THE Leongatha Parrots claimed back-to-back premierships in the Gippsland League last Saturday for the first time in the club’s 50 years in the region’s top competition.
And making it all the sweeter for the playing group, who shared a moment together on the field between matches, was the unexpected win by the Leongatha Reserves over the previously undefeated Maffra side.
The seniors recorded their history-making victory on the back of what club stalwart Frank Welsford described as the equal-best individual performance he has seen from a Leongatha player in a premiership winning team.
As the club’s first president, life member and a Parrots’ constant over those years, he should know.
“It’s a particularly good feeling to win a grand final when you come from behind as we did today,” said Frank.
“But Col Sanbrook was sensational, with Terry Benton, it’s the best game I’ve seen from a Leongatha player in a grand final.
“Benton was fantastic in our first premiership win in 1970 and 50 seasons later Sanbrook was equally as good. That’s our 10th premiership in 50 years which is a very good hit-rate in footy.”
Sanbrook played the modern intercept defenders’ role to perfection.
The fact that he drove the ball Leongatha’s way, out of half back, time and time again through the afternoon was emblematic of a match where both defences were on top, allowing the forwards no space to mark or to take clear possession when the ball hit the deck.
The exceptions, and there were two, one on either side, were Cade Maskell at half forward for the Parrots and the dangerous Eagle Mitchell Bennet.
Maffra clearly thought they could benefit from the match-up between Leongatha’s Kyle Cooper and Bennet on the day and they tried to isolate the pair, drawing the Parrots’ defenders wide and handballing or passing into Bennet at any opportunity.
He had enough possessions near goal to make a big difference but missed several, crucially one of them from just 15 metres out when the whips were rally cracking in the third quarter.
It was a credit to the Parrots’ defenders, though, especially Sean Westaway on Bedggood, Josh Schelling with his athleticism, Rhett Kelly, Chris Verboon, Sanbrook of course and that others that they were so effectively able to limit their opponents’ opportunities.
And in the end Bennet was credited with only two. Their top goal scorer on the day was Andrew Petrou playing as a high forward.
Up the other end, Leongatha’s forwards weren’t finding any space either with some great match-ups there too; Sam Walker playing a lock-down role on Leongatha’s match-winner from last year Chris Dunne, David Adams opposed to Jack Ginnane, Huts covering up James Lloyd, Sam Pleming on Julian Lockwood when he wasn’t pitch-hitting in the ruck and either Jack Johnstone or Jarryd Clohesy on the in-form Maskell.
But Maskell continually found space to work with and kicked five match-winning goals on the day including a long bomb, after hard-work at the stoppage by Ryan Olden, to spark the Parrots’ last-gasp comeback at the 17:43 minute mark of the last quarter when they trailed by 11 points.
Until then you didn’t know where the Parrots were going to be able to crack the Eagles’ lockdown defence and make up ground.
But it was just the spark the Parrots needed and they raised the tempo.
League medallist Tom Marriott had been closely checked all day by his direct opponents on the ball and when he was caught with the Sherrin up forward and dumped by Maffra’s Michael Coleman some minutes before the Maskell goal, after a hot handpass from Julian Lockwood, he really fired up.
The Maffra crowd, close to the boundary at the town end, really gave it to him and you could see he was riled.
The next chance he got, though, three minutes after Maskell’s goal, he returned the favour with interest, close to goal, when he absolutely ‘buried’ Maffra’s Alex Carr in a bruising tackle, won the free kick and went back and slotted the goal that put the Parrots up by one solitary point still with nine minutes left to play.
They had the benefit of the breeze to come home with and were constantly in attack but snap shots by Maskell, Dunne and Ginnane, any of which might have come off, only resulted in two extra points. Not enough.
But the forward pressure finally produced the error from Maffra after a kick-in. Ginnane made a good contest for the poor kick and punched it clear to where the mercurial Dunne gathered, steadied as only a champ can do in such circumstances, and calmly popped through the winner. They had breathing space at last.
The clock ran down the final three and a half minutes with both sides desperate to get the ball forward but the Parrots held firm, coming from behind to win a cracker of a game; not fast-flowing or pretty to watch maybe but a grand final for the purists where each contest was a fierce battle to be won.
They hadn’t played their best footy, the Parrots. They hadn’t been allowed to by a well-drilled, talented, tactical Maffra side but the cream ultimately came to the top and what a celebration it was, on the ground, in the rooms and back at Parrot Park with the whole of the playing group, Firsts and Seconds, sharing in the success of two premierships in a day for the first time since 1997 when Matt Mansfield coached the Seniors and ‘Bilko’ Thorson the Reserves that year.
For more stories and pictures see this weeks edition of the South Gippsland Sentinel Times.
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