A victory to savour

Thorpdale Football-Netball Club senior football coach Ray Pickering and A Grade netball captain Rachael Blackshaw had reason to smile last Saturday, after the Blues chalked up their first win of the season. After not winning a senior football or A Grade netball match since 2018, the celebrations that followed saw more than 100 people gather in the social rooms. "It was like we'd won a grand final," Pickering said. photograph liam durkin




(originally published May 13, 2021, restored for archive purposes)

WHEN Thorpdale players Matt Powell, Daniel Martin, Kayne O’Connell, James Durkin, Cameron Beale and Ray Pickering walked off the Newborough Recreation Reserve after a one point win in the last game of the 2018 home and away season, it is unlikely any of them thought it would be the start of a 1001 day wait until they would next sing the club song.
The Blues made finals in 2018, backing up the previous year’s effort in which they won 13 matches to earn a double chance. However, a first-week finals exit in 2018 virtually signalled the end-of-an-era as a number of players departed in the aftermath.
Since then it has been a tough slog, with any development following a win-less 2019 halted by a cancelled 2020.
However, in the new-look Mid Gippsland of 2021, Thorpdale has shown gradual signs it is on the right track.
In the first match of the season the team trailed predicted finalists Yinnar by only 17 points at
three quarter time, and in round three had fellow predicted finalist Morwell East by the jugular in the last term.
A 14 point loss to Boolarra the next week had many wondering if or when a first win might come, but players did not have to wait long, with the Blues saluting seven days later to defeat Tarwin 12.11 (83) to 8.18 (66).
After two years, eight months and 27 days without a win, victorious coach Ray Pickering said it was a scene of euphoria in the moments following the final siren.
“It all spilled over in the rooms. The emotions definitely got me, it’s been a real tough gig (fronting up every week),” he said.
“To see the joy on all the players and supporters faces in the rooms … it felt like we won a grand final.
“The changerooms after the game you couldn’t move, it was great, there was beer going everywhere. We had a function on Saturday night and there would have been 120 people.”
While one win might not make much difference to the ladder position in three months time, for a club that has teetered on the brink of extinction in recent years the significance of having something to celebrate carried a fair bit of meaning.
“Everyone has written us off,” Pickering said.
“A lot of people thought we were going to fold in 2019 so to get a win up and a little bit of confidence and to see all the new boys gelling really well is great.
“It really has been a struggle. When I took over as coach in late February of 2019 the boys were getting six to 10 on the track. The aim was to just get two sides on the park in 2019. We got through the year and this year we’ve been quietly confident in what we’ve got.”
Thorpdale may well have reason to be confident this season, as it currently has a healthy enough percentage of 67.19 and is finding small mercies on other lines. Full forward Matt Powell has kicked the second most goals in the senior competition.
“Matt’s going really well, he’s a strong full forward. Our percentage has been good, we’ve been competitive against some good sides,” Pickering said.
Speaking of the winning game itself, the coach described it as a solid performance – and a stark contrast to a “gutting result” the week before against Boolarra.
“It was pretty comfortable all game until we got to the last 10 minutes they got on top with their run,” he said.
“It never really got too close where it was turning into a nail-bitter.”
Such was the magnitude of Thorpdale’s win, coverage of it extended far beyond Gippsland.
Blues player James Durkin enjoyed minor celebrity status after a picture of him drinking a vodka raspberry in the rooms went viral, attracting the attention of media personality and former Carlton and Gold Coast player Daniel Gorringe. Durkin even made it onto a Perth based sports podcast.
Thorpdale netballers also saluted on the day, defeating Tarwin 38 to 28.
Like the football team, the Blues had also not won an A Grade netball match since 2018, and had undergone a similarly tough period in 2019 that saw them unable to field an A Grade side.
Thorpdale captain Rachael Blackshaw was ecstatic when talking about the victory.
“It was so good. To finally get a win on the board, especially because we are a very inexperienced team – only two of us have played A Grade before this year,” she said.
“We didn’t really see it (the win) coming … the first couple of weeks we got beaten very convincingly.
“The first quarter was very even and then in the second and third we pulled ahead. Going into the last we were only up by five and then we pushed out to 10.”
Having basically started from ground zero, Blackshaw said the main aim for the season was to keep taking steps in the right direction.
“I think we just hope to improve from the start to the end,” she said.
“We might get some more wins along the way but it’s probably just about improving as a team.
“We have a lot of young girls so we just want to keep them around for the years to come.”
As Pickering explained, the football and netball wins continued the feel-good stories to come out of the potato farming town in recent times, to go with the success of the premiership winning cricket club and reopened Travellers Rest Hotel.
“The cricket club is going well and having the pub is huge for the town,” he said.
“There’s not much left in old Thorpy so if the pub went it would be a sorry sight. We get down there every away game and give them plenty of support and they’ve been supporting us back.”
With the Blues continuing to fight the good fight, and having a strong reputation as good hosts for visiting clubs, Thorpdale has become something of a sentimental favourite in local sport.
“I think everyone likes an underdog and everyone likes a little club,” Pickering said.
“To be doing something whether it’s a win or a grand final, everyone gets behind it.”
As the scores of last Saturday are now confined to the history books, Thorpdale will look to their next challenge.
The Blues have a very winnable game against Stony Creek this week, who are yet to get on the board in 2021.
However, given what happened in the loss to Boolarra where Thorpdale was tipped to win, Pickering said it would be vital players did not get ahead of themselves.
“We look forward to going down to Stony and hopefully chalking up another one,” he said.
“It’s definitely an opportunity, it’s just a matter of the boys getting their feet back on the ground after a good win.”