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ROD Southon recalls being just as surprised as anyone in the room that night when he polled the most votes to win the Bendigo league’s 1988 Michelsen Medal.
While Southon says he put together a solid year as a ruck-rover on the back of a strong pre-season where he got himself “super fit”, he barely gave himself any chance of claiming the Michelsen given the team he played for – Kennington – had won just two games.
Plus Golden Square’s Dean Strauch – who had returned to Wade Street in ’88 after a stint at Carlton – had been all the rage going into the count held at the Strathdale Community Centre in Crook Street.
But history shows that football journeyman Southon, who played at nine clubs throughout his career, polled 22 votes that night to pip Strauch by two.
Looking through a list of winners of the league’s Michelsen Medal that was first awarded in 1952, Southon’s victory stands out for two reasons in particular.
Firstly, Southon is one of only three players – along with Castlemaine’s Derek Cowen in 1967 and Castlemaine’s Wayne Schultz in 2011 – in the medal’s history to have won it in a struggling team that notched just two victories for the season.
And secondly, Southon stands alone as the only Kennington player to have won the coveted Michelsen.
Southon’s status as the only Saints’ player with a Michelsen to his name won’t change given Kennington is long gone, with the club having folded at the end of the 1993 season.
A quarter-of-a-century after the club played its last game, a Kennington reunion for past players will be held at the Saints’ former home ground, Harry Trott Oval, on Saturday.
Southon, now 63, will be among the past Saints’ players who will get-together to relive stories of not only their days in the Bendigo league, but also the former Golden City league – the competition in which Kennington won its sole senior premiership in 1956.
Southon had two stints playing at Kennington – the first from 1981 to 1983; the second from 1987 to 1989.
Having been hampered by frustrating hamstring injuries in 1987, Southon ramped up his pre-season training regime and reaped the benefits with a superb 1988 that culminated in his Michelsen Medal win.
“I remember I got myself super fit heading into 1988. The year before I was doing hamstrings and missing a couple of weeks here and there, so I thought I’ll have a red-hot go for 1988,” Southon recalled this week.
“I was running five to six kilometres every night of the week during that pre-season and doing a lot on the bike.
“Come the first game (against Kyneton) I was crook and couldn’t get out of bed, so I had to pull out of that game.
“But after that, I guess the fact I was so fit I was able to play some good footy.
“Even though we copped a lot of floggings that year I was still able to get a lot of possessions.”
Ruck-rover, Southon, who was also coaching the reserves, was a ball magnet throughout the 1988 season for the Saints, while he also set a new record for most goals kicked in the BFL by a Kennington player.
Coached by Peter Gorski, the Saints’ only two wins of the 1988 season both came at the expense of wooden-spooner North Bendigo – the first by 70 points in round seven; the second by 176 points in round 16.
It was that round 16 match – a 39.19 (253) to 11.11 (77) win – in which Southon bagged a Saints’ BFL record 13 goals from half-forward.
Apart from the two wins over the Bulldogs, the only other points the Saints earned in 1988 were from a round six draw against Kangaroo Flat in a high-scoring 105-all encounter – Kennington’s Darren Comi goaling after the final siren courtesy of a 50m penalty.
Come Michelsen Medal night in September, Southon mowed down red-hot favourite Strauch over the final three rounds.
Strauch on 19 was five votes clear of second-placed Southon (14) with three rounds remaining.
However, Southon earned three votes for his 13-goal haul against North Bendigo in round 16 and then collected two votes the following round in a game the Saints lost to Northern United by 144 points after the Swallows kicked 20 goals to one in the second half.
Strauch was awarded one vote in Golden Square’s round 17 draw with South Bendigo, giving him 20 – one ahead of Southon – with one round remaining.
Strauch received no votes in the Bulldogs’ round 18 win over Kyneton, while in the final votes of the night read out by Greg Hilson, Southon picked up three from a 34-point defeat to South Bendigo to win the medal.
Southon, 33 at the time, recalls plenty of raised eyebrows in the room after his Michelsen win given the season the Saints had endured.
“There was a bit of an outcry around how can a bloke be best on ground when his team has been thumped by 25 goals, but I didn’t give the votes, the umpires did,” Southon said.
“They saw what they saw and I had no influence at all… I was just surprised as anyone else when I started getting all the votes.”
Southon polled votes in nine games – five best-on-grounds, three two-vote matches and one vote in another.
While wins were few and far between during his 1987-89 stint at Kennington – the Saints had a 7-46-1 record in those three years – Southon says he has fond memories of his time at the club.
“It was a good club to be part of and I enjoyed my time there. They had a lot of good players over the years, but the trouble was they’d only hang on to them for a couple of years and then lose them,” Southon said.
“They’d then have to go out recruiting again and it just became too hard.
“Kennington where it sits is not in a prime location as far as recruiting; if it had been 10 years on when Strathfieldsaye was starting to kick off they could have called themselves Kennington-Strathfieldsaye and look at all the people out there now.
“When the Teacher’s College was going, we used to get a lot of players from there playing with us, but after two or three years they’d be gone because they were posted somewhere for work, so we couldn’t hang onto them.
“You’d get a reasonable side together, but then you’d lose half your team because they have been re-located around Victoria in teaching positions and then you’d have to go out and recruit again and that’s hard when you’re a club that hasn’t been making finals or had success for a long time.”
Following his Michelsen Medal season of 1988, Southon took on the coaching reins the following year.
1989 started with a 36-point win over North Bendigo, before the Saints lost their next 17 games.
“It was really tough going that year I coached; we were getting flogged regularly, there were cold, wet nights at training and we only had two small lights on the clubrooms side that we had to train under,” Southon said.
“But the players turned up every night and even though they knew they probably were going to cop a flogging that weekend they worked really hard and I still appreciate that.
“This weekend is going to be fantastic; I haven’t seen a lot of them for 20 or 30 years, so to be able to catch up again is going to be great.”
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