We did it. We brought home the First Grade Premiership and the R.B Clark Trophy to Lane Cove for the first time since 1945/46.
It certainly was a monumental season for the club and one that the history books will say was one of our best ever in our proud 119 year history.
This report won’t delve too much into individual statistics from the season but instead focus on what we achieved as a team, what winning meant to the team and to everyone who played in the team individually and what it meant to the entire Club.
When I took over the captaincy from Damian Naughton in 2007, First Grade went through a huge period of change. The team itself was basically unrecognisable from the previous season with a mix of new players to the Club and former 2nd and 3rd graders making up the majority of the team. During those first couple of seasons, whilst we certainly enjoyed some great moments and good wins we generally were out-classed by the better teams and our final position on the ladder reflected that.
However, throughout this difficult period we were creating an environment and team culture that people wanted to be a part of and people wanted to play for ... so even though we weren’t winning as many games as we would have liked we were recruiting players here and there, players from lower grades were stepping up and developing and we were starting to build a team that had the potential for a top 6 finish. The challenge was to keep the players engaged and enthused about the team while we were going through this re-building phase. I’m confident in saying the environment we did create helped us achieve that pretty well.
In the 2008/09 season we finished in 7th place on 30 points, in 2009/10 we finished in 9th place on 26 points and only a couple of wins out of finals contention. We weren’t that far away from cracking it. We had the core of a first grade team in place that had grown as a team over 3 or 4 years and that had all become really good mates. To go to the next level we just needed to fill a couple of gaps.
In 2010/11 we welcomed back Tom Holt and Damian Naughton after 4 year absences from first grade and we also recruited the services of the Gallichan brothers (Richie and Pete) from the Central Coast.
They were the gaps we needed filling, we now had the bunch of blokes we wanted, we now had all the gaps filled, we now had the team that could take us to Premiership glory.
That season we had instant success, finishing 3rd on the ladder in the regular season on 70 points, which is the most successful season for first grade in my time at the Club since 1999/2000.
We progressed through to the Semi-Finals after the qualifying final was washed out however Burwood outplayed us in that match and we were knocked out one game short of the big one. Whilst it was devastating at the time to have come so close there was a feeling amongst the team that we belonged in the finals and a commitment was made to each other over numerous end of season drinks that we would all be back to put things right the following season.
Our team in season 2011/12 was basically the same from the previous year. We had unfortunately lost the services of Peter Gallichan to a nasty season-ending injury, but we welcomed new recruit Michael Forster to the top of the order and the permanent inclusion of John Harpham behind the stumps to give the team the perfect balance that we felt we needed to win the competition.
And we were right!
In the season proper we took out the Minor Premiership with 14 wins (2 outrights) and 2 first innings losses and finished the season on 69 competition points.
Apart from two forgettable batting performances against Burwood and Auburn we were dominant throughout the season. We were ruthless against the weaker teams and beat the good teams. For me the 2 standout wins from the season proper were our wins against Strathfield by 11 runs and against Lindfield outright after we had lost in the first innings. That win against Lindfield really told me a lot about the team.
Onwards to the finals and we came up against Epping in the Qualifying Finals and gave them a hiding, winning by 7 wickets with Holty doing all the damage with the ball as we rolled them for 67 and then Smith and Forster knocked off the runs without losing a wicket.
So we had reached the semi-finals, again. This time we were ready, however our opponents were the defending Premiers and until this season most certainly had the wood over us in head to head battles.
We batted first at Tantallon Oval in beautiful conditions and we were in trouble early at 2 for 36. We rallied thanks to a nice partnership between Smith and Gayleard who took the score to 100 until we had a dramatic collapse, losing 3 quick wickets leaving us nervously placed at 5 for 121. We got to 8 for 190 with Strathfield on top in perfect conditions for batting. A 9th wicket partnership between the skipper and John Harpham that lasted 132 minutes and produced 63 runs was match-turning and potentially season-saving. Another 28 un-pricable runs was added by John and Peter Mallyon that took us into the second day and more importantly into a winning position.
We finished on 281, we had done our job with the bat and now we needed to do it with the ball and in the field. Wickets fell consistently and apart from a couple of nervous partnerships from the Gorillas it always felt like the game was ours to lose. The bowlers did the job, knocking over the Gorillas for 200 even and in the process propelling us into the Club’s first ever 1st Grade Grand Final.
Arch-rivals Burwood qualified through in the other semi-final defeating the Auburn Eagles.
Beautiful Airey Park will play host to the biggest match for the Club in 66 years.
We won the toss and batted first in excellent conditions for cricket. Burwood’s strike bowler Seymour was on song early and had both our openers Smith and Forster back in the sheds with the score at 2 for 31. Jack Gayleard then joined Damian Naughton at the crease and both guys played little blinders. They put on a season record 3rd wicket partnership of 117 and both posted their highest scores of the season.
Damian holed out to mid-off for 66 with the score on 148 and Gayleard for 71 with the score at 4 for 204. We had laid the perfect foundation for a huge score and we needed to capitalise. Enter Richie Gallichan. Richie scored one of the finest centuries for the Club in arguably the Club’s biggest ever match. He batted across 2 days and finished with a score of 119 including 18 boundaries. He was well supported by Gerald Cornelius who also produced his best for the GF posting 46, Holty chipped in with 18 and then a second day 10th wicket partnership between Richie and Mallyon of 44 runs capped off our best batting performance in over a decade.
We batted for 117.5 overs scoring (appropriately) 369 runs. Ironically for so many years batting has been our Achilles heel and yet we produced the most marvellous team and individual batting performance I have ever been associated with.
We had all but batted Burwood out of the game, but we wanted to finish the job off, we wanted to take 10 wickets and experience that Premiership winning feeling that had eluded us up until now. We were on top straight away with a sharp run-out by Mick Forster. Pete Mallyon then knocked over the other opening batsman and we were on top at 2 for 19. The next 3 wickets were the big ones. Burwoods’s 3 best bats, Squire, Seymour and Holley. If we could get through them, then we knew we were all but home. Squire tickled one behind off the skipper and was well caught by keeper Harpham, Holley skied one to the on-side where Glen Smith moved quicker than he ever has before and took a fantastic catch on the run and Richie Gallichan picked up Seymour with a stunning caught and bowled.
We were now into the tail and victory was in sight.
The score was 9 for 180, Peter Mallyon was bowling to Jalalaty, Jalalaty mistimed a lofted drive in the direction of Glen Smith in the covers. Glen wrapped his huge fingers around the Kookaburra and we had done it, we had won the First Grade Sydney Shires Premiership, Lane Cove were the champions.
The on-field embrace and recognition of all your teammates and closest supporters was something we’ll never forget. Walking off the field as Premiers for the first time, we just couldn’t wait to get into the dressing room and soak it all up.
We sang the Club song like we were singing it for the last time. We had the official on-field presentation to get through but then it was straight back to the dressing room where we would spend the next 3 hours, singing, drinking, hugging (the trophy and each other) and pouring beer on each other ... the 3 hours went by so quickly. It was the most enjoyable experience I have ever been associated with in sport.
We would then go onto celebrate that night with the rest of the Club at the Diddy, the following day at our un-official local, the Oaks and the following weekend in Melbourne.
The win was special to so many people, as a team we had created a memory and something we will talk about together forever! For others associated with the Club for longer than us, it was just as important. It wasn’t until the following week when I returned to work to find a host of emails from past players with a note of congratulations that I really understood that.
On a personal note I did want to thank Brendan Hood, Geof Sundstrom and the committee for their support this year. Ditto Bryan Dempsey – mate, congratulations, the Club’s first ever 4th Grade Premiership, you did a great job, well done. Thanks again to Trent for all his efforts in preparing the home of cricket this year. Thanks to John Lloyd – Porky, we did it mate!
And lastly thanks to all my teammates and mates. I’m extremely proud of what we did this year and I was so proud to be the leader of this team – thanks for the memories and thanks for everything!
First Grade Captain