By sports editor Russell Bennett
The slight tremble in Steve Tuite’s voice and the glint in his eye said everything late this afternoon at Dowton Park in Yarragon.
It perfectly encapsulated what the end of a 51-year senior premiership drought meant to not only the Longwarry Football Club president and current day stars, but its legions of dyed in the wool members, supporters, and – importantly – past players.
This was in honour of generations past, as much as anyone.
This was for those who’d poured years – decades, even – of blood, sweat, and tears into their club without the ultimate reward.
And this will be remembered for a long, long time to come.
The crescendo to the 2019 Ellinbank and District senior season was hardly an instant classic, but grand finals rarely are.
Under picture-perfect skies, in pristine conditions in front of a mammoth crowd at Dowton Park, it was clear the side that settled first would have a clear advantage.
People came from far and wide to not only pack the ground, but the streets neighbouring it.
And it was Ellinbank that went into the first break with the only goal on the board – leading 1.1 (7) to 0.3 (3).
But the up-side in the Crows’ group was plain for all to see.
The likes of Frank D’Agostino and Tom Johnson started encouragingly for the Bankers, while the Crows struggled early to capitalise on their hard work.
At quarter-time Longwarry player-coach Daniel Fry touched on the poor quality of inside 50s early from his group, and implored his men to stay calm and composed and hit their targets by foot.
And it was a message they received loud and clear – taking the advantage, though still not converting as they would have liked on the scoreboard, to lead 3.7 (25) to 2.4 (16) at half-time.
By this stage the likes of Russell and Troy Lehman, Tye Holland, Kane Oldham, big man Nick Redley, and the speedy Riley Rundell had made a clear and decisive impact on the contest.
And in the third term it was the Crows’ defense that stood strong under pressure, providing the answers right when it was questioned.
The result manifested directly on the scoreboard – with the Crows conceding just three behinds while adding 3.3 of their own in a somewhat low-scoring battle to that stage, 6.10 (46) to 2.7 (19).
The Crows’ composure was what set them apart, and to the neutral observer it looked like they’d had the game won.
But they’d be taking absolutely no chances, and nothing for granted, with a quarter still left to play.
They’d been starved of success for long enough – not just the club, but many of its players throughout their senior careers – and had felt the bitter taste of disappointment on the big stage before.
The heartache of last year’s grand final loss – by just four points to Nyora – was undeniable, particularly with it being exactly 50 years since the Crows’ last senior flag in 1968.
They weren’t going to go through it all over again; this wasn’t slipping through their grasp.
In his three-quarter time address, Fry – who provided target after target in his forward 50 post – came to life.
“We’ll win this game on the outside – that’s where it’ll be won or lost – but at the moment it’s not done yet, no way!” he said.
“Are you sick of not being a premiership player at Longwarry?
“We’ve got a f****** army of people here who want us to win this game.
“I said at the start of the game – we will not walk off this ground losers. We will not!
“We are the strongest the Longwarry club has been for the past 51 years.”
After the opening stages of the last, when it became clear a win was a bridge too far for the Bankers, it became just as clear it would be a celebration for the Crows – a celebration for the players, for the club, and for all who’d gone before them over the past five decades.
Fry, who finished with three majors, kicked one in the last to put his side up 33 points early.
But the best was yet to come from him. A huge bomb of a goal – from right in front of the vocal crowd on the clubroom side – had him standing still, arms raised. Victory belonged to the Crows. The drought was murdered.
Holland had his own moment of glory in the last – with his own, long shot on goal. He, too, finished with three majors.
His own story – at one stage leaving the Crows as a favourite son to sign with the Warragul Industrials, and to return after his premiership mission there fell short – is just one of many to be told from Saturday’s game.
Russell Lehman’s is another. Prior to this, he’d never won a football grand final – from well over half a dozen attempts across the grades.
Cory Lenders; Leigh McDonald; the Serong boys – Jedd, Jake, and Aaron; Nick Walsh; Danny Wells – they each had their own stories to tell.
But summing them all up, after an eventual 39-point win his club’s way – 10.12 (72) to 4.9 (33) – was president Steve Tuite.
“Ironically, it’s 50 years this year since we won the under-18s,” he said on the subject of premiership droughts.
“Today we won the under-18s one (by two points over Poowong) and the senior one as well.
“We’ve had a really disjointed season this year – we had three home games out of the first nine, we had all sorts of injuries midyear, and we haven’t been able to train on our home ground for six weeks or so either, so for these guys to achieve what they did is incredible.
“And the boys from the 1968 are so happy for us – they didn’t want to be the last premiership side. It was just so overdue.”
Tuite also paid tribute to Fry, who completed the fairytale as a drought-breaking senior premiership coach in his final game.
“He’s taken this club so far, both on field and off, and brought blokes like Cory Lenders, Russ Lehman, and Nath Fry into the club.
“What a legend.”
Tuite also paid tribute to Nathan Fry – Daniel’s first cousin, and the 2019 premiership skipper.
“We have a Peter Knights award now, which is basically for the player who goes above and beyond.
“He’s won it, and the players just love him.”
Tuite’s emotion started to show when talking about the magnitude of the Crows’ win.
“All I do is steer the ship. We’ve got volunteers who put in a lot more hours than me, and we’ve got past presidents here today who didn’t get the ultimate reward. It’s for people like that, and the life members.
“That’s what I’m most proud of – that those people can celebrate a senior premiership.
“You can probably hear the emotion in my voice when I talk about them. I’ll have to give a speech tonight at the rooms and I doubt I’ll be able to hold myself together. It’s just amazing.”
Once Fry was named coach at the start of his tenure with the Crows, he backed himself in to ultimately get the job done – to achieve, with his playing group, exactly what they did in 2019.
He told the club prior to the 2017 season that he thought he could bring success to the club, and he’s delivered on it.
“I thought if I could just bring a few people with me to the footy club, we could definitely build success here,” he said.
“If I could bring guys like Nathan and ‘Nugget’ (Lenders), that’d be a really good foundation, and then we set out to bring people who’d been at the footy club back to the fold.
“We set out on getting them back – Tye Holland, Danny Wells, Jedd Serong – because we needed to build this around them, and they’re the ones who’ve helped bring that success today.”
Fry said Holland had dedicated the second phase of his Longwarry career to winning a premiership.
“Look, if you asked me three years ago if I’d stand here today as a premiership coach and my cousin a premiership captain, I’d have laughed at you,” Fry added.
“But today I get to finish my career on the biggest high ever.”
Footy is notorious for making sure fairytales don’t come true – that the heartbreak wins out.
But on this day, at Yarragon, the footy fairytale of the Longwarry faithful was fulfilled.
“We needed to do this for everyone else at the club,” Fry said.
“There’s just been so much heartache over the years but I’m just so proud of this footy club and I couldn’t be more proud.
“The build up to last year’s grand final was huge – being 50 years since the last senior premiership – but we were just trying to find a way to win it and couldn’t against Nyora.
“This year was all about making sure we got there.”
Rundell, with his outside flair and dash, was a deserving winner of the best on ground medal.
But today wasn’t just about Longwarry ending its senior footy premiership drought. Catani’s A Grade netball drought stretched back even further – 59 years, to be exact – and the Blues’ own fairytale came true.
Not only did they win A Grade (over Poowong), but they also claimed the B Grade title, with Angela Banbury’s own fairytale coming true. She’d never experienced the sweet taste of senior premiership glory with her beloved Blues, and today she not only got her long-awaited premiership medal, but was also named best on court.
For a comprehensive story on the Blues ending their own drought, be sure to pick up a copy of this week’s Berwick-Pakenham Gazette.
WATCH: A senior premiership song 51 years in the making, as the Longwarry players and faithful belt it out at the top of their lungs…