THERE was a lot going on in football in 2009, and most of it, off the field.
Much of the year had been taken up with a major dispute between Wonthaggi Power and regional powerbrokers over their forced move into the main Gippsland league at year’s end.
But fears for junior development, volunteer support and community engagement were put on hold as Wonthaggi surged into the Alberton Grand Final, likely to be their last, with a powerful, if inaccurate, display against Korumburra-Bena at Tarwin.
So, there was a lot of prestige at stake, not just the premiership cup, after Stony Creek squeaked past Yarram, then Korumburra-Bena to meet Power in the big one at Foster on Saturday, September 12, 2009.
It was against this backdrop, that surely Wonthaggi would beat a little club like Stony Creek, if they were, as everyone said, “too good for the Alberton league”.
And why Stony Creek’s triumph, in thrilling style, makes the 2009 Alberton Football League Grand Final one of the greats.
One of the heroes of the day, Nathaniel Rodda, awarded the Pollock Medal as one of the equal-best on the ground, with Lucas McMillan, remembers it all.
Especially the goal he kicked, deep in the last quarter, to snuff out a thrilling revival by the Power.
“It’s not something you’re going to forget, plus I’ve replayed it a few times for myself and when we do get together, I manage to add a bit sauce to it as well,” said Rodda at the weekend, in not-so-blissful, Stage Four isolation at Garfield.
“I was in the mid-field when we won the ball and Lucas ultimately marked it on the 50. He looked like he was going to have to kick to a contest, so I sprinted down there.
“The ball was in dispute, Cam Stone managed to win a one-on-one with his opponent, flicked it up to me and I banged it through.
“The crowd had been loud all day, but I just remember it being deafening at that point.
“I ran back to the centre, high-fiving practically everyone in the team and we knew we had it. They threw the ball up into the air and the siren sounded not long after.
“It was all pretty crazy after that, the club not having won a flag in a generation, a little town beating the big powerhouse club and all that but there were some special moments as well.
“About 9pm that night, while all the celebrations were in full swing, Macka, the coach Leigh McQuillan, took us all for a walk, with the cup out on the ground at Stony, just the team.
“We passed the cup around and everyone said what it meant to them to win, to the blokes who had been at the club for a long time, the younger blokes and newcomers. It was a special moment on a memorable day, one of the most important days of my life, for sure.
“We were an incredibly close group, 21 best mates, which I think meant a lot, plus coming through all those finals match was a plus in the end, but I give a lot of credit on the day to our supporters as well.
“They made noise like I’d never heard before or since.”
Rodd joined Stony from the Garfield juniors with a mate, hoping to avoid the travel after the Stars were promoted to the Gippsland league.
“I ended up staying for five or six years and had a ball, plus the premiership of course.”
“My main memory from the game, apart from the crowd noise, was how strong and aggressive Wonthaggi came out. I got cleaned up by Tommy Wells in the first quarter and thought ‘that’s what it’s all about’. Leeroy Andrews also got cleaned up in the second quarter and played no further part in the game.
“But we were lucky, and things went our way. They were bigger and more experienced in finals than us but we were quick and we had a simple plan, get it down to Lucas as quickly as we could to give him a chance one-out.
“So, we took it on, and he ended up kicking six goals.”
Chris Verboon was also down there and managed some fine grabs, and three goals, and Stony was well served by a number of fleet-footed players, including the Stone brothers, Shields, Van Der Pluym and Fleming and others.
To be fair, Wonthaggi had not played well, or been allowed to play well up until three-quarter time and they still had plenty of petrol in the tank at the last change.
Trailing by six goals, they put themselves right back in the hunt with three in quick succession after the restart; to Ben Young and two to big Rod Tack and it was “game on”, the Power surging and Stony trying to hold on.
Young Murray Fleming stopped the rot when he hit the pack and goaled before Rodda kicked the sealer at the 24-minute mark after Wonthaggi had peppered the scoring zone for 10 minutes, little more than a goal adrift.
“They were coming no doubt. They were a good side, but a few of the senior players got around saying we still had a handy lead and there wasn’t long to go.
“A couple of their misses helped us but we were good enough to finish off in the end.”
Nathaniel Rodda is an aerospace engineer these days, travelling up to the RAAF Base at Sale each day for work.
“We’re just inside the Stage Four restriction area, which is a bit of a nuisance.
“Do I give the day much thought, yes quite often, it was great to share that feeling with a team of mates and with the community as well.
“There are a couple of clips on YouTube, one of them put together by one of the seconds blokes, which tells the story. I catch a look at those every now and then.”
You can see some of the game’s highlights, especially featuring Lucas McMillan’s goals and “the sealer” by Rodda on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TPDfRCqRdg
If you have a candidate for ‘Our Greatest Grand Finals’ we’d like to hear about it, send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post to the Sentinel-Times’ Facebook page.