Melbourne Uni Blacks: Where country meets city

The Uni Blacks have been promoted to the premier division of the amateur football league for the first time in four years. Some of the success can be attributed to an unparalleled connection to the country, especially the Central Murray Football League (CMFL).

Caption: The Uni Blacks senior team after a victory against Brighton.

The ties spread far and wide, from big inland towns as well as tiny communities, including Maryborough, Murtoa, Rochester, Wagga Wagga, Hamilton, Swan Hill and Bears Lagoon among others.

It is no hidden secret that the Blacks have faced some turbulent times in recent years, admirably working their way back from division E in 1999.

Historically, the Blacks are one of oldest and one of the most successful clubs in AFL history. The latest promotion was received with excitement, rightfully so, it is the first time since 2008 that the Blacks will enjoy the premier division.

Before 2008, you have to count back 26 years for the last time the club was in the A-Grade.

The resurgence of one of the oldest standing football clubs on earth can not only be marked down to the commitment and dedication of their highly regarded administration, but can also be associated with the strategic connections they have made with country.

Just fewer than fifty per cent of the senior squad are either from country Victoria or country New South Wales. The combination of players from the country and from the city is a balance that is visibly important to the Blacks organisation.

A relationship stronger than any other may be with the Swan Hill region, a community comprising 10,000 people in Victoria’s North West that is famously known as “the heart of the Murray” and home to the Central Murray Football League.

The Blacks senior list has six quality senior players that have played football in the CMFL.

Scott Weekley, Bede Mahon, Jake Matthews, Josh Gaylor, Harry Lahy and Adam Cook have all played football in the Central Murray at different times. All of them have made a mark in the senior side this year, combining to assist in the resurgence of the Blacks.

Four are from the Tyntynder Bulldogs; Weekley, Mahon, Matthews and Cook. Gaylor is from the Swan Hill Swans and Lahy is from the Koondrook/ Barham Raiders.

Weekley is the most prominent of the foursome from the Dogs. He always showed genuine ability during his younger days as a Bulldog and has become a gutsy midfielder who has continually led the way in his third year at the Blacks.

On top of his time in the CMFL, he has also spent a significant amount of time dominating games in the Mallee with his two brothers at the Sea Lake Nandaly Culgoa Tigers. He led the Tigers to a premiership and a Russel Gravestocks medal (league best and fairest) before returning to the big smoke.

The on baller has poise like none other, he took out the Blacks best and fairest in 2011, and also secured the Brendan Keilar medal, voted by his team mates as the best player. Remarkably, at age 28, he is one of the oldest players in the senior side.

Mahon started his time at the Blacks in 2008 during his first crack at Uni, he then returned to the motherland to play at Ultima with his brothers and then his home club Tyntynder. In 2012, the hard working onballer is thriving off the success’ of the Blacks. His smooth return to the amateur competition has been highlighted by his vice-captaincy in the big V jumper, with the under 23 Victorian amateur side.

Mahon rates the Blacks club environment as good as any other.

“It is very welcoming club with such a good culture. There is a good combination of country people and city slickers. I didn’t think twice about returning to the Blacks when I was coming back to Melbourne,” Mahon said.

“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes in amateur football, where as at country footy everyone is involved at the coalface,” he said.

Jake Matthews grew up at the Dogs with Mahon, he always played at the highest levels of representative footy as a youngster, and was always held in high regard at his home club Tyntynder.

The towering forward continues to make his presence felt in his second year in the amateurs.

Cook played all his juniors and seniors at the Dogs and has been working tirelessly to crack back into the Blacks senior side after a dubious suspension earlier on in the year. He is likely to taste premiership success no matter where he gets named in a fortnight.

Gaylor moved to Swan Hill from Mildura and was a dominant force in his under seventeen days at the Swans, even though he spent the majority of his Saturday’s holding up the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC and featuring in Victorian representative teams.

The Swan has called the Blacks his home since arriving in Melbourne for University at the beginning of 2009, he has been frustrated by injury for a large portion of his time. And he will have the chance to put his name in Black’s folklore with a chance to win a premiership.

Harry Lahy made the move to Melbourne from boarding school but played most of his football with the Koondrook/ Barham Raiders despite boarding at Ballarat Grammar.

These six are the stories that are helping the Blacks gain prominence in football clubs throughout Victoria as the unsurpassed amateur football club committed to grooming players on the field and making good people of them off it.

One important benefit at the Blacks level is the unparalleled past player and supporter network that stands ready to assist the players via a “Player Welfare Group”. Another is the outstanding medical set up, and third the chance to play home games on the beautiful Melbourne University main oval. It all comes without the pressures of playing for any sort of money.

Country football clubs emphasise the importance of community and family involvement, but wherever you are, the support within football clubs are providing invaluable lessons, experiences, opportunities, memories and friendships that help boost community spirit and strength.

The University Blacks are unarguably one of the most successful amateur football clubs with a connection to the country that is surpassed by no other club.

However, the entire club have unfinished business, despite enjoying the promotion to the premier league, they will be focuing all their forces on finishing the season with a premiership for both the senior and reserve teams.

They are a football club synonymous with success, history and a healthy connection to the country. The Blacks have made no secret of their ambition to return to Premier A, and a healthy combination of players from the sticks and the city has gone a long way to provide the launching pad for this return in 2012.

They are back to the A-grade, where they will be able to lock horns with the University Blues in one of the biggest rivalries in football history.

About Thomas Dullard

I write, I read, I blog, I play, I study, I love. I am a 21 year old journalism student at RMIT University. I am from the small country town of Swan Hill and am proud of it. I love all things news, especial sport. I love Melbourne, I love sport and snow and I love my family. I have made a TV series, anchored the Olympic news and am writing a book - all via www.thomassherlock.com

Comments

  1. simon costello says:

    what a great article Beats;you encapsulated everything there is to being a Blacker!cheers Harry

  2. jack Batten says:

    Agree…. what a terrific and spirited summary of the what it means to be a Blacker both then and now ..town and country , but what a lifetime outcome..Jack Batten

  3. Having joined the Blackers in ’67 after four years of country footy, and now living in the country, I can strongly endorse the article. But as strong as community is in the country, it’s even better exemplified by those stalwarts who’ve kept the Blackers’ spirit alive and well for so long.

  4. The Blacks had a great culture and were very inclusive when I started in the late 60s. What I had not counted on was that it became a lifetime association with good mates I always enjoy meeting up with. Batts you are absolutely right.

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