The making of champions

Long after they'd sung the song in a shower of champagne, the Lions looked within themselves to talk about what their premiership meant to them. 191811 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Russell Bennett

WGCA PREMIER GRAND FINAL
THE LEADERS

Hours after play had finished at Toomuc Reserve on Sunday, Pakenham’s Premier cricket side stood huddled around the wicket in the dead of night.

It was a moment for them to savour – one where those Lions would each divulge just what their second premiership win over a mighty Kooweerup champion side meant to them.

That moment was theirs alone, but some of their key personnel spared some time following the win to tell the Gazette just what their perfect ending to the 2018/19 season meant.

Seasoned leader Jack Anning was particularly honest – impressively so. He spoke about the influence the likes Rob Elston and Dale Tormey had on this season’s group, but also divulged just what went on behind the scenes throughout the Lions’ campaign.

“The biggest turning point for us was when we had Jack Ryan’s bucks just after Christmas,” he said.

“T-Mac (Troy McDermott) and Chappy (Zac Chaplin), for example, hadn’t gelled a lot until then.

“Not that they had any issues with each other at all – but everyone from the side was on that bucks do and I think that was the turning point. That was the thing that made everyone click and from there we played unbelievable cricket.

“A lot of the blokes had done a solid pre-season and done good training blocks pre-Christmas, but after Christmas everyone just thought we were on the verge of something special with a special group so let’s do something about it.

“We were really conscious of having a great group, but only winning one flag until this year.

“Dom (injured skipper Dom Paynter) was a big driver of that. I know he missed out this year through injury, but he’s been a massive driver of making sure we capitalise, so that when we catch up in 10 years’ time it’s not about what could have been.”

The magnitude of the Lions’ performance on the weekend wasn’t lost on Anning or any of his team mates.

“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” he said.

“Cardinia lost two in a row to them, and we did too.

“I’ll admit I was scared of Jess (Mathers) – not physically scared, but intimidated by his bowling and how he goes about it.

“We came up against Tooradin and Cardinia mid-year – good sides like that – and we know they have good players, but I’m always confident that our cricket is better than their cricket over 160 overs.

“With Koowee, you’re confident that your cricket is good enough over 160 overs but you’re never quite sure you can get the job done because they’re just that good – they’ve got Jess, Coops (Mark Cooper), Tubsy (Chris O’Hara), those guys. While we’ve always had decent results against them during the season, there’s a fear factor when you’re 1-2 down in a series of grand finals.

“It took something pretty special to beat them the first time, and it probably took something pretty special from Dale and the whole group this time.

“To be 2-2 with them is a great achievement for us – particularly chasing a total in all four.

“You look at them as the greatest side of this era. They’ve got players who are some of the best to ever play in this competition, so to be able to sit there and say we’ve gone 2-2 against them in grand finals with maybe more to come … bring it on.

“For blokes who’ve been through all four – there have been tough times, and even a few home truths.”

And those home truths were stark.

“I’ll openly admit it now – there was a physical altercation on the Sunday after the (grand final) loss last year,” Anning said.

“A couple of the boys didn’t take too kindly to Tommy Tyrrell’s physical preparation with his groin injury, but that got resolved quickly.

“The thing is – he’s such a great fella that you can’t not love him. I called Tommy out on how he acted, but he took it on board. We love him, he’s one of us. Incidents happen and you make decisions. We welcomed him back and loved him, and we know he loves us. To bounce back from that – not to discredit the flag years ago, but this one means more. To mentally recharge to chase something down … I’ll be honest: I went to bed on Saturday night thinking we were going to lose. I didn’t think we could do it.”

Tormey came into the side with a fearsome reputation as an outstanding player. And he more than lived up to it – finishing the 2018/19 season with 1051 runs in all forms at 75.1, and 29 wickets at 17.2.

He also snapped Mathers’ run of three-straight Lex Duff medals as the player of the grand final – scoring 61 with the bat, and taking 4/30 from his 19 overs.

“This club has been great to me, as soon as I walked in the door,” Tormey said of the Lions.

“I live 100 metres away from the ground – you can see the rooms from my house.

“There have been nights where I’ve been posting online, asking anyone if they want to head to the nets early for a hit. I just live a couple of minutes away so I’m happy to get here early and set the bowling machine up. For anyone who wants to work on their game, I’m happy to come and help. At the end of the day it’s only going to benefit the club, and that’s the main thing.”

Tormey played against current Lions team mate Ben Maroney in a DDCA grand final almost exactly six years ago when he was at Lyndale, and Maroney at Cranbourne.

“I said to him before this game – ‘six years ago I won one against you mate – let’s win one together’,” Tormey said.

“He’s a pest but he’ll do anything for the club. He’ll be here early setting things up as well. He’ll go above and beyond helping blokes out. We got here to train this morning (day two) and the machine was already set up. That’s him. He was out on day one – he could quite easily have gone home and sulked – but he was here first thing, setting the machine up for everyone else. That just shows the kind of bloke he is at this club.”

Tormey said he did take pride in his own performances this season, but only because the campaign was capped off with a premiership. It would have felt fairly hollow otherwise.

“Of course you always want to make runs and take wickets, but at the end of the day you play to win premierships with your mates and that’s what it comes down to,” he said.

“This is a great bunch of blokes, and they’re great to be around. I enjoy coming to training, I look forward to it, and it makes it so much easier when you have a group of blokes like this one.”

And Lions fans will be pleased to hear that he’s not planning on leaving.

“I’ve got no reason to leave,” he said.

“I live 100 metres from the ground, I love it here, and the blokes are great. Let’s come back bigger and better next year.”

For his part, Maroney was overcome by the emotion of the occasion – with the premiership cup never far from his grasp throughout the night.

“I made a plan with Mitsu (Phil Anning) well over 10 years ago now when it came to relegation,” the Lions’ former captain-coach admitted.

“We spoke about it, and I said we would (be relegated) and it’d be a good thing for the club.

“I said the group we had coming through needed to learn how to win and get that feeling of success. We needed to go back (when the competition structure changed to Premier, District and Sub-District).

“I said to him the club would win a flag in the next six to eight years, and they did – against Koowee a few years ago.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t part of it, but I had to come back. I was here on the Sunday when they won it. My phone didn’t stop ringing from the likes of Dom, Boof (Williams) and Mitsu. They said I’d called it all those years ago – that we needed to go backwards to then go forwards. We did because of these kids. They’re not kids now, but 10 years ago they were. If they kept losing games, we were going to lose them.”

Two decades ago, Maroney played in a premiership with great mate Bernie Gramc. On Sunday, he tasted success once again with Bernie’s son Sean.

“It was just at the start of the season this year when we lost Bernie,” he said.

“I had some real determination to win it this year with these boys. Bernie was the one who got us the three premierships in a row. He started it, he went out of his way to get it, and to play with Sean now is just amazing.”

And Maroney reserved a special tribute for his great mate, Paynter.

“I handed back Dom’s baggy cap (after the grand final),” he said.

“I wore it all year, and it was undefeated because I didn’t play in the game we lost. I handed it back to him, with my medal in the middle of it. Dom didn’t know, and he came up to me and just gave me this massive hug.”

After what could have been his last WGCA Premier game, Maroney’s moment on the pitch with his team mates was a reflective one.

“I didn’t say too much because I got pretty emotional,” he said.

“I just thanked the boys. I cried, and that was it.”

Finally, captain-coach Rob Elston paid tribute to his team mates, and the wider Lions’ family following the win. He also thanked his own family for their sacrifice throughout the season.

He said the theme of the finals for the Lions was ‘calm’.

“I told the boys that if they were feeling the pressure they could talk to their team mates – the guy at the other end with the bat, or if they’re out there with the ball just talk to me, to Benny (Maroney), to Jase (Williams), or the guy next to them at mid-off,” he said.

“Last year we just got belted off the park, and the year before was probably the tightest grand final for a long time.

“The main thing I said on Tuesday was that we had to be bold – we had to be brave – because Kooweerup doesn’t just lose grand finals. That group had been there long enough and just knew how to win – they wouldn’t just lose it. We had to be bold enough and mentally strong enough for long enough.

“One of my main sayings is ‘better for longer’ and we’d been better for longer all year, except for one game.

“Today we were thankfully able to be better for longer. They’re a great side. They’ve got some absolute guns, and they don’t lose games – you have to beat them. Luckily enough, we did today.”

Finally, Elston paid tribute to Tormey’s impact.

“He’s a police officer and he works night shift, so he’d get home in the morning, sleep for two or three hours, and then he’d come and play a whole day of cricket and then head to work again,” he said.

“Obviously that’s his chosen profession, but he doesn’t complain, he just comes in and does it. He puts his reputation on the line every week, because everyone wants to get him out. He’s been extraordinary for us.”

Tormey gave some particularly honest feedback to his team mates early in the season – feedback that could have had an adverse effect to a group that was less tightknit.

But the Lions grew from it.

“After the Cardinia game we had a good chat and we laid it out on the line that it wasn’t just going to happen for us,” Elston said.

“Dale looked a few blokes in the eye and – honestly – gave it to them straight-up.

“Dale’s been unbelievable in terms of his ability with the bat, but also his experience – and coming in from outside he’s just kept people honest. He leads the way at training, and when he talks people listen. He doesn’t have to say a whole lot.

“But at the same time I think we were good for him because we kept him accountable – he wasn’t relied upon to make all the runs, even though he had an amazing year. That’s probably part of the reason that he had such a good year – he could trust in others.”

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