THE fifth book on Victorian country football from prolific sports journalist and author, and former Bendigo Advertiser reporter Paul Daffey is ready for release.
Titled On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football (2020), it details Daffey's trek through the 2019 season.
Of particular interest to central Victorian football fans will be chapters on Mitiamo's chase for a first Loddon Valley Football Netball League flag since 2009 and the day Kain Robins turned a game for Charlton at Wedderburn.
In the first of a two-part exclusive from the book, Daffey takes us back to round one of the Loddon Valley league season, when the Superoos went up against Maiden Gully YCW.
On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football (2020) will be available from Dymocks in Bendigo from next week.
Round 1, 2019 - Maiden Gully YCW v Mitiamo
It is a warm Saturday in early April 2019. Footy competitions are resuming for the season. I am at the home ground of Maiden Gully-YCW Eagles, a recent agglomeration in the Loddon Valley league, who are hosting Mitiamo at the club's swish facilities in Maiden Gully.
On the day of my visit to Maiden Gully, it is clear that the Eagles are a club of the future.
Young footballers and young netballers, all wearing the Eagles' orange, navy blue and white colours, are everywhere. The club's pavilion, with its clean lines and buffed floors, looks like something out of an architecture brochure. I have a chat to the Eagles president, Chris Garlick.
Garlick owns a company that builds powerlines. His company is also a real estate business. That's a company for a big town.
The Eagles have ambition to match their big and thriving town. Garlick is reluctant to admit it, but when I say I can see a time when the Eagles move up to the Bendigo league, he offers a wry smile. The scale of the set-up at Maiden Gully suggests a strong sense of purpose.
The Eagles' senior team is exceptionally young today because the team's one true veteran, Wayne Mitrovic, the 41-year-old playing-coach, is not yet ready to play. He is still working his way into the season. The team that takes the field looks to have an average age of about 20. Apart from one or two exceptions, they all look like skinny wingmen, with good pace but little poise.
The contrast with the Eagles' opposition, Mitiamo, is so stark as to be alarming. In fact, I would say that the composition of the two teams presents the biggest contrast that I have seen on a footy field.
Not one player in the Mitiamo team looks to be a teenager, or even close. The Superoos would have an average age of at least 25 years. It might even be close to thirty. And, with so many mature bodies, their players are so much heavier. I estimate that, on average, the Mitiamo players would be five kilograms heavier than their Eagles opponents.
The boys from Maiden Gully start in bright fashion. They zip across the green turf in pursuit of the ball. But as the match wears on, they struggle to hold their ground. The bigger, heavier players from Mitiamo assume control. The Superoos bustle towards a lead of five goals at half-time.
I begin my inquiries into the Mitiamo team by sliding on to a seat on the fence to join one of the great men of country footy, John Forbes, who is a life member of the Mitiamo footy club and a life member of the Loddon Valley league.
According to Forbesy, Mitiamo struck gold when a Bendigo football identity, Billy Grant, agreed to coach the Superoos before the 2006 season.
In 2009, under Billy Grant, Mitiamo won the Loddon Valley league's premiership with a team that included Grant's son Tom. Despite the Superoos' strong form in this era, the number of players emerging through the club's junior ranks was down to a trickle.
In 2012, the club fielded a team in the thirds competition, which was then an under-seventeen competition, for the last time.
Since 2013, Mitiamo has been the only club in the Loddon Valley league without a thirds team.
The players in the Mitiamo senior team that is playing today are mostly from Bendigo. A few are from far distant parts. But the most telling detail is that no one in the team is from Mitiamo. No one even has a family connection to the town.
Not one player.
John Forbes says it fills him with enormous pride that the Mitiamo footy and netball club continues to field teams despite there being no one left in the town. He says it is a credit to those who work behind the scenes. But it is also with a measure of sadness that Forbesy watches players from all over the place represent his home club. He's not sure for how much longer it can continue.
In 2019, three players - Michael l'Anson, Luke Scott and James Rozynski - are flying down from Brisbane. The Queensland trio meet at Melbourne Airport and drive up to Central Victoria in a hire car.
A large contingent of the Mitiamo players have a connection through the Kangaroo Flat footy club, including the co-coach Tyrone Downie. Today, in the opening round in 2019, Tyrone Downie and his brother Brent Downie are playing in their first games for Mitiamo.
Mitiamo's captain, Jarryd Wiegard, played at Kangaroo Flat. All up, nine or 10 players at Mitiamo in 2019 have backgrounds at Kangaroo Flat. The president of Mitiamo, Rob Clohesy, is a former president of Kangaroo Flat. It's as if the Roos from Bendigo have formed a colony of Superoos on the Windy Flats of Mitiamo.
At Maiden Gully during the opening round in 2019, the bigger players from Mitiamo slow down in the sunshine of the late afternoon. The Superoos kick only one goal for the final quarter. The Eagles kick two. Mitiamo end up winning by 47 points, 14.6 (90) to 6.7 (43).
Mitiamo's effort in cobbling together competitive football and netball teams is extraordinary. According to the 2016 national census, the population of the town of Mitiamo was just over 100. And yet Mitiamo have assembled a senior football team that will clearly push towards the finals series.
Maiden Gully-YCW Eagles have been outpointed on the day, but clearly their club is heading in the right direction. The Eagles have oodles of juniors. They have sponsors. They have excellent facilities. There seems no reason why they would fail to achieve sustained success.
This is an edited extract from On the Premiership Trail: More Travels in Victorian Country Football (2020), by Paul Daffey. The book is available in book shops for $35.
TOMORROW: Kain Robbins turns a game for Charlton.
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