After a disappointing season in 2018, the Dirty Thirds bounced back in 2019, driven largely by the size and depth of CGFC’s numbers. Some solid recruiting and the return of some seasoned players forced many traditional Thirds players to start training in order to just get selected in the first month of the season. This competition for spots and increased fitness of the team saw the Thirds roll through the first 3 games of the year with comfortable wins over Old Trinity, De La Salle OC and Monash Blues. The highlights of these games was undoubtedly the goal kicking prowess of Matt Ball (11 goals in 2 games) and returning club legend Zac Parsons (7 goals against Monash). The first real test of the year game in round four when we hosted the also undefeated Fitzroy at Glenhuntly. In what was a tight contest all day, the Thirds slowly pulled away in the second half to score a well-earned 16 point win. James Easton was best on ground and Lachy Nixon kicked 2 goals, as the team claimed top spot on the ladder outright.
The following week saw Dirty Thirds history made as we not only played under lights on a Monday night, but also had the game broadcast by “Tonsils” Flanagan over Mixlr. The highlights stopped there as the poor lighting at Banksia Reserve and our poor kicking produced a mediocre win and a desire to never play another night game. Back under sunlight the following Sunday we put in a workman like performance to achieve a 2 goal win over a very competitive Ajax side. However, the following 2 weeks saw the team start to get rolling with 98 point and 188 point wins against Old Trinity and St Bedes Mentone respectively. The latter game also saw the return of Andrew McQualter who slotted 7 goals before sitting out the last quarter with leather poisoning. So at the half way point of the season the Dirty Thirds were undefeated and had a whopping percentage of 263%.
As we headed into June, the rain, the cold, the injuries and the European summer started to take a toll on the club and the coaxing of past players back into the boots increased exponentially. This challenge was also felt across the competition and Round 9 saw our first win by forfeit as Beaumaris couldn’t scrape together 18 players. The following week brought the big rematch against Fitzroy at Hipster Central. After a close first half, Fitzroy produced a powerful third quarter to almost put the game out of our reach. However, lead by a rampaging George Waring and enigmatic forward Lachy Topp, we forced our way back into the game, getting to within 2 goals. Unfortunately, Fitzroy kicked 2 late goals to inflict our first loss of the season by 27 points. Our next outing saw our numbers pushed to the brink as we relied on 5-6 past players to fill a team, including cameos by coach Will Bowes and Dirty Thirds cult hero Freddy Phommachack. This game against De La Salle was played in cyclonic conditions and the 5 point win was arguably one of the best for the year, as we nearly blew a 33 point three quarter time lead, as all our fill in players ran out of legs. The mid-season break had come just at the right time and the 2 weeks off allowed our numbers to improve for the remainder of the year.
The recommencement of the season saw 2 convincing wins over St Bedes Mentone away and Monash Blues at home, before another Sunday date with Ajax at Albert Park. In what was nearly the shock of the season the Jackas jumped us with a 5 goal to nothing first quarter, before we worked our way back into the game to snatch the lead late with a Nick Karoly soccer goal. Another forfeit win against Beaumaris, who had by this stage withdrawn from the competition, lead us into the last game of the year against Fitzroy, with both the minor premiership and hosting rights for the 2nd Semi Final on the line. The game was a tense and willing affair, with both sides super committed at the contest. But we were fielding one of our strongest teams of the year and quarter by quarter we slowly increased the lead to run out the game 26 point winners. Harrison Mills and Rob Handel were key contributors in an important win and most complete performance for the season to date.
The 2nd Semi Final saw us facing the same opponent on the same ground as the previous week. However due to the vagaries of the VAFA finals eligibility rules we had to leave out a few players, so went in with a marginally different line up. While the sun was out, there was an absolute gale blowing, which made scoring into the breeze incredibly difficult. Fortunately, Captain Aiden Clarke won the toss and kicked with the breeze, which was a masterstroke, as we piled on 7 goals to take a 46 point lead into the first break. Matt Wood was instrumental down forward as he kicked the first 2 goals of the game. The game was won however in the second quarter as veteran Steve Kendall wound back the clock by kicking 2 goals into the gale, maintaining the 7 goal lead at the main break. The second half saw some inaccurate kicking and some unfortunate injuries, but we comfortably finished the game 58 point victors and booked our place in the Grand Final.
The weeks leading up to the big game were emotional ones as we said farewell to our star ruckman Adrian Bednarek, who headed off to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon, and we also had confirmation that club legend Steve Kendall has torn his ACL late in the last quarter in the 2nd Semi Final. Steve, the U/19’s assistant coach, had only returned to playing to help us out with numbers, but had played well enough to keep his spot come the pointy end of the season. Selection for Grand Final sides are never easy and with the Reserves playing finals the same weekend, the number of players who were available for Thirds selection swelled. All in all, there were 5 changes for the side that was named for the Grand Final. We now faced De La Salle who had easily accounted for Fitzroy in the Preliminary Final and as the reigning premier provided us with a real challenge, if we wanted to win the flag.
Box Hill City Oval was the venue for the Grand Final and the spacious home rooms of the Hawks made for a fitting pre game setting. The flukey cross breeze gave neither end much advantage, regardless Aiden Clarke continued his good fortune of winning the toss and we kicked to the Whitehorse road end. The first quarter was a congested contest as both sides played accountable tough football. De La has the best of the early running, but wasted a few opportunities to score. As the quarter wore on, we started to gain some ascendancy and some good clean play lead to Rob Handel kicking the first goal of the game. Matt Ball, returning from over a month off with a hamstring injury, then broke lose to kick the next 2 and by the first break we were 16 points up. De La lifted their intensity in the second quarter and finally managed to hit up their full forward who kicked truly to register their first for the day. That was to be his last contribution for the day, as Andrew Spittall dominated him from that point on. After some more strong lead up play a second goal to Rob Handel saw us stretch the lead out to 17 points and that was what we took to the main break.
The spirit in the rooms at half time was resolute and positive, as there was a strong feeling we had weathered the best of what De La could throw at us. Nick O’Connor and Elies El Char had been superb in the ruck, negating one of De La Salle’s star players, and our midfield run was starting to take its toll. The third quarter started similarly to the first half, with a lot of tight accountable football. The tension lifted when De La Salle kicked the only goal of the quarter to close to within 13 points. We had been wasteful going forward and we were fortunate that the opposition missed a shot after the siren to close the margin further. However, our intensity and run was wearing De La Salle down and we finally broke them in the last quarter. Goals kicked off the ground, or from midair, by Ball, Waldron and then Parsons effectively put the game out of reach. By the time James Small banged through our 9th goal from the wing, the contest was settled and the final siren confirmed we had won our 2nd Thirds Premiership in 4 years. Harrison Mills, Matt Ball (4 goals) and Will Ingham were among our best players on the day, however the umpires selected our talisman 200 gamer, Andrew Spittall, as best on ground.
We had over 66 players represent the Dirty Thirds in 2019 and many guys, who didn’t play in the Grand Final, played important roles in getting us to the line. It is also important to acknowledge the support that Adam Cleeve (boundary), Cam Scholten (runner) and Scott Williams (everything else) provided the Dirty Thirds in 2019. Finally, the main reason the Thirds were in a position to challenge for and ultimately win the premiership was the overall strength of the club. For this we owe Peter Small, and the committee, and Simon Williams, and the coaching staff, our thanks and gratitude. Onwards to Premier Thirds in 2020!