THE weight of expectation was on the Leongatha football team to deliver a premiership last Saturday; maybe a little too much weight as it turned out.
The Channel Nine ‘Footy Show’ had wished one of their favourite sons, Beau Vernon, and his Leongatha team all the best on national TV last Thursday night.
There’d been news coverage in the city media in the lead-up to the game, most notably with Jo Hall in town during the week and several high-profile reporters and their camera crews descending on the ground on Saturday.
Among them was Nick McCallum, the Channel Seven news reporter who has interviewed US Presidents, covered five Academy Awards nights and the Iraq War.
Everyone it seemed knew of the circumstances surrounding the match and Leongatha’s coach as a result of Beau’s much-publicised, on-field accident back in 2012.
Just as importantly, they recognised the courage it has taken for Beau to turn his life around and the significance of taking Leongatha from seventh to top in one season, and their first grand final in 14 years.
The story caught fire and anyone who ever had a connection with the Leongatha footy club, or even with Leongatha as a town wanted a part of it.
Many of them were there at the ground in a sea of green and gold that swelled attendance numbers to record levels.
Most of the club’s former coaches; Terry Benton, Neville Stone, Paul Hudson, Adrian Campbell, Anthony Pavey and of course Darryl Vernon, were there along with many of its champion players of the past Matt Mansfield, Wayne Lynch, Stu Wigney, Peter Helms, Craig Featherstone, Billy Clark, Jarryd Roughead (also there to see his girlfriend Sarah Dunn play for Drouin in the A Grade netball grand final), Dyson Heppell and many others.
Traralgon, their opponents in the match, also acknowledged what was at stake for Leongatha during the week but declared they would try to play their own game despite the extra emotion in it for the Parrots.
But the fairy tale ending that everyone wanted didn’t eventuate, well, not this year anyway.
And it’s one of the main reasons why the players felt so crushed after the game, that and the fact that they hadn’t done their best on the day.
The coach himself said afterwards that if you feel like you’ve done your best and you don’t win, you can at least take consolation in that but “we didn’t play our best today”, he said.
“I’m looking at this as taking a step in the right direction. We’re just going to have to work harder, get better and have another crack at it again next year.”
Vernon has announced that he will be continuing in 2016 and the club has warmly confirmed his appointment.
But it was an emotional co-captain, Cade Maskell, speaking on behalf of the players in the rooms immediately afterwards who summed it up best.
“If we had half your courage we would have smashed them today and we feel as if we’ve let you down terribly but it’s been a privilege to play under you this year and I feel as if we’ve all grown as people as a result.”
If that’s not success, what is?
There’s no one at Leongatha who likes to win more than president Mal Mackie but he declared, back at a packed social rooms later in the weekend, that the year had been an outstanding success all the same.
“Overall it’s been fantastic. Of course we wanted to win and it’s disappointing but that’s footy. We were beaten by a better team on the day,” said Mal.
“We finished seventh last year and top this year. We had six sides in the finals; three netball and three football, including the Under 18s where we had trouble even fielding a team last year. Jack Ginnane won the league’s best and fairest and so did a couple of our netballers.
“We’re going to get better next year. We’ve got a young side with a lot of improvement in them and we’re already talking to a few other players.
“It’s a different year next year but we’ll be back again.
“The club’s in sensational shape and the support we get from our community is the envy of the league. You saw that at the game on Saturday.”
The real success of the year, however, has been there for everyone to share in throughout the season. Beau’s ambition to stay deeply involved in footy and Leongatha’s appointment of him as coach has already turned a negative into a happy positive and if reports are right, there’s more happiness on the way for the Parrots’ most popular couple, Beau and Lucy Vernon, who incidentally played in the B Grade netball premiership on Saturday.
Leongatha still wants its first premiership since 2002 but 2015 will go down as one of its most successful seasons all the same.