THE big dark cloud that came over Sarah Oval as the third quarter started was a good metaphor for the rest of Red Cliffs’ day.
The young Tigers has taken a one-point lead into the main break as they attacked the footy hard and showed good ball movement.
But they took their foot off the pedal in the second stanza in what is becoming a familiar story for Vas Tuifao’s side.
They allowed South Mildura to pile on seven goals to their solitary major in the third quarter before the hosts went on post a decisive 48-point victory.
“That’s the story of our year so far,” said playing coach Tuifao, who came off late in the game after copping a head knock.
“We play patches of really good footy, but we’re not keeping it up for four quarters.”
For the Bulldogs, it was a day of righting the ship after being hammered in their two previous clashes against the competition’s heavyweights, Irymple and Imperials.
Playing coach Ben Dalton, who was one of his side’s best, said his troops showed “a lot more intent and positivity in the way we attacked the footy”.
However, it didn’t start well as the Tigers led by eight points at quarter-time and by as much as three goals late in the second term.
The turning point came in the five minutes before half-time when the Bulldogs’ midfield and forward line, led by Matt Min and Kevin McDonald, took control.
“By that point, we’d settled into the game after making some mistakes early on,” Dalton said.
“We’re a confidence-based team and we started playing our style of football again.
“With Min, we haven’t helped him out the past few weeks – but today, we moved the football the way he wants it: coming in with a bit of pace so he’s able to have some space to do his thing.
“He and Kevie Mac worked really well together.”
Min took his season tally to 32 goals after booting seven, while McDonald chimed in with three majors.
Dalton also praised the performances of Jackson McEwen and Liam Wood.
“Liam was very good today on Vas,” Dalton said.
“He’s generally a defender and went to the half-forward flank and found plenty of the footy while doing a defensive job on Vas.”
The Bulldogs consolidated fourth spot and the next month will be critical to whether they play in the finals this year.
“We now have a good stretch of games where we play sides that we need to beat to play finals,” Dalton said.
“We’re really excited about this block of games and they will really determine how far we go this season.”
For Tuifao, whose bottom-placed side has won only one of eight games, it’s a case of trying to keep his young players motivated for the second half of the season.
“It’s hard to keep turning up when you’re losing – but I want the boys to be enjoying themselves,” he said.
“It’s not easy, but success doesn’t come easily.”
THREE THINGS WE LEARNT
TICKER: The young Bulldogs have plenty of it. After two maulings at the hands of Imperials and Irymple in their previous two matches, the clash against Red Cliffs was a test of their mettle, as much as their skills. Ben Dalton’s youngsters had a steely look in their eyes as they regained their confidence and put in a polished display.
DYNAMIC DUO: Matt Min (seven) and Kevin McDonald (three) kicked 10 goals between them in a dominant forward-line display for South Mildura at the weekend. The pair work well together and present a big danger to any defensive line-up.
MARVELLOUS MULLET: Young Tiger Ty Baudewyns is sporting one of the best mullets going around in the SFNL’s playing ranks. It seems to be an increasing trend among teenagers and 20-somethings, but there’s still work to do for Baudewyns to match the mullet of young Western Bulldogs AFL star Bailey Smith.
SOUTH MILDURA 18.9 (117) d RED CLIFFS 10.9 (69)
GOALS: South Mildura: M. Min 7, K. McDonald 3, T. Curtis, B. Dalton 2, A. Gauci, T. Giles, J. McEwen, N. Fitzgerald. Red Cliffs: L. Thornton, J. McManus 3, B. Kelly, J. Reed, L. Marciano, J. Parker.
BEST: South Mildura: J. McEwen, M. Min, L. Wood, T. Curtis, J. Cogan, B. Dalton. Red Cliffs: J. Turlan, L. McGlashan, L. Thornton, W. Hand, V. Tuifao, J. Parker.