LAST year the Newbridge Football-Netball Club was thrust into the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it was ravaged by floods.
Tomorrow, the Maroons can create headlines for the right reasons as they have an opportunity to complete a premiership trifecta in the Loddon Valley Football League.
The Maroons have all three of their football teams – seniors, reserves and under-17s – in grand finals at Inglewood tomorrow.
But it hasn’t been an easy path to grand final day for the Maroons, who in January last year were left homeless after their ground, Riverside Park, was destroyed by floods when the neighbouring Loddon River burst its banks.
With Riverside Park in ruins, the Maroons relocated their home games 35kms away to YCW’s Backhaus Oval, and from a committee perspective, 2011 was spent focused on flood recovery, rather than what was happening on the field and court.
The flood recovery work is well under way, with football and netball having returned to Riverside Park in April this year, while construction of a new $2 million building that will include football, netball and umpires changerooms, pubic toilets, canteen, bar and function room is expected to be finished in December.
The task of keeping a football club running and viable is difficult enough as is, let alone what the Maroons, led by president Ron Trimble, were forced to deal with last year after the floods.
Rather than focus on the day-to-day running of the club, Trimble and the committee had to shift their attention to dealing with state and local government planning departments, enduring a 10-month process before receiving an insurance settlement, plus, raising funds to help rebuild the destroyed facilities.
But as tough as it was off-field, it wasn’t much better on-field on a Saturday afternoon when the Maroons’ senior team won just four games and finished seventh – the fourth year in a row they missed the finals.
“In terms of football, we’ve done it pretty hard since 2007,” Trimble said this week.
“But we felt that after Bruce Hughes finished as coach (after 2010) we had the groundwork in place for when Phil Birchmore came in and took over.
“Off-field we felt we had everything set up, but when the floods hit in January last year, it took the focus, for myself and a number of the committee members, right off football.
“We were very fortunate that part of the structure we had set up over the previous two years was to have a separate football department.
“That then allowed the committee to focus solely on the recovery after the flood, rather than having the football side of things to worry about as well.”
But that was last year, and while recovery work has continued throughout 2012, on-field, the fortunes have turned around significantly for the senior team.
From their four wins last year – and only one win from their first five matches this season after what had been a fruitful recruiting campaign over the summer – the Maroons have won 12 of their past 14 games to get through to tomorrow’s grand final.
“We were always confident right from the start of the year that we could play finals,” said Trimble, who last year was named the VCFL’s Volunteer of the Year for his work in leading the Maroons’ flood recovery.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but having said that, we lost games to very good sides in Calivil United, Bridgewater and Bears Lagoon-Serpentine by small margins. So we felt, even then, that we were thereabouts, but we just couldn’t get over the line.
“We also had a lot of new players come into the club who hadn’t played together before, so it took a bit of time for the guys to gel together.”
The Maroons’ dramatic form reversal, which saw them climb from seventh after round six to eventually finishing second, began with a 119-point flogging of YCW at home in round seven.
However, Trimble believes it was the following week when the Maroons defeated Pyramid Hill – then second on the ladder – by 36 points at Mitchell Park that the season really got going.
“That first time we beat Pyramid Hill was probably the turning point for us,” Trimble said.
“Pyramid Hill is our longest road trip, and they are a very strong side, so to come away with the win from there that day was a really big result for the club.”
And they haven’t looked back.
There have been a couple of glitches during their run of hot form – a loss to Calivil United in round 11 and an upset defeat to Pyramid Hill in the qualifying final – but for all the second half of the season, the Maroons have been the LVFL’s best side, along with Bridgewater.
And that’s the key selling point of tomorrow’s grand final – the two-time defending premiers Bridgewater going up against the team that looks best equipped to take it up to them, as Newbridge proved in round 13 when it beat the Mean Machine by 46 points.
Then there’s the added bonus of the Bridgewater-Newbridge rivalry being the fiercest in the LVFL.
“There’s generations of feeling there between the two clubs,” Trimble said.
“It probably extends back to when the competition restarted after the war in the 1940s.
“When you’ve got neighbouring clubs (the two towns are 15km apart) and families have to decide if they will support this club or that club, it probably extends back to there.
“And you’ll never change it… that rivalry will forever be part of the two clubs’ history.”
The two clubs are also the most successful in the LVFL, with 33 premierships between them – 17 for Bridgewater and 16 for Newbridge.
The Maroons will start underdogs in all three grand finals tomorrow after their three teams all came through the preliminary final last week.
But regardless of what happens, Trimble couldn’t be more prouder of the Maroons in the way they have handled everything thrown at them since January last year and come through it a stronger club.