I’m awakened by the alarm. I haven’t carked it overnight. Not a bad start. Open the curtains, no, the sky isn’t falling. So far, so good. I’ve been waiting for this day for quite some time. The lids off and victory is (almost) guaranteed.
Entering the third and final day of the 2013-14 Premier Cricket Final Footscray Edgewater are within hours of grabbing their second senior premiership, the clubs first in more than three decades. The one and only, lonely, pennant garnered at the completion of their 1979/80 commitments hangs proudly inside the Herb Pascarl pavilion at the Mervyn G Hughes Oval. Merv was a 19 year old tearaway who’d just completed a promising debut season in Melbourne club cricket the last time the Bullies saluted. If 1980 seems so long ago, it’s because it was – JM Fraser was in the Lodge, Livvie was in Xanadu and I was in the fourth form within months of turning sour sixteen. At the time of writing I’m within sixteen years of retirement.
That Footscray had qualified for, let alone dominated, the decider was astonishing. With one session of their sudden death playoff against Geelong remaining it appeared their pennant prospects were shot. The Cats, a comfortable 5-177 at tea on the second day of the semi-final, were within 42 runs of ending the Puppies premiership push. But when opportunity knocked the men in the crimson caps didn’t offer a “gave at the office” response. Upon resumption John Hastings produced a devastating four wicket-in-eight- delivery spell to blow the boys from the Bellarine away, the memorable 24 run victory ensured the Doggies would live to fight another day. Cinderella was going to the ball.
But there was a twist. If they expected to meet minor premier St Kilda in the showdown for supremacy a surprise was in store. Essendon, undefeated since early December, upstaged the heavily favored hosts in the other semi to end the smug Saints season. The Dogs and Dons would battle in an all (North) West Final.
The three day final commenced under overcast skies. Having called correctly at the toss of the coin Footscray skipper Dean Russ had no hesitation in choosing to bat first. Despite Clint McKay removing Anthony Barton with just the fourth ball of the game, and Russ (20) falling with the score at 2-42, the ‘Scray took control of the game in the second hour of the opening session of play and didn’t relinquish the ascendancy throughout the matches entirety. Travis Dean (138) survived a couple of early scares to notch his second ton of the summer. Dean, in conjunction with Dylan Kight (59), shared a 158 run partnership for the third wicket, the pair initially denied then dismantled the Dons.
Shanuka Dissanayaka (175no) saved his best for last, the Sri-Lankan import chaperoning young tyros Guy Walker (37) & Hamish Winter-Irving (43) through the later part of Day 1 and the early stages of the second. The Bulldogs tally flashed passed the four hundred mark as records tumbled and fieldsmen continued chasing the ball across the billiard table outfield. In an act of humanitarianism not seen on a regular basis in Melbourne club cricket Russ brought an end to the brutality, Footscray (8/525 declared) registering the largest total of their six decade VCA/Premier Cricket tenure in the process. Twenty overs remained before stumps were scheduled to be drawn on the second afternoon and Essendon desperately required a steely response from its top order.
It wasn’t to be as the beaten, bruised and battered Bombers collapsed to lose five wickets in rapid fashion. If not for a courageous cameo from Aaron Ayre (28) the Bullies might’ve wrapped up the title on Saturday night. McKay & McMinn denied the competitions most prolific wicket taker Jake Haberfield and hero of the previous weekend John Hastings. The absence of a mercy rule meant more pain was in store for the boys from Windy Hill when the players returned to Fitzroy Street the next morning for the last rites of season 13/14. A lead in excess of 430 runs meant the Red, White and Blue had one hand on the coveted prize.
With resistance futile the Essendon lower order tried to keep the total ticking over. Wickets continued to fall at a regular rate and the dismissal of top score McKay (35) meant the end was nigh. With the last pair at the wicket Russ brought Jake Haberfield on from the Morton pavilion end and it proved to be his briefest spell of the campaign. With the first ball of his 16thover Haberfield put an end to proceedings by re-arranging Matt Doric’s stumps, his sixth wicket for the match and 59th of a stellar summer. The dismissal of the Bomber Number 11 set off wild celebrations on the field including the obligatory mound of ecstatic players. Presentations including the awarding of the John Scholes Medal for man of the match to Shanuka Dissanayaka followed soon after.
The wait was over, and the Dogs had been put in their place – this time it was FIRST place. So how did Footscray progress from the outhouse to penthouse in the space of twelve months? For what it’s worth here’s my take on how it happened.
- Dean Russ (831 runs – 46.2 average) is now recognized as one of the elite batsmen of the competition. In February he became the first Footscray batsmen in almost 40 years to represent Victoria at Sheffield Shield level. http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/surviving-summer-slings/ .Russ came close to breaking Ken Eastwood’s season aggregate record (850 runs in 1966/67).
- Jake Haberfield (59 wickets at 14.8) Recruited from SACA club Tea Tree Gully over the winter, Haberfield proved to be the most inspiring figure to come out of the Festival State since Sister Janet Mead. His home and away “campaign of carnage” was the entre to the main course, a fantastic fortnight of finals (17 wickets at 9.64)., becoming the seventh player to take 50 wickets in a season for the club since its entry into the VCA in 1948. Debuted for the Victorian Sheffield Shield side, won the club championship award and is a huge chance to complete the trifecta by becoming the first Scragger to win Ryder since Barry Watson in 1980.
- Travis Dean (732 runs – 43.1 average) Breakthrough season for the 22 year old who registered a much anticipated maiden First XI century in February. Was under enormous pressure coming to the wicket at 1-1 in the first over of the Final. Despite a couple of shaky moments Dean’s response, a career high 138, was sensational.
- Dylan Knight (608 runs – 35.8 average) Glorious return to form following a disappointing 12/13 (294 @21). Passed 50 on six occasions including one century. The 158 run 3rd wicket partnership Kight shared with Travis Dean in the Final took the initiative away from the opposition.
- Young attack matures – Hamish Winter-Irving (30 wkts @ 21 runs), Lucas Dredge (21 wkts @ 22.8) and Michael Kelly (18 wkts @ 27.7) Winter-Irving performed the into the wind duties with aplomb. 30 wickets were just reward for his superb work supporting Haberfield with the new ball. Dredge cemented his place in the side, taking his first “five for” at Camberwell as well as notching a maiden half century at Uni. Kelly enjoyed his best (wicket taking) season, quite an achievement when you consider his limited opportunities with the aforementioned group of quality quicks ahead of him.
- Steve Chapman–Took the team from mid table mediocrity to premiers in his debut season at the Kennel winning 17 of 21, taking out the 20/20 title and securing a much sort after second senior XI pennant. Wasn’t smooth sailing early on when Wes Robinson returned home to WA and Brad Robertson, Ben Green and Tallan Wright succumbed to season ending injuries. The fighting qualities displayed by Chappy’s charges from the opening weekend of fixtures through to the finale were reminiscent of the great Footscray teams of the 70’s/80’s and an absolute privilege to be experience.
Following their back from the brink semi final victory Merv Hughes said he hoped that by the following Sunday afternoon he’d be “one of 22 Cricketing Bulldog Premiership players”. Fittingly 10 of the 11 players who helped capture the clubs inaugural title the 79/80 made their way down to the Junction Oval over the long weekend to offer their support to the class of 13/14. Barry Watson, one of the stars of the Dogs first flag victory, was ecstatic with the result “After the early losses (wickets) the game was in a precarious position, I was hoping we would get enough runs for our attack to bowl at. I can’t get over how excited the players from the previous premiership team were with the victory”.
The final word goes to club legend Tony Leigh. Leigh, who partnered Ron Gaunt to spearhead the Dogs to their first final in 1965, missed the match due to a previous commitment in rural Victoria. He thought he was part of an early April Fools Day prank when he was informed of the state of the game with one day remaining. “When my son rang me on Saturday evening with the score I thought he was having a lend of me. I don’t think anyone saw that (margin) coming, a win maybe, but not of that magnitude”
To the players, coaches, and committee of the FECC, congratulations on a superb job, the years of hard work were worth the 12,412 day wait between titles. What chance back-to-back?
See you in October.