Mount Pleasant's 1997 day of premiership emotion to be celebrated 20 years on

DOMINANT FORCE: Mount Pleasant's 1997 premiership team. The Blues won 17 of their 18 games that season and beat Elmore in a heated grand final by eight points.
DOMINANT FORCE: Mount Pleasant's 1997 premiership team. The Blues won 17 of their 18 games that season and beat Elmore in a heated grand final by eight points.

MOUNT Pleasant is a club boasting an envious premiership history.

No club in the Heathcote District Football-Netball League has won more than the Blues’ 19 senior flags.

All premiership wins are special, but there are some that hold more significance than others within clubs.

At Mount Pleasant, the 1997 premiership is one of those flags that means that little bit more given the emotion that engulfed the club through that season.

It was a season played amidst the backdrop of tragedy and where the ultimate goal was unconditional – win the premiership for Lippy and Cliffy.

Lippy and Cliffy being two much-loved Mount Pleasant figures – Peter White and his father, Cliff White.

The pair, along with Mark Bell, were lost at sea after a boating accident at Port Campbell on November 2, 1996.

Cliff joined Mount Pleasant in the early 1970s, going on to coach and have a stint as president of the club.

Peter – who won his first Blues’ senior best and fairest aged just 16 and was Carlton’s under-19 best and fairest in 1988, as well as playing three senior games for the club – was one of country Victoria’s most revered footballers who coached Mounts’ 1993 and 1994 premiership teams.

Their deaths further galvanised what was already a power club that going into 1997 had won three of the previous four premierships and played in six of the past seven grand finals.

Murray Collins was a new coach at the helm of Mount Pleasant, who 20 years on still marvels at the spirit and determination his group played with in 1997 in honour of Peter and Cliff.

“We had a lot of blokes come back to the club to play for Lippy and Cliff that year,” Collins said this week.

“Darren Kulbars and Dean White came back, Nuggett (Bryan Dorrington) was one of the first blokes who rang me when I got the job to say he was coming out for that reason, Dave Eefting stayed on for another year for that goal of winning a premiership for them.

“We never spoke about just trying to win enough games to make the finals, we were all about winning the grand final that year.”

Coming off a five-point grand final loss to Broadford in 1996, the Blues were the clear standout team in 1997.

They ended the home and away season 10 points clear on top of the ladder with a 15-1 record, monster percentage of 249.1 and Rik Pumpa on top of the league goalkicking with 105.

Of their 15 home and away wins, 11 were by more than 10 goals, including a 273-point thumping of Rushworth in round 18 in what was the Tigers’ final game before joining the Kyabram District league.

The Blues’ only loss had been in round eight by 16 points to Elmore, which would be Mount Pleasant’s grand final opponent.

FLASHBACK: A section of the 1997 grand final edition of the Heathcote District league YABBA featuring pen pics of Mount Pleasant's grand final team.

FLASHBACK: A section of the 1997 grand final edition of the Heathcote District league YABBA featuring pen pics of Mount Pleasant's grand final team.

The Bloods had finished fourth on the ladder, before winning cut-throat finals against HDFL new-comers North Bendigo (68 points) and Broadford (29) to earn a shot at the Blues in the grand final at Colbinabbin.

Paul Nihill, who won the Blues’ best and fairest that year, recalls a torrid grand final contest played with plenty of spite between two fierce combatants where there was no love lost.

“It was a full-on game of footy, no doubt about that, and had a fair bit of spite in it from the outset,” said Nihill, who finished runner-up to Elmore’s Rob Lecek in the 1997 Cheatley Medal.

“The last 10 minutes of the game we were out on our feet, we had a couple of guys in the forward line who could barely move, we had no one on the bench and Elmore kept coming at us.”

The Blues, after opening a four-goal lead at quarter-time, hung tough to prevail by eight points, 13.8 (86) to 11.12 (78), in what was one of seven senior premierships the club won between 1990 and 2001.

“We had dedicated that whole year to Peter and Cliff and there’s no doubt of the 13 grand finals I played in, 1997 was by far the most emotional,” Nihill said.

“It was a real weight off our shoulders after we won. How long and hard we would train for on a Thursday night under Muzza paid off that day.”

Among the walking wounded for the Blues that day were David McNamara, who sustained a broken jaw early in the game, and Andrew McDougall suffering a leg injury.

Collins says the Blues battled a double dose of pressure in 1997 – pressure from the opposition each week, and pressure from within that anything less than a premiership for Peter and Cliff would be a failure.

“All the boys put a lot of pressure on themselves throughout that year as individuals,” Collins said.

“There were some players who had copped serious injuries early in the season that if it had been any other year probably would have packed it in.

“Alan Kennedy did a knee early and probably should have been out for the season, but he worked super hard to try to get back and that was the attitude everyone had.”

The emotional 1997 premiership will be celebrated by the Blues at a reunion at Toolleen on Saturday.

The reunion will coincide with the Blues’ game against Heathcote, with the two teams having played annually for the Cliff and Peter White Shield since 1997, with the ledger 14-6 in favour of Mount Pleasant.

Other premierships being honoured on Saturday will be the Blues’ 1997 reserves and 1967 seniors, as well as 1977 A and B grade netball grand final wins.

• 1997 grand final:

Mount Pleasant 13.8 (86) d Elmore 11.12 (78).

GOALS – Mount Pleasant: Adam Tuohey 3, Dean White, John Craig, Mick O’Shea 2, Chris Gee, Bryan Dorrington, Murray Collins, Rik Pumpa 1. Elmore: Rob Lecek 4, John Keogh, Kris Wilson 2, Dave Boyack, Brett Cowan, Paul Matheson 1.

BEST – Mount Pleasant: Dave Eefting, Darren Kulbars, Chris Gee, Murray Collins. Elmore: Dave Boyack, Rob Lecek, Neil Willets, Paul Matheson.