SYDNEY AFL GRAND FINAL - Pennant Hills Hoist Pennant.
Grand Final day 2006 is one that will long live in the memory of
everyone in Sydney football. It was cold, it was wet, it was
windy and Henson Park was an absolute quagmire. A week in
which the entire September average rainfall fell turned last
week's dustbowl into a mudheap, chopped up further by a
rugby league match played on the ground on the Friday night.
Into the appalling conditions ran on two teams who would put
on an amazing match. First on were the East Coast Eagles -
undefeated, strong, with a running midfield second to none.
They were followed by the Pennant Hills Demons, who had
been inconsistent during the home and away season but
switched on their best form during the finals to come from
third position to make the grand final.
East Coast won the toss and ran with the wind, kicking to the
scoreboard end in the first quarter. And it didn't take long for
the undefeated front-runners to get going, with Ben Physick
getting a goal on the board in the opening minute. The Eagles
midfielders struggled in the conditions and weren't able to
establish their usual dominance, although Trent Goodrem on
the wing was a noticeable exception, playing a great first
quarter. But with the wind, the Eagles were only able to add
one more goal, again coming from the boot of Physick to lead
by 13 points at quarter time.
It took just 3 minutes with the wind for Pennant Hills to get one goal back, when Shaun Jones
marked a botched kick-in and kicked truly. The rain got even heavier and the wind blew harder
- conditions so bad that a certain RWO reporter's Premiership Club umbrella snapped in two
and his mobile phone copped water damage. The ball was as slippery as a cake of soap as
the Demons surged forward again at the 12 minute mark. Justin Barratt juggled a low-down
mark in the goalsquare but just couldn't hold it, but it didn't matter as Nick Campbell was paid
a free behind play just 15 minutes out; which he duly converted to level the scores. A minute
later, Campbell was paid a free for deliberate on the pocket on an impossible angle. He hit
the post, but that behind gave the Demons the lead.
Against the wind and against the run of play, big Gus Seebeck marked and put the Eagles in
front. The Eagles continued to fight, but conditions weren't suiting them and Charlie
Richardson restored the lead for the Demons. At half-time the Demons led by 5 points and
this game was far from decided.
By the end of the long break the rain had stopped and for a few minutes the sun broke
through. This was the third quarter, the premiership quarter, and time for the minor premiers
kicking with the wind to stand and deliver. But the blows took a while in coming, and not until
Seb Parker took time out under the blood rule. A free to Ryan Smyth from 35 out levelled the
scores at 12 minutes, but this was short-lived as a centre break from the Demons was
marked by Barratt 40 metres out and a 50m penalty turned a tough shot into a certainty.
Ticking into time-on, time was running out; but an important long-range bomb by Craig
Robinson produced a mighty roar from a pro-Eagles crowd in the grandstand and reduced
the Eagles deficit to a point. Rohan Ritchie used the advantage rule to perfection to put the
Eagles in front, and an important 2 Eagle behinds made the margin more than a kick at the
7 points the margin at the last change, but Pennant Hills coming home with the breeze. Day
was turning into night, and although the rain had stopped for the moment the wind picked up
in the last term. The buffer at the break didn't look to be enough, but a critical goal to Smyth
into the wind gave the Eagles a 13-point lead. Would it be enough? Laine Spencer went long
to the square for Pennant Hills, but Richardson wasn't paid what looked to be a mark and the
ball spilled loose for a point. At the 12-minute mark, Charlie Richardson on the run drilled the
ball between the big sticks to reduce the margin to just 6 points. The ground announcer
called "Game on" and it certainly was.
The Eagles midfield had been dominant all season, running rings around their opponents.
But the quagmire conditions had taken their toll, and they had nothing more to give. The ball
was camped on Pennant Hills' forward line, but for all their efforts all they could manage were
points. 1,2,3 of them and they were still 3 points behind. Could they get the goal to put them in
front? John Moriatis thought he had scored it, but his kick was touched right on the line,
Eagles by 2. The kick-in went straight to Matthew Carey, who played on to fire it straight back
and missed, Eagles by 1 as the clock kicked into time-on. Charlie Richardson blazed away
but missed and scores were level. A reminder on the PA system that a draw would be
followed by extra time, but Richardson again on the run had a ping and missed; but that put
the Demons in front. Another point to Setford, and the Demons led by 2. The last 8 scoring
shots had been Penno points, all of them snapped on the run, and the Eagles had to quickly
race against the wind to get a goal. But the Demons manned up sensationally and there was
no way for the Eagles to get through. Bottled up for a ball-up, then a boundary throw-in. Then
another throw-in and then the siren sounded. Pennant Hills were premiers.
The Eagles slumped to the ground in disbelief. This premiership had looked theirs all
season, even early in the last quarter with a 13-point lead. They had been the benchmark for
the competition all season, setting a new standard for professionalism and standard of play.
In tough conditions they had given their all, especially full-back Kristian Pearson who was
awarded the Podbury Medal for best on ground in the grand final. The East Coast Eagles had
been the best side all season, but sadly for them history does not honour the side that wins
the most games but the side that wins the last game; and that side was Pennant Hills. For
the Demons, a mainly home-grown lineup, this result was a sweet success. As coach
Michael Cousens and captains Seb Parker and Michael Talbot held aloft the cup, it was the
start of celebrations that continued long into the night.
Pennant Hills 0.3 3.9 4.11 5.20 (50)
East Coast Eagles 2.4 3.4 6.6 7.6 (48)
Goals: Pennant Hills - C Richardson 2, S Jones, N Campbell, J Barratt. East Coast - R Smyth
2, B Physick 2, R Ritchie, C Robinson, G Seebeck.
Best Players: Pennant Hills - N Potter, M Talbot, C Richardson, A Fraunfelter, D Dell'Aquila, S
Jones. East Coast - K Pearson, B McNamara, T Goodrem, T Hubble, M Goodey, C Robinson.
Umpires - F Kalayzich, N Lessels, J Elliott.
East Coast were not to come away from the day empty-handed. The Eagles defeated
Pennant Hills in the reserves grand final. In a low-scoring grind through the mud, the Eagles
won the match in the second quarter when they managed 3 goals into the wind and held the
Demons to just 2. Adam Lovett was awarded the match ball as best on ground, but it was a
solid team effort by the Eagle reserves.
East Coast Eagles 1.2 4.4 5.6 6.7 (43)
Pennant Hills 0.1 2.5 2.6 2.7 (19)
Goals: East Coast - A Lovett 2, M Peterson, J Ford, J Duss, D Chapman. Pennant Hills - P
North Shore Bombers took out the under-18s Premier Cup premiership in style, with a
commanding 57-point win over minor premiers Pennant Hills. Several of the Bombers
players had a taste of senior football during the season, but with the Bombers under-18s
back at full strength for the finals the Demons had no answers and were able to manage just
2 scoring shots for the match. Jacob Lloyde was awarded the match ball as best on ground,
but it was hard to find a Bomber player who was beaten on the day.
North Shore Bombers 3.6 5.6 7.8 9.10 (64)
Pennant Hills 0.0 1.0 1.0 1.1 (7)
Goals: North Shore - P Bracken 2, A Marsh 2, M Carney, S Davies, D Fitzgerald, L Pryor, K
Tagney. Pennant Hills - D Kolarik.
The early arrivers to Henson for the under-18s Challenge Cup grand final were treated to a
match just as drama-packed as the seniors. Scores were level at the last change, and
Balmain were coming home with the wind. But Wests held them out magnificently and with
only a few minutes to go scored what looked to be the winning behind. But a Balmain thrust
forward saw Mick Parker snap the winning goal from the 50m line with only a couple of
seconds left on the clock. Boyd Arndell was awarded best on ground.
Balmain 2.0 5.2 5.3 6.4 (40)
Western Suburbs 1.6 2.6 4.9 4.11 (35)
Goals: Balmain - T Lindsay 2, B Arndell, J Curzon, C Pallister, M Smith. Wests - M Gould 2, T
O'Neill, M Williams.
And so another season comes to an end. Pennant Hills will be celebrating premiership glory
over the summer, East Coast will be contemplating what might have been and seven other
clubs will be planning how to get into next year's grand final having missed out in 2006. The
nine clubs will return in April next year keener and hungrier than ever to make the 2007
season theirs. And a new rival will be joining them, with Sydney University promoted to
Premier Division for next season to create a 10-team competition.
2006 will go down in history as Year of the Junior. An unprecedented number of under-18s
players made it into senior ranks in 2006. It was only a few years ago that a compulsory
quota of under-23s was enforced. Even with no such quota in existence now, more young
players than ever before are experiencing the top level of competition. For the first time in
many years, the number of under-18s clubs increased to the point where two competitions
were able to be played. Many young players performed with distinction in representative
ranks. And the AFL Scholarship program, with AFL clubs developing a young Sydney junior,
will create opportunities that players in the past could only have dreamed of.
But there's still very much a place for the older, experienced players. And it was one of these,
UNSW-ES's Troy Luff, that received the highest individual award when he won his second
Phelan Medal for best and fairest player in the Sydney AFL competition. In a disappointing
season for the Bulldogs, Luff's award and his form during the season were a shining light.