Bunyip rolls out the guns

Four-time AFL premiership winner Isaac Smith will pull on the colours of Bunyip on Saturday for the big clash against arch-rival Garfield. (Jason O’Brien – AAP)

By David Nagel

Bunyip and Garfield will wind back the clock to the glory days on Saturday when the long-time rivals of West Gippsland football attract a huge crowd to the Match of the Day at Bunyip.

The Bulldogs are winless since round 18, 2022, when a 26-point victory over Dalyston put the finishing touches on a competitive eight-win season.

They have since lost 30 on the trot, with the first of that losing streak – an 11-point loss to Kilcunda-Bass in round one last year – the closest they have come to victory.

But hopes are high that the drought could break for the Bulldogs this weekend, with the inclusion of former AFL talent Isaac Smith, Shane Mumford and Michael Ross set to bolster their talent pool significantly.

Mumford and Ross both played juniors at Bunyip, with ‘Mummy’ forging a splendid AFL career that consisted of 216 games and a 2012 premiership with Sydney.

The now 38-year-old played his last game in the 2021 semi-final, losing to a Geelong side that contained Smith on centre wing.

Smith, recruited to Bunyip via the 2024 Carlton Draft, is a four-time AFL premiership winner and Norm Smith Medallist in 2022.

Now 35, Smith played 280 games and played his last game of AFL footy in 2023.

Ross may not have the profile of his legendary teammates this weekend but, at 32, having finished a distinguished with Pascoe Vale in the powerful Essendon and District Football League just last year, could be the player to watch against the Stars.

He is the cousin of Sydney gun Tom Papley – a home-grown Bunyip product as well – and would love nothing better than to turn one on for his former club this weekend.

Bunyip coach Lachlan Petch is sick of counting the sleeps and can’t wait for the big day to arrive.

“It feels like we’ve been talking about this game for years to be honest, because the last couple of seasons have been tough, with our age demographic so young,” he said.

“It’s been a really big struggle, but the main thing I’ve tried to work on is keeping the off-field culture as best as it can be.

“The culture has been good, but when the opportunity came to pick up an ex AFL player, and a very good one like Isaac Smith, that lifted the whole place up really quickly.

“It just gave a lot of people something to look forward to, especially in those weeks when you come up against the better clubs in the competition.

“We seemed to play top-tier team after top-tier team, week after week, and it was tough, but this gave us all something to look forward to, especially the young blokes.

“Then with Shane Mumford and Michael Ross, my thinking was to make the day as big as possible and make it even more special.

“Bringing back some home-grown players has really added to the occasion.”

Petch has experienced the ups and downs of the club over the last decade and hopes his young brigade finally get their rewards in front of a big home crowd on Saturday.

“There’s a natural rivalry between Bunyip and Garfield, most games are really good and hard fought, but this one has the potential to be extra special for both clubs,” he said.

“We’re trying to get that win for the guys who truly deserve it after what they’ve been through over the last couple of years.

“The whole club needs a bit of a reset, and I’m hoping a win on the board will change a lot within the club itself.

“After you haven’t won for a long time; you do forget how to win sometimes.”

And Petch would also like a win to gain payback for his own personal sacrifice; that has so far gone unrewarded.

“It’s been a tricky couple of years, but I knew what I was getting myself into,” he said honestly.

“I’m standing down at the end of the year so it would be nice to get a win on the board and not be remembered as the coach who didn’t win one.

“But the main message to the players has been to not just expect it to happen; it’s important that everyone plays their role and we don’t rely on three or four blokes to get the job done.

“It comes down to our age and consistency, but keeping our game plan on track for four quarters is the key.

“We’ve shown we can do it for quarters, and even halves.

“We expect a hard, fair, good game of football with both teams having a crack.

“We were looking forward to playing Garfield again, even before this all eventuated, so it’s very exciting for the footy club.”

Garfield will be hoping for big games from Zac Soutar, who will likely combat Mumford in the ruck, while Will Cole, Callum Tyler, Angus Emery and Jack Tenace-Greenall are other Stars that look suited to the big stage.

Reigning best and fairest winner Alex Dijkstra will enjoy the extra support through the Bunyip midfield, while Curtis and Reid Jenkin, Jason Williams and Matt O’Halloran will give their all to make this a very special memory for their football club.

We’ll go for Bunyip to win by 11 points.

Four of the remaining five games look relatively one-sided.

Cora Lynn will pump Korumburra-Bena at the Cobradome; Phillip Island will have an easy time of things against Kooweerup at Cowes, while Nar Nar Goon should return from Dalyston with a comfortable four premiership points.

Reigning-premier Inverloch-Kongwak will be too good for Warragul Industrials at home, while Tooradin-Dalmore will have revenge on its mind when the Gulls hit the road to take on Kilcunda-Bass.

The Panthers shocked the Seagulls with a four-point win at Tooradin in round two; a loss that sparked the Gulls into action and onto a six-game winning streak.

Travis Tuck, Nathan Foote, Dale Gawley, Steve Scott and Anthony Daraio provide a great core for the Panthers, but we’ll go for the consistency and high-class of Matt Buntine, Brad Butler and Lewis Hill to get the Seagulls across the line.

It’s the Seagulls to win by 17 points.

FIXTURE: ROUND 13 (Tips in Capitals)

CORA LYNN (1) v Korumburra-Bena (11), Kilcunda-Bass (6) v TOORADIN-DALMORE (5), Dalyston (9) v NAR NAR GOON (3), INVERLOCH-KONGWAK (4) v Warragul Industrials (7), BUNYIP (12) v Garfield (10), PHILLIP ISLAND (2) v Kooweerup (8).