Reflections of the 1998 Premiership

With the Sunraysia Football and Netball League finals series having been cancelled, Sunraysia Daily has taken the opportunity to look back at some memorable grand finals in recent history. Today, we start with South Mildura’s 1998 flag, the most recent premiership won by the Bulldogs, breaking a 28-year drought, as PATHI RAJ reports.

FORMER South Mildura captain Denny Fox still remembers the joy and jubilation of South Mildura fans after the club’s grand final victory in 1998.

Fox, who was ruckman on that famous day 23 years ago, admitted the lure of trying to recapture that moment was what prolonged his footy career.

“The feeling of walking in – as you walk to the club room and walk inside, the feeling you got, I honestly would say that the reason that I played for so long … (was) to try and win a premiership and have that feeling again – of walking into the club rooms,” Fox reflected.

On the eve of the ’98 Sunraysia Football League grand final, South Mildura held the unenviable title of the longest premiership drought in the league’s history.

Having won three in a row from 1968 to 1970, the club endured 28 lean years before finally breaking the drought.

The tide began to turn for the Bulldogs in 1993 as they built a team that began regularly playing finals footy.

Alongside a couple of preliminary final losses, South Mildura also lost the 1994 and 1995 grand finals, both to Imperials, who they would again meet in the ’98 decider.

“The South Mildura people, because they had been so starved of success, were up and about. They were all there,” Fox reflected.

“But Imperials … had such a successful history. We didn’t know with them. So people were not sure.”

For Peter Hahn, just being on the ground that day was pure luck. He had been called into the side after Mathew Addinsall’s
suspension, something the club had fought to overturn before the grand final.

“Sometimes the opportunities arise at others’ misfortune – that (suspension) made my opening and I was lucky enough to play,” Hahn said.

Hahn, who ran on in the second quarter when Ross Pointon hurt his ankle, remembered the sight of South supporters around the ground.

“I just remember a lot of blue and white around the oval … we had plenty of support,” he said.

Hahn said South had a strong focus on starting well.

“(We thought) if we were close to them at quarter time, we had a pretty big chance,” he recalled.

But Imperials’ captain Tony Hickey won the toss. Quickly, the Bulldogs faced an

Imperials side with a three or four goal breeze behind them.

It should have made for a tough start.

“If they had kicked goals, (say) four goals, two points. It would have been game on. They would have had some momentum – would have had their tails up. And it would have been a different story,” Fox said.

But in a tense opening quarter, Imperials were inaccurate, kicking six behinds for the term.

“I remember going into the huddle and the conversation was, ‘We’ve got it’ … We took over from there,” Fox said.

South Mildura went on to kick six goals to one in the second quarter, going into half-time with a 35-point lead.

From that moment on, the result was never in doubt, as the Dogs ran away to a 15.12 (102) to 6.18 (54).

South Mildura forward Michael Bilucaglia was described as “near unstoppable” in a report in the Sunraysia Daily, booting seven goals.

He unofficially kicked 98 for the season (finals goals did not count in the season tally). Sunraysia Daily also described the performances by Scott Lawton and a 16-year-old Leigh Gathercole in the backline as “supreme”. Defender Luke Pumpa was voted as best on ground.

Looking back on the day, Fox said despite the 48-point margin, judging from the scoring shots – 27 for South opposed to 24 for Imperials – the result could have been
different.

Nevertheless, Fox said South Mildura came out confident after half-time because things would have to go “horribly wrong to lose it from there”.

“It’s that go harder mentality…(We thought) we’ve got it now. But we need to do everything right. Go harder … Things don’t just happen, you stand up and take it.”

Perhaps the foundation for South’s victory came in the hardship, and the growing sense that something good had to happen, and soon. For Peter Hahn that began at the start of the season when

South Mildura brought in Lawton, Addinsall and Rick Brennan.

“The club really only picked up a couple of players and they were fairly instrumental in bolstering us,” he said.

“I see some photos from time to time different people have and I remember running out on the ground at the start and seeing all the people who were there – all the older South Mildura people.

“I’d been there since 1982, and seeing all these people who’d been there all that time and finally found some success. That was quite exciting,” Hahn said.

Shane Loveridge, who was a runner for South Mildura on grand final day, echoed the sense of relief and happiness in seeing other people’s joy, especially the supporters who “never thought they’d see another premiership”.

Loveridge took special pride watching from the sidelines as a young man he had coached in ’93 and ’94, Darren O’Brien, played until a heavy clash took him off the ground.

“It was a great feeling to see him out there,” he said.

Loveridge, who had played in 400 games for the club, including a grand final loss in 1983, said the win had been “pretty pleasing” and admitted that he had cried on the day.

For him, the highlight was “to see the joy on the younger players’ and recruits’ faces” as well as the payoff for club members who had “put in work over the years to get to that (moment)”.

Next week, Wentworth’s 2012 triumph.

Story and photos courtesy of Sunraysia Daily
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