If there was one lesson from Sunday's grand final win by Sandringham,
it was that we should never underestimate the role of history
and tradition in the life of a football club. When the AFL swamped
the old VFA in the late 90s many clubs simply surrendered. The
loss of our name and its replacement with the totally inappropriate
VFL was the first step.
Then came grand finals where there were
so many AFL players it made a joke of the day. In the blink of
an eye many clubs lost huge chunks of their identity. Preston
suddenly became the Northern Knights and assumed the colours of
their junior partner; Coburg was transformed into the Tigers and
after more than one hundred years as the Seagulls Williamstown
appeared in Collingwood jumpers.
Throughout the difficult times Sandringham never lost sight of
who it was. General manager John Mennie's understanding of the
club's history is so comprehensive he can tell you how many cans
of VB the club sold at a game in 1981. It's people such as Mennie
who've maintained the link between the past and the present at
Beach Road Oval. It's no accident that a Melbourne supporter would
be captured on ABC TV wearing a Sandringham jumper and a Mohawk
haircut in the colours of the Demons VFL partner.
no surprise that Melbourne coach Neale Daniher spent his day in
the crowd rather than in the coach's box. And how refreshing it
was to hear Daniher acknowledge the importance of Sandringham's
culture and integrity on ABC TV?
Sandringham's victory on Sunday was written in the stars. Coach
Mark Williams had played in Sandringham's 1992 premiership win
against Williamstown, the first of two flags the club would win
under Trevor Barker, who would subsequently die of cancer. As
a tribute the club named the Beach Road Oval after the former
St Kilda champion. These days Barker's mum and dad can be found
on the wing at the ground every week. Unlike some clubs, the Zebras
have never forgotten their own. That's probably why president
Garry Gilchrist sought out Williams at the end of 2003. With an
eight-year coaching stint at the Bullants behind him, Williams
was the right man for the Sandringham job.
Now he's the first coach to take the Sandringham to consecutive
premierships and the club can lay claim to seven premierships
in eight grand finals since 1985. It's truly remarkable and a
tribute to Mennie and Gilchrist. For Williams it is something
about which he should be proud and something he should cherish.
Although he'd have experienced a few shudders when Jade Rawlings
went within a fingertip of marking in the goal square with minutes
remaining and the Tigers needing two goals, his coaching was flawless.
The use of Ezra Poyas inside fifty in the second quarter was a
Sadly for Simon Atkins, he could never quite pluck a card from
his sleeve. He should have played Ed Darcy. Although he's still
learning the game Darcy could have done just what Poyas did inside
fifty. That aside, the Tigers simply turned the ball over too
much to win the match. Atkins use of ruckman Daniel Bandy would
have been a masterstroke if his players had not left the big bloke
stranded with terrible kicking on the rebound. Late in the game
it was Bandy who swung the match towards the Tigers. Along with
captain Travis Robertson, one of VFL's best players, Bandy was
inspirational. For courage and relentless running, Robertson is
in a special class. It's class of two. It's one he shares with
Sandringham captain Chad Liddell. Although an injury confined
Liddell to the interchange bench for a considerable part of the
game his spirit never left the field of play. As with his coach
he has made an indelible mark on Sandringham's history. When talk
turns to the club's best ever captains, Liddell's name will be
up there with 1946 premiership captain-coach and club best and
fairest Len Toyne. That's some achievement.