhart, J. Smith