By Russell Bennett
“People do come and go and when you speak to players who do go, they never have a bad word to so say about Catani. That’s a massive plus for the club – that’s what we want.” – Heart and soul Blues spearhead, Owen Fitzpatrick.
Outside the walls of Catani’s Taplins Road clubrooms prior to the 2017 season not many would have expected Paul Alger’s men to win the Ellinbank and District Football League senior premiership
But that famous navy blue spirit should never be discounted.
As the saying goes – it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Just about every person who spends time at Catani – from the youngest of players to the oldest, from the new volunteers, to those who’ve been there a lifetime – has navy blue forever pumping through their veins.
Astonishingly, the Blues went goalless in the final quarter of both the preliminary final (a two-point win over the top-of-the-ladder Neerim Neerim South) and grand final in September, and yet still emerged triumphant – by a single point over the Warragul Industrials at their Western Park home ground, 5.7 (37) to 5.6 (36).
And it’s hard to imagine that famous spirit not playing a part.
Prior to this year, the Blues had last tasted senior premiership success 12 years ago – the second of back-to-back flags under Alger at his first stint at the club.
He coached Catani for nearly a decade that time around, and returned in 2015 after guiding Buln Buln to the 2014 EDFL East flag.
“That year before (in 2014) they won one game in the seniors and had no thirds,” he said of the Blues.
“Three years later we’ve got a thirds premiership and a senior premiership.”
Alger praised the likes of favourite son Luke ‘Chops’ McFarlane for his crucial role in the senior side late this season after spending the majority of the year in the reserves – even finishing runner up in that division’s league best and fairest award. He only played five senior games this year, but boy did he make them count.
Nic Visser – who won the best on ground medal on the last Saturday of the season against the Dusties – was another to draw praise for his hard, uncompromising brand of footy through the midfield, while fellow on-ball gun Paul Pattison claimed the Alf Walton Medal as the EDFL’s best and fairest player.
Blues champion Owen Fitzpatrick is closing in on 1000 goals and pinpointed his relationship with Alger as one of the reasons he stayed so loyal to his beloved club.
“He means everything (to us),” he said of the master coach.
“It’s my home club and I feel comfortable here but Algs is best mates with the kids who hardly get on the field in the under-18s, to the best players in the seniors.
“There’s no one in the club he’d walk past and not stop and say g’day to and have a chat with. He means everything to the whole club.
“People do come and go and when you speak to players who do go, they never have a bad word to so say about Catani. That’s a massive plus for the club – that’s what we want.
Catani also clinched a thrilling win in the thirds premiership – capping off an amazing 2017 season.
This year, the co-coach of that side – and the skipper of the senior team – Tanny Rodda will take his commitment to the Blues another step further… also taking on the club presidency.
Not only does the move show just how highly regarded Rodda is by all at Taplins Road, it shows just what the football and netball club means to him.
In January, Rodda will marry Catani’s netball vice president, Geordie Disney.
“I call Catani my second home,” Rodda said.
“You come here and the people are so great – they’re like family, they really are.”
At the Blues, the netballers and footballers are truly part of one club, and they’re all on the same page in driving Catani forward.
And from 2017, they’ve got a hell of a building block.
Rodda has played at other clubs, and won a senior premiership before, but he’d never experienced anything quite like feeling he had straight after the Blues’ dream day at Western Park – in the wake of two famous flags.
And on grand final morning, it wasn’t nervousness engulfing the club – it was genuine self-belief and pure excitement about the opportunity that awaited it.
“You hear of people getting nervous or people being worried, but everyone was just cool and calm and it just felt right – it felt like it was our day,” Rodda said.
He knew, along with his club-mates, that Catani’s iron-strong culture built around toughness and a pure team-first at all costs mentality would see it through.
“A lot of people will say I’m not the best drop punt in the world, but I can win the footy and that’s the main thing,” he added.
When Rodda returned to the Blues a few years ago after a number of years away, he knew he wasn’t leaving again. He was back home.