Brookers bounce back at Pakenham’s expense

Gembrook Cockatoo's Aaron Firrito escapes the clutches of Pakenham's Jake Thompson. 416183 Pictures: ROB CAREW

By Marcus Uhe

Two sides went into Saturday’s Outer East Football Netball’s Prmeier Division football contest between Gembrook Cockatoo and Pakenham with losing streaks, and one exited with the hoodoo washed away in the wintery sludge offered by Mother Nature in the first genuine wet day of the football calendar.

The environment called for a change of approach – double grabs, territory gains and simple, smart football.

One side adjusted better, and snapped the losing streak as a result.

The other, preoccupied with possession and overusing the football, walked away with their tail between their legs.

And for the home side up on the hill, it was a day to remember, prevailing for the first time over Pakenham 7.8 50 to 4.5 29.

Cooper Reilly kicked the first of the afternoon for Pakenham, but the Brookers responded with the next three.

Ben Schultze, in line for recruit of the year status across halfback for Gembrook Cockatoo, was a brick wall, and provided repeat entries leading to his side’s first of the afternoon.

Joel Sarlo failed to grasp the ball and effectively rush the behind, allowing for Josh Tilly to opportunistically sneak a foot in.

Caleb Crestani kicked the next, before Myles Wareham completed the hat-trick in concerning fashion for Pakenham, after the Brookers moved the ball the length of the field from a kick out.

Given the rain fall and poor condition of the ground, the effort to transition the ball so far in such a short period of time should have been a pipedream, but it wouldn’t be the only time the Brookers beat the Pakenham press.

Injured Pakenham captain Jake Barclay, on running duties before his impending knee surgery, gave his side a rev-up before Paul Carbis did at the quarter time break, imploring them to play to conditions.

The open space of the Gembrook Recreation Reserve provided some comfort for the Lions and a familiarity of their own vast home ground at Toomuc Reserve.

In an attempt to use the space, an intercept mark by Tom Gamble resulted in an attempted switch to the grandstand side in defensive 50, looking for Sam Cachia.

With Gamble having telegraphed the decision, Konner Allcott made a timely spoil to intercept the play, and force a boundary throw in deep in his side’s forward 50.

The resulting stoppage saw Wareham grab his second goal of the afternoon, and the Brookers jump to a 17-point lead.

When Caleb Marshall was awarded a free kick deep in attack a minute later and kicked truly, the lead grew to 23, thanks to the home side’s fifth in a row.

On a day where scoring opportunities were at a premium, a gift such as that was inexcusable from the Pakenham defenders.

The lead forced Jordan Stewart to play behind the ball, having started the game up forward, while Michael Firrito was playing a similar role at the other end, though as a luxury, rather than necessity.

He, Schultze, Ryan Hillard and Brayden Weller quickly formed the nucleus of a dominant rebounding medley, with answers for everything Pakenham tried.

David Sollberger pegged one back for Pakenham, but the half time score line showed they had work to do, trailing by 16 at the long break.

A positive contested possession count meant little for the Lions, having not capitalised with any scoreboard ascendency.

Half time set the scene for an intriguing hour of football to come; would the young Brookers learn from recent mistakes where they’ve let four points slip through their hands in close games, or would Pakenham finally make the necessary adjustment needed to save its season?

Rain eased off at the long break, perfectly encapsulated by the lighting of the coveted open fire at the foot of the grandstand behind the home team’s bench.

Sparks flew, and flames burned, much like the home side out in the middle.

Pakenham had no combatant for Tilly’s big body at stoppages, and his work in close was tonic for Matthew Templeton’s dribble goal out the back early in the half.

Ease of ball movement was rearing its ugly head again for the Lions, with Templeton’s goal coming after a stoppage in the Lions’ attacking half.

Gembrook Cockatoo’s midfielders and defenders played with a desperate edge, not allowing any easy ball or scoring threats to emerge.

Another goal winning the ball at a stoppage in the back half for the Brookers pushed the lead to a game-high 27 points, as Marshall grabbed his second of the afternoon.

Pakenham was now winning the territory battle but could not pick a way through the Brookers’ dogged and determined back six, with Hillard and Weller leading the way.

With Firrito in their ear, the Brookers played sensible football for the conditions, exiting wide and heading inboard in the front half.

Zac Stewart kicked an early goal for the Lions that set the quarter in motion, but the home side worked hard to kill the prospect of a boilover.

Last week they surrendered a second half lead in a disappointing loss to Monbulk, and at three-quarter-time Firrito reminded them of the need to learn from previous mistakes.

27 points proved insurmountable, despite the Brookers’ goalless final term.

The ability to shut the contest down reflected a young side taking a lesson on board, and delighted the coach post-game.

“We have been good in patches and there are times in games where we’ve lost control completely,” Firrito said.

“We’re trying to take learnings out of that and understand that, when we don’t have momentum or things are going against us, how we can wrestle that back.

“Often when you go through a stretch without success, sometimes the wheels can fall off but the boys have stayed really tight together.

“I always said it would take a little while for us to get going, but when you’re a competitor, you want to win and you’re in a win-loss competition, it’s good to get one on the board, and certainly a relief.

“We’re a young group and it gives a little bit of confidence too, we’ve been down for a little while and to be able to get that, gives us a little bit of reinforcement.

“Now we’ve got the wheels turning a little bit, hopefully we can get it spinning.”

The conditions played into the home side’s favour, having battled to put winning scores on the board throughout the season.

The back six was critical in rebounding and halting Pakenham scoring attempts, while the midfield breaking even in the second half was important in limiting the supply.

“I think the way we set up behind the footy and we trusted the blokes around the contest that, if you can’t win the clearance, and you can’t win them all, at least put on some pressure, so there was a lot of pressured ball,” Firrito said

“It was a tough day, so even if you do win the clearance, more often than not, sometimes it doesn’t go in your favour.

“Today, everything goes out the window, it’s just about how you can play for each other in wet weather footy and go back to basics.”

Louis Van Dam used his speed well on debut, holding his width well with Allcott on the opposite side of the ground, and Brad Frater has quickly made an impact since moving from Cranbourne earlier in the season.

In Marshall, however, the Brookers may have found a solution to their scoring woes, providing an option both aerially and at ground level with his two majors.

As the Brookers enjoyed rediscovering the winning feeling, the other side of the coin makes for grim reading.

Pakenham now only sits clear of the drop zone on percentage, and faces Narre Warren next week.

The challenge is at the feet of Carbis, desperate to turn the sinking ship before it’s too late.

Tahj De La Rue was a welcome inclusion back from Stingrays duties, and Zac Stewart played his best game since his return from injury.

Bailey Stiles made it through the Lions’ reserves contest in his first game back from a quad injury and will be in line to return next week, but a midfield missing Barclay, James Harrison and Lachlan Sauze is running out of options.