2015 promised to be an exciting year for Canterbury Football Club. While 2014 had been a solid entry into the VAFA, we had been unsuccessful in making the grand final. Truth be told, we were not quite good enough to go further than we did, and 2015 gave us the chance to redress that deficiency.
After a promising pre-Christmas program where we saw mid-thirties on the track on a couple of occasions, the preseason program went well, with many new faces making their presence felt. They didn’t all stay, but 7 of the new faces at pre-season played in our premiership senior side, so we would consider that our efforts in recruiting were reasonably successful.
With the same coaching panel for the second year in succession, we were able to build on what had been accomplished, focussing heavily on managing stoppages and making sure that we had extra numbers at the stoppages. Two practice matches gave us a chance to see how we performed under heat, and we felt well placed going into round one. Round one gave us a rude awakening, when Parkside took all the initiative and controlled the stoppages all day to set up a match winning lead. 6 goals in the last 8 minutes gave us the victory by a solitary point, thanks largely to the final quarter contributions of veterans Walmsley and Baker, with new recruit Fitzgerald kicking 5 of them.
Some soft games followed before we met Westbourne, who we saw as potential rivals. A comfortable victory over them at home had us starting to believe that we could give the year a shake, and after thrashing North Brunswick at their ground in round 7 we had the first of 4 byes for the year. Having a chance to take stock and plan the next phase of the season, the coaching panel began to set our sights on a premiership. Nothing less would be acceptable.
As the season moved along, and we remained undefeated, we began to gather momentum, as well as good players. Lowden, the Szabos, Augustinus, and Hunter all joined in well into the season, and all added something to the mix. We maintained this momentum despite having to play against substandard sides where 30+ goals was the norm, and also having to deal with 4 byes during the season.
By and large, our players remained committed and were reasonably good with training attendance, although the coaching panel were often frustrated by some players’ absences and late starts to training. The riot act was metaphorically read and things improved a little.
After the first bye, good wins ensued against Manningham (when the Cobra Cup was retained) and a much improved Mt Lilydale, who were level with us at half time. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cope with our 19 goal second half, and skulked back up the mountain 105 point losers. Then came our next big test – Point Cook. We were undefeated on top and Point Cook were second. We travelled over the Westgate and hammered them to send a clear message to the competition. We were in it to win it.
But things were not all going our way. Lots of injuries, including to or skipper and one of our best players in Ben Peel, meant that we were making 6 changes every week. We played 41 different players in the seniors over the season, each of whom acquitted themselves well at senior level. A big difference from 2014 was our depth, which was a credit to the great job being done by the reserves coaching panel, who had to manage rotations of their huge squad while ensuring that players on the fringe were ready for senior selection when required. The season rolled on – another Saturday afternoon, another win. As we headed down the final straight towards the finals we remained undefeated, until round 18 when we met our nemesis, Westbourne, at that horrible home of theirs.
The loss of Walmsley for the season during round 17 was a huge blow, and combined with the continued absence of the skipper, meant we were a little down on class and leadership. The loss of Hanrahan, Lowden during the warmup and Winn and Chapman early on made it hard for us. Outstanding performances from Baker with 7 goals, Fitzgerald and Woods, got us close but we tasted our first loss for the season. Not a disaster, but not pleasant by any means.
We hoped this would give us a wakeup and going into the first final, we were very confident that we would have too much for North Brunswick, even without our captain, vice-captain and gun Centre half forward. How wrong we were. North Brunswick skipped away to a 9 goal lead and we couldn’t quite drag it back, going down by 11 points.
The preliminary final against Box Hill North had us in the same position as 2014, despite our outstanding season – a knockout match at Parade College with the victor into the Grand Final. It was a tough encounter but we were able to grind them down, and then open them up in the last quarter to record a 48 point win, and earn the right to play in the Grand Final.
An interesting week ensued. We were kicked off our ground by the council and found ourselves training in a strange locale. But we remained focussed and prepared well.
Back out to Parade to meet the much improved Parkside – who almost knocked us off in round one – in the big one. We receive a huge boost watching the seconds teach the undefeated Westbourne a football lesson to earn some silverware for the Cobras.
The game was a dour struggle, with Parkside dropping players back, and a strong cross breeze making it difficult to score. We led narrowly for the whole game, never quite getting away, and when Woods converted a difficult set shot late in the last quarter, we were home. A premiership. Two premierships, which made it all the sweeter. Appropriate celebrations ensued over the following weeks – the difference in club morale and player bonding between 2014 and 2015 was huge.
Premierships are wonderful things.
Some random observations on the season.
It was great to blood club mascot Ryan Pearce to senior football as a 15- year-old where he earned 3 umpires votes in his first game and always looked good at the level. He is probably destined for greater things but it was nice to have him.
The finals campaign of Lachie Chapman where he was clearly our best contributor after an indifferent season by his standards helped us cover the loss of Walmsley, Peel and Winn.
Mick Peel’s excellent season showed everyone what he knew and we knew – he can play.
James Wilson’s emergence as a dangerous forward pinch hitting in the midfield points to an exciting future for him, and hopefully us.
Scott Fitzgerald’s decision to play with the Cobras is a huge part of why we won the flag. He is almost as good as he tells everyone he is, and was a great leader in a side that calls out for leadership.
Andrew Baker’s final season was a testament to his ability to nurse his ageing body through one last year to get the flag he was after. 59 of the best goals you would ever have the privilege to see. Well done Champ!
Tom Lowden’s decision to come back to the Snakepit mid-season was a good one for us and him. A third placing in the best and fairest from 8 games shows his value. Let’s hope he can get that body right for what should be a big 2016.
Rohan Walmsley’s effort in winning his 5th best and fairest is almost taken for granted. Apparently when Phar Lap raced, they used to bet on who would come second. So it is when there’s a B & F at Canterbury. Wombat wins, so who will come second?
While we had plenty of old dogs in the side, the young guns such as Nick Szabo, David Gates, Cam Wynn, Ryan Pearce, James Wilson, Cam Woods and Tom Hunter bodes well for the future.
Congratulations to Sean Hanrahan, Fitzy, Wombat and Bakes for being selected in the VAFA team of the year. Mick Peel, Willo and Lowds were probably stiff.
Chris Adames fantastic performance as a (hard working) runner cannot be overstated. Trying to decipher the mixed messages coming from the coaches at times stretched him, and in reality he was more of a mobile assistant coach than a runner.
Farewell to Bakes, Winny, Doc, Strachanie and anyone else who decides not to go around again. We had fun.
Finally, thanks to all 41 of the players. Remember, good players make good coaches.
Damien Reeves – Assistant Coach