By Russell Bennett
To solidify their rebirth in a new era of West Gippsland footy, the Seagulls revisited the glory years of their past on Saturday night at their Tooradin nest.
At a packed function at the Tooradin and District Sports Club, they celebrated ‘The Ultimate Team’ – the top 25 players from their golden era of 1970 to 1994.
During that period they claimed four premierships in the former South West Gippsland Football League – including three straight from 1970 to 1972, and another in 1975 – and another three in the West Gippsland Football League (1977, 1984, and 1985).
After a lean period in the former Casey Cardinia league and South East Football Netball League, the Gulls are once again in a competition in which they can compete with the best.
Their hopes of senior premiership glory are alive and well, which is in stark contrast to their years of playing a kind of damage-limitation football against the likes of powerhouse Berwick, Narre Warren, and Beaconsfield sides.
Saturday night – just days before a debut senior finals campaign in the WGFNC would get underway – was a reminder that, within the very fabric of their club, there’s the beating heartbeat of a champion.
That champion is William ‘Billy’ Morrison.
Bill was clearly taken aback by being named number 1 in the list of all-time great Seagulls from 1970 to 1994.
But his record is simply astonishing.
After being sensationally given his marching orders as Bunyip coach some 50 years ago, he crossed to the Seagulls and became their all-time greatest player.
He won senior best and fairest awards at the club in 1970, ’71, ’73, and ’74 and was a five-time premiership player (four of them as player-coach). He was a three-time league best and fairest winner in the SWGFL, and in 1977 – his only premiership-winning season at Tooradin in which he didn’t coach – he was the club’s president.
Bill was a brilliant, hard-nosed rover who consistently racked up huge numbers of possessions and was never beaten in one-on-one battles. Already an inducted legend of Tooradin-Dalmore, his status within the club only grew to new heights on Saturday night.
Current Tooradin-Dalmore vice president and past president Derek Genoni became quite emotional when talking about Bill’s impact on the club, and what the night meant to both men was obvious.
“I’d like to congratulate the club on giving us the chance to indulge,” Bill said, after accepting his award in front of a standing ovation from the Seagull faithful.
“I was recruited as a failed coach from Bunyip, and I’d been playing football around Victoria for a while before I came here, but this wonderful club gave me the opportunity to coach again and the football gods shone on us. We had a great group of people – the players, committee, supporters, everyone. It was a marvellous time.
“Good luck to all the current players – if the football gods smile on you, it (premiership success) will happen, and if you put in it’ll make those gods happy.”
Allan Patterson was the first to be named in the prestigious list, at #25, on Saturday night. He joined the Seagulls in 1974 and won premierships in 1975 and 1977. He was a brilliant utility player – used as a key forward, on-baller, or even backman at various stages.
Others to be named in the list included: At number 17, Gulls life member, multiple premiership player, and the former league best and fairest-winning dominant ruckman of West Gippsland Chris Denereaz; and former athletic key forward Barry Eaton, who was named at number 15 after winning a record six senior premierships with the Seagulls.
Many of those named in the top 25 spoke on the night, including former North Melbourne player and strongly-built centreman Geoff Burke, who after being named at number 14, gave one of the function’s most memorable speeches.
Ex-Dandenong VFA champion Pat Flaherty, who led West Gippsland’s goal-kicking in 1983, was a three-time leading goal-kicker at Tooradin, and kicked five goals in both their 1984 and 1985 premiership sides – which he also coached – was named at number 11, in a sign of just how rich the Gulls’ history of on-field brilliance is.
A video interview with him, conducted by fellow Tooradin-Dalmore icon Greg ‘Big Boy’ Bethune, was another of the night’s highlights.
To even be eligible to be named among the top 25 from 1970 to 1994 players had to have played at least two seasons for the club in that period, and their selection was based on performances for Tooradin-Dalmore – not their achievements at other clubs.
Each player who was named to the side on Saturday night was presented by a current member of the Gulls group, in a fantastic touch to bridge the eras.
Ex-St Kilda VFL player, and two-time Seagulls premiership winner Dennis Bartley (#8); and the star VFA player once dubbed by the Dandenong Journal as ‘Mr Football’, Gerry Pennefather (#5) also featured prominently within the top 25.
John Vandermeer (#2) was featured via a pre-recorded interview in England with Jon Gahan. He has one of the more famous stories from the Gulls’ golden era – having been flown in from England to help them secure the in 1985 flag. He was a four-time Tooradin-Dalmore best and fairest winner, a league best and fairest winner in 1987, and a two-time Gulls premiership star.
Dedicated hard work from the likes of Derek Genoni, Mark Amalfi, Ian Adams, Graeme Bell, Rob Cameron, and the current Tooradin-Dalmore Football Netball Club committee combined to make Saturday night a truly remarkable occasion.