Four Quarters – Gippsland football dynasties

Decade of dominance: Traralgon owned the 1990s in the Gippsland League, winning six flags. photograph supplied

Liam Durkin and Zac Standish

EVEN the most blindly optimistic Richmond supporters in The Express readership are now surely confined to the fact it will take a minor
miracle for the Tigers to make this year’s AFL finals series.
Currently sitting in 11th position on eight-wins, 11-losses with three rounds to play, the reigning premiers chances of going for a fourth flag in five years are now only in the ‘mathematically possible’ category.
The Tigers run of premierships in 2017, 2019 and 2020 has placed them among modern day greats such as the Brisbane Lions of 2001 to 2003, Geelong (2007, 2009, 2011) and Hawthorn (2013 to 2015).
Had it not been for a preliminary final stumble in 2018 Richmond may well have won four in a row, and those with a finger on the pulse at Tigerland know it wasn’t a seven foot American that denied them the opportunity, but actually decisions at the selection table to go with certain players carrying injuries.
As the curtain looks set to close on the Tigers dynasty, or ‘Dimma-sty’, the Four Quarters team thought it was timely to take a look at some local teams to have enjoyed periods of dominance in their respective leagues.
For the purpose of this exercise we declare that a team has to win at least three premierships for it to count as a dynasty.
1. Fish Creek.
Dynasty: 11 premierships from 15 successive grand finals between 1955 and 1967.
Premierships: 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967.
Grand finals: Every season from 1953 to 1967.
THIS one will surely never be beaten.
While it is hard to quantify just how good the standard of country football was 60 years ago, as they say ‘you still have to win em’, and Fish Creek did just that, notching 11 flags from 15 successive deciders during the 1950s and 1960s in the Alberton Football-Netball League.
With former Collingwood player Maurice ‘Mocha’ Dunstan recruited to the club, the Kangaroos embarked on setting a scarcely believable strike rate as far as premierships were concerned, with players, staff and spectators treated to what must have felt like Christmas every September.
Before becoming a Mid Gippsland club, Fish Creek competed in the AFNL where it enjoyed not one, not two, but three dynasties.
To go with its remarkable above mentioned run, the Kangaroos cemented themselves as modern day greats with two dynasties in the 21st century – one of which could be counted as ongoing.
Fish Creek won a hat-trick of AFNL premierships in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and has also enjoyed recent success with flags in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Another premiers trophy this season in the Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League will surely be counted toward its current streak, which will make it four from five completed seasons.
For a speck of a town, with a
population of just over 800, Fish Creek has produced some
prominent AFL players including Barry Standfield, who played 111 games for Footscray and Adelaide, and Crows cult hero Wayne Weidemann.
Current Gold Coast Suns rising star Sam Flanders also hails from Fish Creek, while Dunstan’s two sons Graeme and Ian went on to have careers in the AFL, with Ian winning three best and fairests at Footscray in a 172 game career from 1973 to 1982.
2. Traralgon.
Dynasty: Seven premierships in 11 seasons between 1990 and 2000.
Premierships: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000.
Grand finals: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000.
IN a decade where only three clubs shared the Gippsland League premiership, those who didn’t belong to Traralgon, Morwell or Leongatha picked a bad era to be playing.
The Maroons dominated the 1990s, winning six of the 10 flags on offer and only missed the grand final on two occasions.
Those two occasions were 1996 and 1997 when Traralgon played in the VFL.
While their time in the VFL was short lived, they returned to the local league and, understandably, won the next three premierships.
Prior to that they had also won a hat-trick of flags from 1990 and 1992 at a time many believed the Gippsland League was in its heyday.
This claim is probably justified by the fact the then Latrobe Valley Football League won the state country championship in 1990 and 1995 (as the Gippsland Latrobe FL), which could give further rise to the strength of Traralgon during this period.
The Maroons dominance during this time may have been best summed up by the margin it won the 1992 grand final by – 125 points over Sale.
Member for Morwell Russell Northe had a busy time playing for Traralgon in this period, winning four flags as a player and three as a coach. Northe also captained the team to the 1994 triumph.
Wins over the Maroons in the 1990s were celebrated like premierships for some teams, and while celebrations in today’s world may be more subdued, the success Traralgon had some 30 years ago has meant the rivalry between them and the rest of the competition has been passed down through the generations.
Too many Gippsland League
players and supporters, there is still no team you love to beat more than Traralgon.
3. Maffra.
Dynasty: Seven premierships in nine seasons between 2002 and 2010.
Premierships: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010.
Grand finals: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010.
WITH nine senior premierships since 2002, 13 grand final appearances in the past 20 years, and finals qualification in every season this millennium, Maffra has well and truly been a phenomenon in the recent history of Gippsland League football.
In a minor league it’s likely a club would be kicked out for being too dominant if it made 13 of the past 19 grand finals. But in a major league? Surely Maffra is taking the proverbial.
While most Gippsland League clubs aim to make finals at the beginning of every season, making finals may well just be a given for those wearing the red and black. After all, the lowest they have finished since the turn of the century is fourth.
2021 looks to be the season Maffra will finally miss finals, yet the Eagles’ success up to this point also carries a large degree of intrigue.
How can a club in a dairy farming community of just 4000 people, competing against towns four times its size be so good?
How is it that a team wearing guernseys that don’t even have the numbers screen printed on just know how to get it done year after year?
And how have they stayed so hungry for so long?
It is impossible for modern day players in the Gippsland League to fathom, but Maffra actually use to be the easy beats of the competition.
Before their dynasty starting in 2002 there was a club bereft of a senior premiership, with the Eagles drought extending way back to 1948.
Those days appear long gone, as anyone who has played against the Eagles in modern times will attest to, a hallmark of their game play centres around relentless pressure and a distinct ability to grind teams into oblivion once they sense a weakness
Wayne Butcher, who coached the Eagles’ to the first three premierships of their dynasty and has added two more in 2016 and 2019 since, believed this stemmed from a concerted effort to avoid a return to the dark ages.
“That competitiveness is probably driven from the years we got hammered,” he said.
“We got hammered for a lot of years. We used to go to Traralgon and kick two goals and get beaten by 150 points when I was playing.
“Leongatha used to do the same to us – they’d just laugh at us. We don’t want to see those days again.”
Maffra’s success extrapolates further than senior flags, with its wining rate across home-and-away and finals matches hovering around 80 per cent.
So good were Maffra at their peak in the mid-2000s they beat a team of the best Australian Rules Football players from New Zealand on their home soil by 70 points.
It was said if you were a cricketer in the 1990s the true test of your ability was determined by what you did against Australia.
If you have been a Gippsland League footballer this century, the true test of your ability should be determined by what you have done against Maffra.
4. Heyfield.
Dynasty: Quartet of premierships from 1997 to 2000.
Premierships: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000.
NOT many win four in a row.
The Kangaroos saw out the
millennium with an undefeated
season in the year 2000 to be crowned premiers and champions, turning a hat-trick into a quartet.
Heyfield started its run with a commanding victory over Traralgon Tyers United in 1997, winning by 66 points, before going on to beat Glengarry and Sale City in the next two.
Glengarry was again the opponent on grand final day in 2000, but the Kangaroos had all the answers,
winning 15.11 (101) to 8.6 (54).
Those in the Heyfield community will surely know Graeme Anderson, father of comedian Wil, and his prowess as a walking encyclopaedia of all things Heyfield Football-Netball Club was given a number of extra pages during this time.
Like Fish Creek, Heyfield has also been home to a number of AFL players and proudly lays claim to producing three AFL premiership players in Mark Stevens, David Wojcinski and Leigh Brown.
Further premierships have come for Heyfield in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012, however, the 2012 title marks the start of one of the most unfortunate reverse-dynasties in recent memory.
Football hasn’t been entirely kind to the Kangaroos in the last decade, with Heyfield losing four grand finals in a row from 2013 to 2016.
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Bulldogs bite: While they didn’t quite make the list of top four dynasties, Newborough deserves a mention for winning four Mid Gippsland titles between 1999 and 2003 (pictured). file photograph