O’Neill, BUA honoured with AFL Victoria awards

Cherie O'Neill and the BUA's Sharon McColl and Paula Shay. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Cherie O'Neill and the BUA's Sharon McColl and Paula Shay. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

CHERIE O’NEILL has thanked the Bendigo Thunder for showing faith in her after she was named AFL Victoria’s Female Coach of the Year on Friday night.

And the Bendigo Umpires Association was also recognised at AFL Victoria’s community football awards night by winning the Umpire Group of the Year.

O’Neill says she was shocked to receive the Peta Searle Female Coach of the Year.

“I’m still pinching myself and didn’t see it coming. I was just happy to make the final four and to just be there on the night was fantastic… I never thought I’d win it,” O’Neill said on Saturday.

O’Neill took on the Thunder coaching role earlier this year in challenging circumstances after the departure of previous coach Craig Riddiford a week out from the start of the season.

She wasn’t officially appointed until four rounds into the season, galvanising the group and leading the Thunder into the VWFL premier division grand final against Deer Park.

The Thunder had gone into the grand final undefeated, but came up short in the battle for the flag, going down by 13 points.

“I’d like to say thankyou to the Bendigo Thunder for having faith in me as a coach and to my husband and family for their support in letting me give up the time to do it,” O’Neill said.

“Emma Grant and Jess Kennedy as captain and vice-captain were a great support throughout the year, and working under Craig (Riddiford) last year also taught me a lot.”

O’Neill will coach on with the Thunder next season, with the club expanding to add a development team.

Meanwhile, the BUA’s win in the Umpire Group of the Year Award was the second time in three years it has received the accolade.

The BUA also won it in 2014.

On hand to receive the award at Docklands was BUA chairman Sharon McColl and vice-chairman Paula Shay.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to win this award,” McColl said.

“Probably the standout initiative we undertook this year was a joint project with the Bendigo Junior Football League to create the BJFL Umpiring Group.

“The aim of that was to ensure kids at under-12 level were being umpired at a standard that ensures it was correct and safe.

“We had training nights where we had parents attend and taught them the basics of umpiring, so that was really positive.

“But to win an award like this, it has to be a group effort and we’d like to say thankyou to all our umpires who have done a fantastic job all year with their dedication in travelling to grounds across the region between Sea Lake and Gisborne (328 kms).”

The guest speaker was Richmond coach Damien Hardwick.