TEENAGE Merrivale forward Scott Kelly thought his 2002 season was over.
He’d injured a knee in the qualifying final win against Deakin University and missed the next two matches as the Tigers booked a grand final berth.
The injury was harsh luck. Kelly, in his first year in seniors, had played every match and was facing the prospect of missing the decider.
He’d watched his teammates account for the Sharks in the preliminary final. Grand final week had arrived and he was seemingly on the outer.
“I didn’t want to know what the damage was,” Kelly said this week, justifying why he opted against getting a scan on the knee.
“I was going to try and get back, obviously, so I didn’t want to know what was wrong until the season had finished.”
There was one glimmer of hope for Kelly, although the prospect didn’t fill him or the Tigers faithful with joy.
Key forward David Bell, a team-of-the-year selection in 2002, had to face the tribunal on a charge of striking Shark Brett Lake.
Any suspension and Kelly would come into selection consideration. A green light from the tribunal meant the teen would most likely miss out.
The hearing was on Wednesday night. Bell pleaded not guilty but copped a three-match ban. Kelly didn’t know what to think.
“I was probably underdone to be honest but with a forward going down, I was a forward back then,” he said.
“Him getting suspended probably pushed me up there. I’m not sure I would’ve played seniors if he hadn’t got suspended.”
The grand final didn’t finish with a fairytale for Kelly and his Merrivale teammates.
Panmure trailed by two points at half-time but stormed to a match-winning lead with a 5.2 to 0.3 third term, ultimately triumphing 11.8 (74) to 6.8 (44).
The win was the Bulldogs’ 25th in a row. They also won the flag in 2001, against Deakin University, but had this time become premiers and champions.
With hindsight, Kelly, now 30, is uncertain if the Tigers were ever going to win that day — “we were definitely the second-best team that year”.
He’s still searching for that elusive premiership medal 12 years on, but gets another chance in the 2014 grand final at Reid Oval tomorrow.
“When you’re 19, you think they roll around. At that age I thought I was going to play grand finals every couple of years for the next 10 years,” he said.
“That’s the way you think. But I haven’t played in one since then and here we are 12 years later.”
Kelly is one of three footballers who featured in the 2002 grand final and will chase flag success in the 2014 decider.
Nathan Shand and Tim Condon were part of the successful Panmure side that year and have enjoyed considerably more flag success than Kelly.
For Condon, the match and season were particularly memorable.
The Bulldogs had endured player turnover during the off-season — a hangover of winning in ’01 — and there were questions about how they would fare.
But they were unbeatable during the season under new coach Darren Lynch and hammered Merrivale by 15 goals in the second semi-final.
Condon started the grand final in a back pocket with the task of keeping Tigers forward Geremy Dart quiet.
He’d had his colours lowered by half-time. He doesn’t recall Dart kicking a goal but leaving him in his wake up the ground.
Then came the match-defining move. Lynch shifted Condon to a wing and put small forward Shane Parsons on Dart.
“Lynchy, he just said I was getting a little too loose but wasn’t getting the ball at the same time,” Condon said.
Come the final siren, Condon had kicked two goals — one either side of the last break — and finished as the Scotty Stewart Trophy winner.
“It was a game of two halves. The third quarter, when we all played pretty well, I played my best footy,” Condon said.
“We kicked three, four, five goals in 10 minutes. Jeremy Clark got sent off and when he came back on, it sparked us up a bit.
“He banged on some goals quickly and we wrestled the game away from them.”
Condon, now 31 and a four-time Panmure premiership player, said the ’02 season was the making of him as a footballer.
Strangely enough, he credits a move to defence as the reason he enjoyed a breakout campaign, despite his grand final heroics up forward.
“I was still pretty young but I got moved to a back flank from playing forward and onball,” he said.
“My biggest problem when I was younger is I still had good skills but I didn’t think when I used the footy. I’d blaze away or over-handball.
“Lynchy put me on a back flank and let me use the ball well. Being in a good side, it makes it a lot easier.
“You’ve got blokes around you who are helping you do what you have to, not telling you what to do.”
Lynch spent just one season at Panmure but etched his name into club folklore by coaching the Bulldogs to the premiership in ’02.
He joined the club at the back end of a decorated career with South Warrnambool, winning Hampden league flags in ’91, ’94 and ’96.
Playing with Panmure was to do something different. His brother-in-law Shane Gedye was already at the club and lured him across.
Lynch recalls having to somewhat rebuild the list — “we had 12 new players in the side, there was a bit of change in personnel”.
Expectations of a premiership were low but grew the longer the season went on, fuelled with every win.
The efforts of Clark and Colin Goldsworthy up forward were central to the success. The pair kicked near-on 180 goals between them for the season.
Young ruckman Dave Lucas also enjoyed a stellar year. Lynch was “the dummy centre half-forward” — “the other two kicked all the goals”.
“Speaking to Jack Ryan, who is still at the footy club now, he said they would’ve been happy to sneak into the five with the players they lost,” Lynch said.
“To go premiers and champions and the reserves won the premiership as well, it was a great year.”
Lynch said the Bulldogs were “pretty confident going into the grand final”. But doubts had started to creep in when they trailed at half-time.
“It might’ve been the first time we were behind all year, it was an eye-opener for some of the boys,” he said. “A few questions got asked at half-time. The boys came out and responded after that.
“I suppose the boys just had belief they could run the game out. We were a pretty fit side and they knew how to win big games as well.”
As it happened, the ’02 season turned out to be Lynch’s football swansong, aged 29. He travelled overseas in ’03 and never played again.
He is a father of Georgia, 11, Charlie, 9, and Cooper, 6, and only catches the occasional game of bush football these days.
But he still follows Panmure when he can, as well as South Warrnambool, and plans to be among the thousands at Reid Oval tomorrow.
“I don’t get to a whole lot of footy but that’s more because of the kids. It’s a bit hard. But I’ve still got a soft spot for the Roosters and the Bulldogs as well.”