COACH Sam Rudolph hopes Port Fairy’s first win against a premiership contender in five years is a turning point for the success-starved club.
The Seagulls survived a thrilling fightback from preliminary finalists North Warrnambool Eagles to claim a controversial five-point triumph in Saturday’s round seven clash at Gardens Oval.
The 11.10 (76) to 10.11 (71) result was Port Fairy’s first home victory against the Eagles since 2009 — the same year it last defeated a side entrenched in the five.
But the big talking point after the game among supporters from both clubs was a free kick awarded to Port Fairy’s Jack Hollmer about 30 metres out directly in front of goal with two minutes to play. Eagles captain and former Seagull Herb Barlow fired out a handball to a teammate on the run deep in defence, only for the umpire to rule it a throw.
Hollmer converted the set shot, putting Port Fairy in front by five points. It was the last scoring shot of the match.
Eagles fans took to social media venting their frustration about the umpires, with one saying the free-kick count was 33-15 in favour of Port Fairy.
Rudolph rated the win the club’s best since he took on the top job at the start of last season.
“To beat North is a really big boost for the boys,” he said.
“I’ve been saying to the boys we are good enough but we just don’t have that belief. To do this is a really big step in the right direction, especially against a top-four side in a tight game.”
The Seagulls, three wins and four losses after seven games, are seventh on the ladder, but they are among five teams just percentage out of fourth place.
Rudolph said the Seagulls had a tough run of matches to come, facing defending premier Warrnambool on Saturday, fourth-placed Cobden the following week and second-placed Koroit in round 10.
The Seagulls jumped the injury-depleted Eagles, leading by two goals at quarter-time and 21 points at half-time. But when Josh Gunning was sent off after being shown a yellow card for an off-the-ball incident in the third term, the Eagles hit back.
Former skipper Tom Batten was loose across half-back, allowing him to thwart the Seagulls and set up attacking moves for his side as the Eagles closed to within eight points at the last change.
Mark Murphy put the Eagles in front with about 2½ minutes left in the match. But 30 seconds later, Hollmer restored Port’s lead.
Rudolph said Hollmer, who suffered an ankle injury during the game, hadn’t been the difference, claiming centre half-forward Sam McCartney (four goals) and full-forward Gary Robinson (three goals), along with best-on-ground ruckman Robbie Hare, had been influential.
Eagles coach Bernard Moloney said it was one that got away from his side.
“The thing we’ve been priding ourselves on has been ball use and decision-making,” he said.
“Under pressure from Port Fairy, they were the things that suffered the most.
“I thought they structured up really well and they really shut down our midfield. We got outplayed, no doubt about it.”