READ MORE - SELECTION NIGHT - weekend football teams
CLINT Whitsed recalls feeling a mix of excitement and anticipation as he prepared for the unknown.
It was Easter Saturday of 2009 - April 11 - when Whitsed took charge of Strathfieldsaye as coach in its inaugural Bendigo Football-Netball League senior match.
Any coach entering a new season always has the nervous sense of being not quite sure what to expect from both their own side and the opposition, but for Whitsed that was amplified.
The Storm was a brand new senior club with no history of past performances to draw on and a playing list brought together from near and far.
The Storm's inaugural opponent for their historic debut match was Castlemaine - a club that was beginning a landmark year of its own, with the Magpies celebrating 150 years in 2009.
The match-up at Strathfieldaye's Tannery Lane featured Australia's newest club versus the country's second oldest.
Whitsed was appointed Storm coach after he had played in a premiership with Rochester the previous year, while he had also played in the Bendigo league with Eaglehawk and in the VFL with the Bendigo Diggers and Bombers.
"Training had started back in November, so we had been together through all that time with a short break over Christmas," Whitsed recalled this week.
"We had worked really hard at building the team we did because there was zero starting point with that sort of stuff.
"We had guys from all over the state who had come together, a lot of whom were young guys, and the excitement around the club heading into that first game was just amazing.
"There was obviously a lot of anticipation in terms of what will we bring, will we be competitive, but I think we always thought we had a good chance against Castlemaine that day."
History shows that the Storm won their opening match, leading the Magpies at every change on the way to a 17.12 (114) to 14.5 (89) victory.
That was game one for the Storm.
On Saturday that club will reach another milestone when it plays its 200th senior match against Golden Square at Tannery Lane.
The Storm are still the baby of the league in terms of age, but they are very much a power club of the competition that has never looked back since making the bold decision in 2008 to jump straight in the deep end of major league footy as opposed to finding its feet in the Heathcote District league first.
It took the Storm just four seasons to reach their first finals series, making it from the elimination final to preliminary final in 2012.
But it's from 2013 onwards that the Storm has become the benchmark club of the BFNL, playing in five of the past six senior grand finals, winning three flags.
Whitsed coached the Storm for their first two seasons in which they won four games in 2009 and improved to six in 2010 and has taken plenty of pride in the ensuring years in watching the club flourish into the dominant force it has become.
"There was so much hard work put in behind the scenes by the first committee (led by president Ray Patterson) to get everything organised and there was just so much enthusiasm in those early days," Whitsed said.
"Looking back at that first game against Castlemaine, you could tell in the first 10 minutes we were up and about and it was a matter of being able to maintain that.
"Whether we caught Castlemaine on the hop, I'm not sure, but it was great for the boys that we were able to get in front early and stay in front."
Whitsed's ties to both Strathfieldsaye and Eaglehawk have made for some awkward grand final days, with the Storm and Hawks having played off in the past two premiership battles for one win apiece.
"It has been interesting the past couple of years having been involved with both Strathfieldsaye and Eaglehawk when I first arrived in Bendigo," Whitsed said.
"I've had one foot in the camp of each of the grand finalists the previous two years, but as for any specific allegiance, I just enjoy going to watch the footy.
"I do follow individuals and it's great to see someone like Lachy Sharp... he was only a teenager when we started and Kell Smith is another one who was only a young player when he first started and is still going around.
"It's great to see what those players have become, as well as the likes of Benny Lester, the Heavyside boys (Sam and Jake); it has been great to watch those individuals turn into really good players.
"What the club has become is just fantastic and I think back to the work the late Pete Crapper put in those early days.
"There's certainly an element of pride in seeing where the club is now and you can see it has a really strong community and junior base behind it."
Since joining the BFNL in 2009, not only has Strathfieldsaye won three premierships in 2014, 2015 (undefeated) and 2017 - all coached by Darryl Wilson - but the club's tally of 136 senior wins is surpassed only by Golden Square's 161.
READ MORE - BENDIGO ADDY FOOTY CHALLENGE - Week two scores
Only Eaglehawk with a 14-13 head-to-head advantage has a winning record against the Storm, whose home ground, Tannery Lane, has become a fortress.
The Storm are 44-2 at home since 2014, with Sandhurst (2014) and Golden Square (2017) the only teams through that period to sing their club song in the Tannery Lane visitors rooms.
The one Strathfieldsaye player who has been on the journey right through from game one in 2009 to Saturday's 200th is star forward Lachlan Sharp.
Sharp played junior football at Strathfieldsaye, but with no senior club established at the time, had to make the move to play under-18s at Golden Square.
The predicament Sharp - and every other Strathfieldsaye junior - faced of no Strath team to play with beyond the under-16s was one of the key drivers for the development of a senior club in the quickly-expanding town.
"There was a lot of talk that we weren't going to be successful coming straight into the Bendigo league and that we should have gone to Heathcote District," Sharp said.
"But when we rolled out for that first game and there was a massive crowd there, it was fantastic.
"We never knew how we were going to gel together, but we got that first win on the board, which was great.
"We won a handful of games in those first couple of years, but the people we brought into the club in terms of committee members and off-field support helped attract players to come and that has led to where we are now.
"I was only 17 back then in that first year, a nobody and flying under the radar."
A decade on and Sharp is now one of the BFNL's marquee names - a goalkicking machine (561), three-time premiership player and both the Michelsen medallist and Ron Best medallist in what was a remarkable 2017 comeback season from a knee reconstruction.
Sharp is joined by Jake Hall, Jayden Donaldson, Kellan Smith, Lachlan Bonney and Shannon Geary as the six players to have played in all three of the Storm's premiership wins during the Wilson era.
"With where the club's at now, it's crazy to think that 12 years ago we walked out to where the ground is now and it was just a paddock with two cows out there," Sharp said.
"The fact we've got such strong community support, a lot of membership and flags under our belt in all grades, the netball is going well... you've got to pinch yourself at times with the way it has flourished."
Strathfieldsaye head-to-head v all opposition:
v Castlemaine - 18-2
v Eaglehawk - 13-14
v Gisborne - 13-8
v Golden Square - 13-13
v Kangaroo Flat - 17-3
v Kyneton - 16-2
v Maryborough - 16-4
v Sandhurst - 16-10
v South Bendigo - 14-6-1
Strathfieldsaye most best player votes:
(6 for being named best, 5 for second best and so on):
Kallen Geary - 216
Shannon Geary - 200
Lachlan Sharp - 191
Matt Ladson - 187
Kellan Smith - 164
Michael Pilcher - 156
Jake Hall - 125
Tom Dowd - 109
Trent Donnan - 107
Sam Mildren - 103
Strathfieldsaye most goals kicked:
Lachlan Sharp - 561
Sam Mildren - 243
Kris Lea - 175
Shannon Geary - 162
Tom Bartholomew - 128
Jake Hall - 126
Stephen Milne - 122
Bryce Curnow - 79
Michael Pilcher - 77
Fergus Payne - 64
BFNL - ROUND 3
Maryborough v Eaglehawk
2.20pm at Maryborough
Kangaroo Flat v Gisborne
2.20pm at Kangaroo Flat
Castlemaine v Kyneton
2.20pm at Castlemaine
South Bendigo v Sandhurst
2.20pm at QEO
Strathfieldsaye v Golden Square
2.20pm at Strathfieldsaye
2-0, 335.0% Form: WW
2. GOLDEN SQUARE
2-0, 206.4% Form: WW
2-0, 181.5% Form: WW
1-1, 126.7% Form: WL
1-1, 122.8% Form: LW
1-1, 89.4% Form: WL
7. SOUTH BENDIGO
1-1, 76.3% Form: LW
0-2, 47.3% Form: LL
0-2, 46.2% Form: LL
10. KANGAROO FLAT
0-2, 30.6% Form: LL
12 - Lachlan Sharp
9 - Pat McKenna
7 - Jack Scanlon
7 - Sean Williams
6 - Jarryd Pertzel
5 - Brady Childs
5 - Jayden Templeton
5 - Matthew Bilton
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