KYNETON veteran Darren Chambers is relishing pulling on his jumper each Saturday and knowing that if the Tigers play to their potential they can match it with any team in the Bendigo Football-Netball League.
Because for much of Chambers’ career at the Kyneton Showgrounds, that hasn’t been the case.
It’s a career that began in 1996 – a time when the Tigers were a power of the competition – and on Saturday will reach the 250 senior game milestone.
Chambers will play game 250 at the same venue against the same opponent as he did in his first in round five, 1996 – at the Kyneton Showgrounds against Eaglehawk.
Then a 17-year-old, Chambers debuted in a 34-point win over the Hawks – starting on the bench before replacing the injured Shane Muir – and the following season was part of the Tigers’ team that defeated Golden Square to win the 1997 premiership.
“Having started in 1996 and played in a premiership in 1997, I didn’t play in too many losses in my first couple of years... footy was easy back then, but it’s also a great leveller,” Chambers said on Wednesday.
While Chambers’ tasted premiership glory early, the 38-year-old has also endured more than his fair share of challenging times as the Tigers became the whipping boys of the Bendigo league for much of the 2000s, during which he spent four years as captain.
“There were some really tough times through that period,” Chambers said.
“I think the top echelon of players we had were as good as any in the competition, but the depth just dropped away, so that was frustrating because we were a loyal bunch of guys who enjoyed playing with each other.”
However, after years of on-field struggles that culminated when the senior team went into recess for a season in 2013, the Tigers are re-emerging as a side to be once again reckoned with.
The Tigers have played finals the past two seasons, and are on track for another berth in September, having now won six in a row for the first time since 1997.
“It’s great running out each week knowing if you play well you’re a really good chance to win, which we obviously didn’t have for a very long time,” Chambers said.
“If we’re playing our best footy then I believe we can match it with anybody.
“I’m a big Tiger person and it’s fantastic to see that the club is going well again.”
Throughout his career at the Tigers in which he has been runner-up in the best and fairest three times, Chambers has been the epitome of versatility.
“I started as a wingman with a bit of pace, then went into the midfield for a very long time, then when I slowed down a bit I went to a half-back flank and now I’m a hit-up forward,” Chambers said.
While Chambers – easily spotted on a football field with the bald head he has had since about 1999 – is synonymous with Kyneton, he’s also a Central Highlands premiership player at Daylesford in 2009.
Chambers’ 1997 Tigers’ premiership team-mate Luke Beattie coached Daylesford’s 2009 flag, and he’s still coaching Chambers back at Kyneton.
“He has been an instrumental part of Kyneton over such a significant journey,” Beattie said.
“To have gained the respect of his team-mates by captaining the club is testament to how he’s thought of within the club and community. He’s been a great servant of the club and I don’t think there’s any other footballer who represents the Tiger jumper better than Darren Chambers.”