BACK in the mid to late Noughties Gisborne’s Gardiner Reserve was known to all local footy followers as the Graveyard.
And the name had been rightly bestowed.
From 2002 to mid-July 2008 the Gisborne Bulldogs had won 52 of 55 home matches at the Graveyard and had outscored their opponents 146 points for, to 59 against.
And that was just an average.
Clearly on some weekends the Graveyard Dogs had absolutely demolished --- or buried --- visiting clubs. The colloquial name had been richly deserved.
On July 12th 2008 Eaglehawk put its unbeaten record of 10 straight wins on the line when its players headed down the Calder Freeway.
The Eaglehawk-Gisborne match-up had become the BFNL’s biggest footy rivalry.
It had supplanted the Square-Gisborne shootouts but strangely it wasn’t either BFNL city club who had enjoyed the greatest success at Gardiner Reserve.
That honour went to Sandhurst. True, Square had won once and that time by just one point: 18.7 (115) to Gissy’s 16.18 (114) in Round 11, 2005.
And that was the Graveyard Dogs only loss --- finals included --- for the entire 2005 season.
So when did the Dragons win? Well they triumphed in rd. 11 2003: 12.16 (88) to 11.13 (79). And then again in rd. 16 of 2004: 12.13 (85) to 11.8 (74).
In between those losses Gissy won 21 consecutive matches. A pretty handy record, made even more striking considering the Dogs’ comparative collapse over the 2016-2017 seasons.
Admittedly with a very young side but the comparison between the two Gisborne line-ups is startling.
A couple of times last year the Dogs scored just a handful of majors for an entire afternoon’s work. Against Sandhurst in mid-July they landed just a solitary goal.
Former stars in Marcus Barham, Luke Saunders, Matty Fitzgerald, Jordan Barham, Ollie Messaoudi, Matt McKenzie, Shane Davis, Jason Duff-Tyler, Eddie Barake and Anthony Belcher must be crying into their Saturday night beers --- even though a handful of the above-named had a gallop with Gisborne in 2016.
ENOUGH about the club’s present woes.
What about those star-studded Gissy sides of the Noughties.
After coach Mick McGuane departed playing coach Marcus Barham took the helm and he had a real depth of playing stock at the Graveyard.
The goal-to-goal line in mid-season 2008 was pretty handy: Matt McKenzie, Barham himself, Ollie Messaoudi, Anthony Belcher and Richard White.
Prolific goalsneak Darren Farrugia was in one forward pocket, Shane Davis was on the interchange bench because he was just back from a calf injury while the BFL’s leading goalkicker Jordan Barham (60 goals in 10 rounds) was selected in a forward pocket.
Later to take up the coaching duties Rodney Sharp was on one half-back flank, Shaun Comerford was named in a back pocket, Gareth Bowes was on one wing and another Michelsen Medallist in Simon Elsum was on a half-forward flank.
The first ruck combination was Jason Duff-Tyler, Casey Summerfield and dual Michelsen Medallist Matt Fitzgerald.
Not a bad outfit to be pulling on the Bulldog jumpers. Yet they were fourth on the July 2008 ladder with 7 wins-3 losses going into the game against the unbeaten Hawks.
The Two Blues hadn’t lost a game since Round 18 in 2007 when Gisborne belted them by 92 points at the Graveyard.
They’d been outscored 15.9 to 0.6 after the long break.
IN THE then Friday Addy Footy Focus liftout Gisborne’s outstanding Graveyard record was highlighted.
In 2002 the Bulldogs had an 8 win-0 loss record, and then from 2003 to 2005 inclusive it was 7-1. The Graveyard hoodoo was an unbeaten one in 2006-07 with 9 wins-0 losses unblemished streaks in both years.
With the Eaglehawk game coming up Barham’s 2008 side had won five home games at the Gardiner Reserve and dropped none. They had an average winning score of 160 points whilst conceding just 48, but there were still four home-and-away Graveyard rounds to be played.
And incredibly since losing to Golden Square by a point in Rd. 11 in 2005 the Bulldogs had played 28 matches at Gardiner Reserve and won all 28.
And they hadn’t just fallen over the line.
Gisborne had won those 28 home games by an average of 85 points.
Square coach Darren Walsh recalled that at three-quarter time in the game his club won by a single point, the Wade Street Dogs had been 33 points up at the last change.
The Graveyard Dogs charged home on the back of seven unanswered to hit the front.
Walsh remembered star midfielder Jason Griffin calmly slotting a 40-metre goal to hand Square back the lead and register just its fourth win of that 2005 season.
“MY MEMORIES of that particular game were that we’d already built up a substantial rivalry with Gisborne over the previous three seasons,” Walsh recalled.
“As a coach I thought in order to make a statement to Gisborne we needed to be very competitive against them down there at their own home ground.
“We didn’t fear the trip to the Gardiner Reserve. But you go there knowing you need to play at your very best for the full four quarters if you want to win.”
Walsh emphasised that ‘belief’ was a huge part of beating Gisborne.
“You don’t need to have the best players in the competition in your line-up to beat them ..... but you do need to have a very well-drilled, committed complement of 21 players on the day.”
Marcus Barham was quick to play down his side’s outstanding record at the Gardiner Reserve.
“You home ground is your home ground in whatever league you’re in,” he said.
“We’re more than happy to play other BFL sides at our home ground as we are anywhere else.”
Barham pointed out the only BFL ground which wasn’t all that similar to the Graveyard was the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
“Most other grounds are of a fairly similar size.
“But of course we train at our own ground and probably know how to play it better, just like South Bendigo and Sandhurst do with the QEO.
“That’s their home ground. It’s just one of those things.”
EAGLEHAWK coach Derrick Filo was well aware of Gisborne’s phenomenal record at home.
“But you have to remember they’re also very good away from home, too.
“I think all the BFL teams are fairly hard to beat at home, but because Gisborne has been such a really strong club over the past six years it’s made it almost impossible to beat them down there,” he told the Advertiser.
Filo said his players were “really champing at the bit” in preparation for the Gisborne game and had been all week.
“It presents a really strong challenge --- and it’s a challenge to beat Gisborne anywhere --- and we haven’t really spoken much about their ground.
“Actually their record on every ground is probably fairly similar,” Filo said.
The Two Blues mentor conceded Gisborne had been “a really strong side” for six years so he’d actually spoken to his players more about what a good outfit they were --- not so much about the ‘Graveyard’ aspect of the Bulldogs’ home ground.
Which was probably a wise more. Going into that July 2008 fixture Eaglehawk’s only ever Gardiner Reserve victory had been in Gisborne’s inaugural BFL season.
The Two Blues, coached by Barry Hayes, beat the Bulldogs 20.17 (137) to 16.8 (104). It was Rd. 18, in Sydney’s Olympic year: 2000.
They’d lost on each of the next seven trips to the Graveyard.
With thanks to the Advertiser’s Luke West for his extensive collection of BFNL stats, going right back in the day.
Westy thrives on collecting and publishing win-loss figures, club-by-club average scores for and against, quarter-by-quarter tallies, goal-kicking totals for every player in every club and a host of other statistics which fade into the distance for most of us a week or two after a match has been played -- and decided. Westy remembers everything.
Richard’s tips for Round 13: Strathfieldsaye, G. Square, South Bendigo, Kyneton and Kang. Flat.
By Richard Jones