Reflecting back and looking forward at sport in the south-west

The highs and lows of 2013

Journalists JUSTINE McCULLAGH-BEASY and AIDAN FAWKES cast an eye over south-west sports 2013 hits and misses and share their thoughts on 2014.

Justine McCullagh-Beasy's perspective

SPORTING HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR

Aside from Fremantle making its first AFL grand final? I’ll stick with the AFL theme. The south-west had four teenagers drafted in November — a remarkable effort and one of its biggest-ever crops. There were feel-good stories everywhere. Cobden’s Zach Merrett made it four Bombers to graduate to the elite level in five years when he joined older brother Jackson at Essendon. Terang Mortlake’s Lewis Taylor became the fourth south-west footballer to join Brisbane’s list and will complement South Warrnambool trio Jonathan Brown, Matt Maguire and Brent Moloney next season. South Warrnambool’s Louis Herbert became the region’s first player to join Gold Coast when the Suns rookie-listed him 12 months after he was overlooked in the draft. And Kolora-Noorat’s Nick Bourke joined Geelong as a rookie after a shoulder injury affected his final TAC Cup season. Those four teenagers will represent the region well — they’re polite, friendly and can seriously play. I look forward to watching their careers unfold. 

Honourable mentions: Warrnambool golfer Marc Leishman finishing fourth in the US Masters behind fellow Australian Adam Scott; Port Fairy breaking its 48-game Hampden league winless streak in round 14; Warrnambool Seahawk Sam Brooks returning to basketball some 12 months after a serious quad bike injury left him in an induced coma. 

SPORTING LOWLIGHT OF THE YEAR

Aside from Fremantle losing the AFL grand final? I believe sportsmanship is vital at all levels, across all codes. So I think it’s fair to say Allansford under 17½ coach Warren Keane showed poor judgment when he used his on-field grand final speech to accuse Old Collegians footballers — who were celebrating their win against Keane’s Cats — of allegedly sending him a death threat. The spray, which included profanities, was said in front of young children. Keane’s outburst dampened what was meant to be a memorable moment for the Warriors. A coach’s role is to lead by example. Keane did not adhere to this and was sacked soon afterwards. He admitted remorse at his Warrnambool and District league tribunal hearing but his three-year ban for unbecoming conduct was the appropriate punishment. 

Dishonourable mentions: Banna Strand dying two months after winning Warrnambool’s coveted Grand Annual Steeplechase; South Warrnambool’s Matt Sully missing out in the AFL drafts after a standout season for Geelong’s VFL team; Warrnambool Seahawks’ axing co-coach Rebel Noter midway through a disappointing Big V season. 

MOST UNEXPECTED RESULT

Apart from Fremantle making its first grand final? North Warrnambool Eagles’ first A grade netball flag. The Eagles saved their best for last. They scraped into the Hampden league finals — their 9-9 win/loss home-and-away record was far from inspiring. But opposition coaches were wary and rightfully tipped the Sharon Kenna-coached side as the finals’ darkhorse. Sister act Laura and Annie Blackburn helped the Eagles to an 11-goal elimination final win against Terang Mortlake and wins against highly-fancied pair Port Fairy and Camperdown followed. The Eagles took confidence into the grand final but their fairytale was expected to end against powerhouse Koroit. The undefeated Saints, searching for their fourth straight premiership, were instead left shocked as the Eagles produced a five-goal win. It was one of the feel-good sports stories of the year for mine. It highlighted that the underdog can win and there is no safe bet in sport.

WHO WILL BE CELEBRATING IN 2014

Former Warrnambool Mermaids coach Trevor Gleeson is well placed to lead Perth Wildcats to the NBL championship. The Wildcats have enjoyed a blistering opening half to the season, sitting comfortably at the top of the table with a 12-1 record. Gleeson took little time to settle into his third NBL senior coaching role and, thanks to Miami Heat-listed excitement machine James Ennis and in-form guards Damian Martin and Jermaine Beal, is a chance to add NBL championship coach to his resume. The Wildcats have one of the strongest followings in the NBL, regularly playing in front of more than 10,000 fans at Perth Arena. I am sure Gleeson is rapt he signed on with the successful franchise in the off-season — and that Ennis is on his roster.

FIVE NAMES TO WATCH FOR IN 2014 

Write these down — Penny Smith (clay target shooting), Tom Hynes (running), Liam Killey (basketball), Isaac Jones (swimming) and Madi Ratcliffe (hockey, surfing). These five teenagers have bright futures in their respective sports. Smith and Jones represented Australia on the world stage in 2013 and are well-placed to progress further. Jones’ 4x200m freestyle silver medal at the FINA world junior championships in Dubai in August highlighted his undoubted ability. The quietly-spoken swimmer lets his results do the talking. I watched Jones swim at the open-water Shipwreck Coast Swim Series in January in awe. He glided past other competitors with ease, easily winning races he competed in just to add variety to his hectic pool schedule. Keep an eye on his progress.

Aidan Fawkes' perspective

SPORTING HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR

I’d love to say the Warrnambool Rangers reserves winning the Ballarat and District Soccer Association division two flag. But compared to what others have achieved this year, our 2-0 triumph barely rates. For mine, the effort of Mepunga quad-bike rider Paul Smith to win a stage of the Dakar Rally ranks among the great motorsport achievements of anyone in the south-west. The Dakar Rally is the most gruelling race in the world. Competitors brave 8000 kilometres of riding or driving in Peru, Argentina and Chile, in temperatures which can exceed 40 degrees and drop below zero. They can battle dehydration and flash floods in the same day, get lost trying to read a map written in French and suffer mechanical failings with little help nearby. Smith finished seventh in the quad bike class in 55 hours, 28 minutes and 51 seconds. Along the way he won stage 11, a 221-kilometre journey from La Rioja to Fiambala in Argentina. “A lot of industry media and all these guys have made a fairly big deal of it — the first Australian quad bike rider, first stage winner since 2006, third-most successful Australian at Dakar. For me, I got there and I finished it,” Smith said.

Honourable mentions: Warrnambool golfer Marc Leishman finishing fourth in the US Masters behind fellow Australian Adam Scott; Warrnambool’s Jordan Lewis and Colac’s Jonathan Simpkin helping Hawthorn win the AFL grand final; Isaac Jones winning silver as part of the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team at the FINA world junior championships; four south-west teens getting selected in the AFL national or rookie drafts; South Rovers onballer Brad McCosh winning the J. A. Esam Medal in his final season before retiring.

SPORTING LOWLIGHT OF THE YEAR

The sheer number of footballers who fronted the independent tribunal in 2013, and the severity of their offences, bordered on ridiculous. Football fans thought they’d seen the worst of it when a Terang Mortlake junior copped an eight-week suspension for unbecoming conduct in 2012 — a verdict which came after three hearings and much controversy. But 2013 was more dramatic for the sheer number of nights the tribunal had to sit — including one Friday night heariRng which lasted until 12.38am. The most severe player penalty was eight weeks handed to Timboon Demons forward Sam Hickey for unbecoming conduct against Nirranda defender Chris Lenehan. Dennington forward Matt O’Rourke copped six matches for unbecoming conduct against Deakin University stalwart Dave Atkinson, while Atkinson received a four-match ban for the same incident and later retired. North Warrnambool Eagles volunteer Wayne Billings also received a ban from having an official role until the end of the season for unbecoming conduct while umpiring a junior match. 

Dishonourable mentions: Allansford coach Warren Keane accusing Old Collegians players of issuing a death threat after the Warriors won the WDFNL under 17½ grand final; the now-resolved $60,000 black hole which threatened to derail a long-awaited redevelopment of Warrnambool’s Reid Oval; Warrnambool Rangers’ straight-sets exit in Ballarat and District Soccer Association division one finals, having won the title for finishing on top after the regular season; Banna Strand, which leapt over a fence into the crowd in 2011, dying two months after winning Warrnambool’s coveted Grand Annual Steeplechase.

MOST UNEXPECTED RESULT

Dennington got a mention in the “sporting lowlight of the year” category 12 months ago after its two-point defeat to Panmure in an epic 2012 WDFNL senior football preliminary final. The story was similar in 2013 but with one key difference — this time they won the preliminary final. The 13.9 (87) to 12.7 (79) defeat of Kolora-Noorat was easily the upset of the season and came after the Power won the sides’ two regular season matches by 88 and 76 points. There were heroes everywhere, none more than playing coach Darcy Lewis who produced one of the performances of his life. Chris Keilar kicked four goals while Tyler Keane and Kyall Timms were generals down back. The effort to simply make the decider took its toll a week later, with Panmure cruising to the premiership. But Dennington had to be admired for simply getting to the big dance.

WHO WILL BE CELEBRATING IN 2014

Judging by the way he’s started the season, Mount Gambier sprintcar driver Steven Lines will be the favourite when the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic rolls around next month. Lines had seven wins by Christmas and is in arguably the form of his career. He is the defending Classic champion and will spearhead the Australian assault on the three-night showcase against a high-quality contingent of Americans. It’s a bold tip given the field could reach 100 for the first time and the anything-can-happen nature of sprintcar racing. But there is no reason why the fan favourite cannot claim a third Classic title and reinforce his status as one of the best in the country.

FIVE NAMES TO WATCH IN 2014

Football fans will keep a close eye on Terang Mortlake recruits Sam Moloney and Chris Bant during the 2014 Hampden league season. The two key forwards kicked a combined 192 goals in the Warrnambool and District league in 2013 and will challenge themselves at Hampden league level. Former Camperdown Paralympian Cameron Rahles-Rahbula will retire from skiing after the Sochi Games in March but could yet go out on a high if his frantic preparation pay dividends. Teenage Bookaar clay target shooter Penny Smith is well placed to replace him in the limelight should her eyes stay sharp and her hands remain steady. Another teen on the rise is Camperdown triathlete Kurt McDonald, 14, who is ranked among the top juniors in his age group and has the ideal mentor in his father, regular Ironman competitor Deiter McDonald.

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