A CLINICAL Imperials outfit had just put South Mildura to the sword by 98 points under lights at Gol Gol’s Alcheringa Oval.
There was plenty of glory to bask in for Imps’ playing coach, Brad Hards.
However, the moment of the community coming back together at the footy on Saturday night after the fourth Victorian lockdown in 15 months was not lost on the gun midfielder.
“We obviously love playing footy – but it’s about a lot more than that,” Hards said in the dressing room after what he regarded as his second-placed side’s best team performance of 2021.
“People say that footy players just wanted to play. Yes, that’s true – but we also love the community atmosphere and how clubs like ours help bring the community together.”
Host club Imps, in partnership with the SFNL and with the assistance of Gol Gol Hawks, had a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do in making the day happen as the league moved the round over the border to accommodate crowds.
“Our committee and the SFNL have great job in pulling this off,” Hards said.
“We had a lot of people turn up here today and seeing everyone enjoying themselves – that’s what country footy is all about.”
Indeed, there was barely a spare car space at the Carramar Drive oval by the first bounce in the seniors twilight fixture.
It was a spectacular sight under lights as Imps set about dismantling the Bulldogs, despite being without four key players due to travel restrictions.
Imps went into the main break with a 47-point lead, which increased 62 at three-quarter time.
With bigger bodies in the forward line, along with polished ball movement through the midfield and strong tackling pressure, Imps never gave the beleaguered Bulldogs a look-in.
David Hankin booted seven goals and Luke Hickey and Jayden Fox each put four through the big sticks as Imps kicked even further ahead in the final quarter.
Hards said he couldn’t single out any players for a special mention in the victory.
“It was a perfect team performance, from Matt Mazzini shutting down (South forward star Matt) Min, through to our midfield, which dominated, and the forwards who took plenty of marks and kicked us clear,” he said.
“We did all the little things right, and we limited our skills errors. We built up some early momentum and kept it going.
“We knew they’d play a kick-catch, press-up game – so we placed a lot of importance on our press and zoning off and making sure they couldn’t cut through the middle.”
For South Mildura, who remain in fourth spot after the heavy loss, it was a severe reality check of what’s needed to compete with the benchmarks of the competition.
The players and coaching staff remained on the centre-square for nearly 30 minutes after the final siren as they came to terms with the thumping.
“We addressed some things with the players and also asked the players for their feedback,” playing coach Ben Dalton said after finally walking off the ground.
“Everyone conceded that that performance was not good enough. It’s given us a kick in the backside of where we are at.
“These losses hurt, but we’re trying to stay positive and keep focused on what we need to do to be a top-four side.”
Score: Imperials 20.19 (139) d South Mildura 6.5 (41)Best: Imperials: Harrison Nolen, Jayden Fox, David Hankin, Alexander Douglas, Riley Burns
South Mildura: L. Wood, T. Curtis, M. Min, J. McEwen, David HurleyGoal kickers: Imperials: David Hankin 7, Luke Hickey 4, Jayden Fox 4, Jarrod McNally 2, Alexander Douglas, Harrison Nolen, Riley Burns
South Mildura: Matt Min 3, Nathan Nolan, Mason Fitzgerald, Kevin McDonald