Mallee Grand Final

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Mallee Grand Final

Post by Lee on Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:29 am

It’s not a difficult or long drive to Murrayville. Once you hit the Mallee Highway, the towns roll past. Peake, Lameroo, Parilla, Pinnaroo, not forgetting a few other quiet places – Jabuk, Sherlock, Geranium and others. Once you cross the border, the sign says ‘ Ouyen – a long way’, or something like that.

You don’t go that far. The town of Murrayville appears among the grain fields and the silos and the ever-present mallee vegetation.
The car park of the Murrayville Recreation Grounds isn’t much different from the northern car park at the Adelaide Oval, surroundings excepted. It’s busy, though, because today is Grand Final day for not only the Mallee Football League, but also for Netball. I assure the security blokes that I don’t have any ‘grog on board’, they take one look at me and don’t bother to search the car. $7 to get in, gladly paid, along with one dollar for a ‘budget’.

The Junior Colts game is long over and I’m told BDT won that. For the uninitiated, BDT is Border Downs Tintinara, winners of the past 20 or 30 A Grade premierships. Well, 5 or 6, actually, but they’ve been perennial Grand Finalists and most of their players are locals, I think. West people will recall Patrick Barrett, who I saw kick 9 goals in one Mallee game and who's a talented player at BDT. It’s particularly notable now to us for being the home club of Dustin Head.

I look at the scoreboard as I arrive and I guess it’s the last quarter of the Senior Colts. As expected, Pinnaroo are 20 goals in front of a gallant Peake team. This is junior country footy right now, some very talented youngsters who will hopefully come to town and West Adelaide, some not quite so talented kids giving everything they’ve got, some big kids and some young, not very big kids. I look at the ‘Budget’ and it confirms there’s one girl playing for Peake who really can play. Go Abbie!

The medals to the winning team are handed out. It’s smiles all round, as each player accepts his medal from someone named Tom Keough, a Pinnaroo boy. Nothing unusual, I turned up a few years ago to see Tom running the boundary in the Under 14’s game.
Next up, it’s the Reserves Grand Final, but first, time for lunch. Plenty to choose from, so a couple of snags from the BBQ go down well. I then make the mistake of looking at the cakes to follow up. It’s a tough decision, but the orange cake looks promising. I’m assured it will be good, as it was home made by Lois or Jenny. Hats off to Lois or Jenny, it was more than good. I go back later for a top up on a long day (yes, I know) and I’m charged one dollar for another cake. It’s usually $2, I’m told, but it’s late in the day. I happily pay $2, not just for the cake, but for everything that goes into it being there.

The Reserves Grand Final. Now, in many leagues, Reserves Grand Finals can be ‘interesting’. With numerous small farms now being rolled into much larger farms, it gets harder to fill a team in a country league. What you get in a Reserves team is a huge mixture. There are big boys and men and often I’m not referring just to height. There are strong men and there are young boys and everything in between. There’s a fair bit of biffo, too, but it’s good, honest footy and it turns into a terrific game. Again, by chance, it’s Pinnaroo and Peake and it’s close all game, with Pinnaroo surviving a spirited fightback from Peake to just prevail.
It’s my turn to present the medals and as the names are read out, I recognise some of them as being lads I’ve noted previously as being likely to go on to higher honours. I also realise several of them have just played in the Senior Colts game. I tell those boys they must be tired and they agree, but they don’t care. Two premierships on the same day for Pinnaroo and the Roo Boys and Girls are pretty happy.

So time for the Senior Grand Final. Closely adjacent to the oval, the netball Grand Finals are being played and there’s whistles from the netball and whistles from the footy, all intermingled with cheering, farm talk, socialising, a small amount of drinking, a fair bit more drinking and the wafting temptation of the BBQ. I catch up for a chat with one of the anonymous boundary umpires, a lad who’s just won the SANFL Under 18 MVP and who will soon be at draft camp. Josh Smithson is from Karoonda, improvers this year, but one of many clubs surviving under difficulty, but surviving because of the passion and many hours worked by volunteers such as Mallee League stalwart Lou Boughen and others like him at Karoonda and every club. I wasn’t surprised about Josh, he’s a quality lad who I’d been aware of for some years of travelling to Mallee games.

Again, it’s Pinnaroo v Peake. The ‘Roos hadn’t won a flag for many, many years, while Peake, very dependent on players from Adelaide to supplement their own talent, hadn’t ever won a reformed MFL premiership and had just fallen short the previous year.
It was a tight, hard game of footy. There was never much in it, although Peake seemed just a little quicker and more dangerous. Pinnaroo’s defence stood up though and repelled most attacks, while the same happened at the other end. At the last break, Peake were a couple of valuable goals up, but that lead was quickly extinguished, as the taller players came to the fore in the last quarter. First, Ryan Nickolls (I’d also caught up with Wade), dangerous all day, kicked two quick goals. Each contest became ultra-important, each shot for goal even more so. Peake led, scores were levelled, then Peake had several chances to put the game away, but kicked points, not goals, or kicked it out on the full under pressure. They led by 5 points with minutes to go, but those 5 points were from 5 more scoring shots, which probably fairly indicated the game.

Pinnaroo found plenty and attacked, but Peake’s defence stood up. One goal to Pinnaroo in that time would have won the game, but Peake’s defence was equal to the task. Peake kept running and switching, Pinnaroo kept finding something. The siren sounded. Peake by 5 points.

Just another country Grand Final? Yes, but it meant more than that to everyone there.

I helped present the medals and the Shield. I looked across at the shattered Pinnaroo boys, but their time will come. As the Peake boys came up, I thought of the Downs family, who I’d known for so many years. The MFL President, David Arbon, then called for Toby Downs to join the Peake boys on the back of the victor’s trailer on the ground for the photos.

Time to go. The Murrayville Football Club, home of the Sporns, the Wyatts, Rian Crane and now West junior Henry Gibson and others who had worn the Blood’s Guernsey, had put on a great day.

'Welcome to South Australia', the sign said. With most of the Mallee about to drive back from Murrayville, I thought there was an approximate 100% chance the local constabulary might set up a random breath test station and so it was. ‘Please blow slowly and stop when I tell you, sir”. I blew slowly. “Are you one of the umpires, mate?” Carry on.

I wasn’t going back to Adelaide in a hurry. A good meal at the Lameroo Hotel (and a couple of wines) and I holed up at the Motel to watch Port play West Coast. Another nail-biter, another skill level, same footy, same meaning. I felt for our Football Manager.

It so happened that when I drove through Peake on the way home, I knew where the Peake boys would be ‘recovering’. I drove off the highway and up to the shed, thinking Toby Downs might be there. He wasn’t, the players were. I didn’t get out of the car, congratulated them through the open window, decided there was still a lot of ‘recovering to be done’ and wisely drove off.

I made a few mental notes. One was to keep trying to do whatever a SANFL footy club could do to help our country clubs. It’s tough running a country footy club, it’s tough running a SANFL footy club too, but we’re all looking for the same things.

I’m looking forward to the 2018 Mallee Grand Final. One of the good days of the year.

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The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”– H.L. Mencken
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Re: Mallee Grand Final

Post by UncleHuey on Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:29 am

Great post Lee. Captured the atmosphere of a country final really well
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Re: Mallee Grand Final

Post by BD on Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:44 am

Good one, Lee. I had been following the Mallee finals so it was a bonus to read such an all-round summary. You'd get a fair amount of interest if you posted this on http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/write-for-us/
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Re: Mallee Grand Final

Post by Thiele on Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:49 am

Great read Lee
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Re: Mallee Grand Final

Post by saintal on Tue Sep 12, 2017 2:39 am

An enjoyable read.
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Re: Mallee Grand Final

Post by Lee on Wed Sep 13, 2017 2:07 pm

Very kind of the Footy Almanac people to publish it, as well as the good people of the Mallee League.

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The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”– H.L. Mencken
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