A history of the Eagles ….
On the 3rd February 1976 the Baulkham Hills Australian Football Club Inc. (BHAFC) was officially formed when the founders of the Club decided that the Hills area of the Sydney Northwest was ready to be developed as an AFL heartland. Prior to this historic initiative, players and officials had been involved with the Pennant Hills Australian Football Club, who in turn subsequently provided valuable support to the new fledgling club, including use of its ground (now the Ern Holmes Oval) for matches between 1976 and 1980.
That inaugural Management Committee comprised Ray Johns (President), Stan Edwards (Vice President) Joan Edwards (Secretary), R Raprager (Treasurer) Val Johns, Val Toy, J Skidmore, B Clift, W Solomons, Barry Toy, Kevin Hall, Ian Mercer, A Fallon and L McPherson.
According to the minutes of those early meetings, the Club began with a bank balance of just $32.15 and fielded teams in the Under 11, 13 & 15 age groups. The Hawthorn colours of brown & gold were adopted because Committeeman Barry Toy was a past Hawthorn player. One of the early players was Barry’s son Mick who later returned as a senior player and coach. It was also in that initial formative year of 1976 that the Club won its first Premiership when the U/13 Kookas took the flag for coach Kevin Hall.
It was a forerunner to the many more that would follow over the years across all age groups and in both of the junior streams – the Hawks & the Kookas. In actual fact a third stream (known as the Lions) was occasionally introduced for those years where the numbers exceeded two teams.
In September of that same year, the Club was accepted as a Division of the Baulkham Hills Sporting Club establishing a valued relationship which, although now finished, was to last for many years.
Clearly the foresight and hard work produced in 1976 by a small band of dedicated officials and players created a very solid foundation for the future. From this beginning the Club ultimately grew (as at its 20th year in 1996) to 13 teams, over 250 players and an annual budget approaching $100,000. A marked contrast to the original funds of $32.15.
1977 … further growth
With the introduction of an U/17 team to complement the U/11’s, 13’s and 15’s, BHAFC again reached the finals in all but the U/17’s. A meritorious achievement indeed for a club in only its second year of competition and which didn’t have a home base. Matches were being played at Ern Holmes whilst the committee stepped up the search for its own home ground.
The following statement, written in 1996, is lifted straight from Grahame Willis’ excellent document titled “The First 20 Years…. 1976 to 1995.”
“The challenge of securing adequate recognition and suitable ground facilities for a minority sport in a significant growth area of Sydney still remains. “However, just as in 1977, this need is receiving the priority attention of the Club’s Executive in 1996 and we remain confident that a suitable solution will be found.
Indeed if the Club is to successfully pursue its ambition for promotion to the anticipated State League competition, additional ground facilities are absolutely vital.”
1978 – 1979 …a period of consolidation
The Club continued under the guidance of John Morris (elected as President in 1977), a most successful administrator and business executive, who was later to become the Chief Commissioner of the NSW Australian Football League.
In 1979 all four teams reached the finals but regrettably further Premiership success proved to be elusive during these years, although in 1979 Baulkham Hills was runner-up to St Ives in the overall Club Championship – another sign of the growing strength of the Club.
In 1978 use of the Castle Hill Showgrounds oval was obtained for training for the first time. This venue was to be used extensively in the years ahead for both football and social functions. Interestingly enough it was also in 1978 that the “Kookarettes” cheer squad were formed, however they were not to remain as a permanent part of the program, despite their popularity with players and supporters.
More enduring however was the introduction of the Club’s first T-shirt which was the forerunner to the highly visual maroon & gold of the Baulkham Hills Falcons which was so evident on the Australian Football scene in Sydney.
1980 …a new decade commences
During these 10 years the ‘Baulko’ torch was to burn extremely brightly.
Building on the establishment phase of the late 1970’s the Club embarked on an aggressive program designed to foster rapid growth and competitive success.
Within the next five years Baulkham Hills would develop to being the largest and most powerful junior club in Sydney. This advancement would similarly lay the foundations for the eventual progression into senior 2nd Division football in 1988. Many of the innovations introduced during this period – in the areas of recruitment, training, communications, fund raising, social activities, media promotion, management structures and community involvement – were also to provide a long term contribution to the future direction and development of the Club.
In 1980 the U/17 Hawks were to take the Premiership and numerous players were included in representative squads, which are highlighted elsewhere. Perhaps the individual highlight however was the selection of Terry Thripp in the NSW U/17 side, who of course was to later become a permanent member of the Sydney Swans team for many years. Terry is one of only two Falcons players to achieve this status. The other being Dion Myles, who had his first senior Swans game in 1995.
Two new teams emerged this year resulting in the eventual establishment of the famous Kookas and the Hawks twin streams within the Club. This was to be the catalyst for later entering two teams in each junior age group – at that stage, a feat unrivalled in Sydney football. Four of the six teams played in the h3 North Shore competition and two in the newly formed Hills District / Lower Blue Mountains competition.
During the ensuing years the Club was to become a major participant not only in the local competition, but also in the administration and development of the Hills District / Lower Blue Mountains Association and its successors. One of the ‘Baulko’ ladies, Life Member Pam Johnson, would also become President of the Association along with long serving member Jim Reynolds.
On the playing field the U/15 Hawks achieved a Premiership victory and the Club was successful in obtaining limited use of Masonic Oval as its first home ground away from Ern Holmes Oval. Banners and medallions were introduced for Club milestones as players began to surpass the 50 and 100 game mark. 1981 saw the end of the first five years.
A worthwhile history of effort and achievement was starting to emerge at Baulkham Hills. The challenge was to build on this promising foundation – a challenge which was to be successfully met with enormous enthusiasm and competence.
1982 … more teams added
Brian Ginger had coached the U/15 Hawks to the flag in the previous year and he was “rewarded” with the Presidency in 1982. Two more teams were formed which took the junior complement to eight in total.
From the outset Baulkham Hills had believed in the need not only to maximise the number of players in the Club, but ideally to field at least two sides at all junior age levels. It was also the Club’s policy – literally an act of faith – that as far as possible these teams should be equally competitive. This creed provided friendly rivalry within the Baulkham Hills fraternity, whilst not detracting from our Premiership capability and overall Club unity. Player participation at all age levels and regular finals success have been a hallmark of the Club ever since.
For interested readers the real significance and importance of this fundamental objective was well documented by Vice President John Payne in his 1993 Senior Division report. This report warrants the continuing attention of Office Bearers and Committees of Management into the future.
1982 also witnessed the establishment of a separate Baulkham Hills Senior Club for entry into the Sydney District Football Association in 1983. Whilst independent of the BHAFC, the two bodies had a close liaison and in 1989 the “senior” club requested a merger with the “junior” club as part of its planned move into senior football. However, between 1982 and 1989, a number of juniors were able to obtain their first taste of open age football with this organisation.
A ninth team was added and the Premiership victory of the U/17 Hawks in ’83 was the first of another 15 to follow in the next five years. Ian Fraser handled the Presidency duties and this year really did usher in a period of unparalleled competitive success for Baulkham Hills.
The Club fielded all its teams in the Hills & District Association and in this important period for the local competition three of those teams – U/13 Hawks, U/15 Hawks and U/17 Hawks made the finals. David Reed who had won selection in the Sydney and NSW U/17 sides was awarded the Junior Sportsman of the Year from the Baulkham Hills Sporting Club. A wonderful acknowledgement considering the sport was still in its infancy in the area.
The Ladies Auxiliary, which went on to virtually become the major sponsor of the Club, was formed during the year and it assumed the principal role of fundraising and organisation of social activities within the Club.
1984 / 1985 … on a roll
In ’84 and ’85 the Club won three and four Premierships respectively. Because of a change in age groups the nine teams of 1983 were reduced to eight but the competitiveness of the two streams – Hawks and Kookas – was very much in evidence. By this time the rivalry within the Club was well established and the local “Derby” matches were eagerly awaited.
According to Grahame Willis, the Club President in 1984 / 85, the “Derby” concept began in the 18th century between two local parishes in Derby in England when the competing teams tried to force the ball from one parish to the other. Such was the spirit shown that in one year troops were reportedly called in. Fortunately this degree of partisanship did not arise at Baulkham Hills, although the keen competitiveness continues to this day.
Significant introductions in this period were the summer training programs plus the establishment of a regular Club Newsletter. A Ground Development Fund was implemented to assist the proposed acquisition of a new oval to be developed at Crestwood and sponsored official track suits for teams were provided for the first time.
1984 also honoured Doug and Glenys Reed as our first Life Members for their long and most valued service to the Club.
1986 / 1988 … the roll continues
In 1986 the Club fielded 10 teams for the first time. This was the final realisation of a goal set in the early 80’s and cemented the platform from which to launch the senior campaign in 1987. Two flags were won in ’86 and numerous representative honours were achieved.
In 1987 yet another team was formed and three Premierships were secured, whilst in 1988 the teams remained stable with yet again another three flags were available for flying on the poles so kindly donated by the Patron, Councillor Roy Potter. Incidentally the goal posts at Charlie McLaughlin, for so long now a visual reminder of AFL in the Hills, are also flag poles from the Potter Poles organisation.
But it was off the field where so much was achieved during this three year period under the guidance of President Bill McLeod. In 1986 work was completed on the Club’s new home ground at Crestwood – Charles McLaughlin Reserve – and home matches commenced at this venue in 1987. An amount of $5,000 was contributed by the Club to the Council towards the development costs – these funds having been raised through the special account opened two years earlier.
Another historic milestone in 1987 was the formation of a Steering Committee to plan for the establishment of a senior division within the Club. Members of that very strategic committee were Grahame Willis (Convenor), Pam Johnson (Secretary), John Cornish, Keith Finch, Bruce Johnson, Kevin Kirk, Rodger Ledwidge, Arthur Lighezzollo, Bob McLean, Bill McLeod, Jim Reynolds, Terry Stephenson and Graeme Watson. Up to that time the majority of the Club’s players who wanted to continue in senior football had moved to the Pennant Hills Club. However by 1987 a view had emerged that the interests of both Baulkham Hills and the code warranted an expansion of ‘Baulko’ into the senior ranks.
In September 1987 a major submission was presented to the Sydney Football League and late that year approval was given for an U/19 team to be entered into the State League in 1988. Initially the team, under David Grace as coach, participated as a ‘de facto’ U/19 side for Sydney University and again in the following year for East Sydney. The Club was most grateful for the assistance from Sydney Uni and Easts as well as the support provided by the Commissioners of the NSWAFL and the Chairman of the League’s Planning and Strategy Committee, Warren Quintrell.
Fortunately, Warren was to later become a coach and an active administrator at the Falcons.
A further well received initiative in 1988 was the finalisation of arrangements with the East Doncaster club in Melbourne for regular end of season matches between the clubs in their own city on alternative years. These trips were an awakening for most players and officials from both an on and off the field basis!
1989 / 1991 … the end of an era and a new beginning
By 1989 the number of teams had increased to twelve – 10 in the juniors and two in the seniors, including the first open age team which participated in Division 2 of the SFL after the ‘merger’ with the separate Baulkham Hills Senior Club.
Unfortunately the persistent rains of the 1989 winter saw the cancellation of the juniors’ premiership competition. An historic occasion indeed. Normal conditions were to return in 1990 and again the Club increased their representation to 13 teams following the formation of a complete senior division with U/20, Reserves and Senior sides in Division One of the SFL.
The Club resumed its Premiership march with victories by the U/15 Kookas, U/17 Kookas and the U/20 senior side. This Premiership was of course the first in the senior division of the Club and along with Coach Doug Scholz* winning the Snow Medal for the B&F in SFL Div 1, was to be the prelude to even greater success the following year. In 1990 the Club was also honoured with the NSWAFL award of the best managed senior club, plus they shared the junior award with Westbrook.
* Doug Scholz passed away suddenly on Thursday July 3rd 2008.
In 1991 two Premierships went to the U/15 Hawks and the Falcons First Grade side. Significantly the First Grade victory had been achieved within four years of moving into senior football and within two years of establishing a First Grade team. Equally importantly, although only one junior Premiership had been secured, the junior part of the Club had achieved the distinction of having every eligible team but one qualify for finals’ football. This was another milestone confirming the depth and strength of the Club and the validity of the ‘integration and population’ philosophy in maximising both player numbers and the competitiveness of all teams.
Throughout this period the Ladies Auxiliary generated record funds for the Club. Key contributors to this result included Anne McLeod, Laurel Abercrombie, Edna Baker, Kath Cuneo, Robyn Maughan, Glenys McPhee, Dawn Meldrum, Heather Muirhead, Dianne Pascoe, Ruth Stone and Jill Turbill. Their efforts were again in the best traditions of the ladies of Baulkham Hills.
Towards the end of this period, following lengthy and substantial representations to the Baulkham Hills Shire Council, approval was forthcoming for the installation of floodlighting at Charles McLaughlin for training. This result had required a sustained and prolonged effort by the Club to overcome the objections of a number of local residents.
Grahame Willis, who had presided over the Club in 84 / 85, returned to the President’s role during these three years and his experiences in securing these lights could indeed be a whole separate chapter in the life of the Baulkham Hills footy club.
1992 … promotion to the Sydney Football League achieved
The highlights of 1992 under Jim Pascoe’s Presidency were the Premierships won by the U/20’s and the Reserve Grade victory under coach Tony Hill who was to go on and assume the Presidency in the following three years of 1993 – 1995.
Based on earlier achievements and the further progress attained in 1992, an application was made in June 1992 for promotion to the Sydney Football League in 1993. In a comprehensive and successful submission to the NSWAFL, prepared by Warren Quintrell and Grahame Willis, the Club submitted that:
“It is vitally important to our Club, and we suggest to the code in the North West area generally, that promotion of Baulkham Hills to the Sydney Football League be approved and announced before the end of the 1992 home and away matches”.
Therefore in only five years the Club had rapidly moved from one U/19 team to a full complement of senior teams in the highest level of Australian Rules available in Sydney. Beyond 1992, the task would be to achieve competitiveness at this higher level.
The Junior Division again fielded 10 teams in the Hills & Hornsby competition, however whilst all teams acquitted themselves well, a Premiership failed to emerge.
Of vital importance in ’92 was the formation of a structured schools program with clinics coordinated by Warren Quintrell. During this initial year six schools were covered – a major breakthrough in this vital area, given the Sydney wide difficulty of properly establishing Australia’s national football code in the educational system.
1993 – ’96 … 20 years on
Further Club and individual success was achieved under Tony Hill’s leadership during these three years as the Club moved to the completion of its first 20 years and commenced the venture into the highest level of the Sydney AFL.
At Club level this included the U/17 Kookas’ Premiership in 1994 when this side played the U/17 Hawks at Gore Hill oval to determine bragging rights. In the true spirit of the Hawks and Kookas ‘Derbies’ this match was the fiercest that most long time supporters had ever seen. The U/19’s were Runners Up while a number of junior teams made the finals.
Ruckman Graham Jones won the Phelan Medal for the Best & Fairest player in the SFL, thus becoming the first Baulkham Hills player to do so.
In 1993 the Club legally incorporated after careful consideration by the Executive and preparation of a detailed application by the then Secretary Henry Yeates.
In 1995 Dr Geoff Brooke-Cowden, Mayor of the Baulkham Hills Shire Council, was appointed as a Patron of the Club. Dr Brooke-Cowden, who joined Councillor Roy Potter in this most important position, had a keen interest in AFL football and his engagement as Patron was a strategically important move for the future.
20 years on the Club could look back with considerable pride. Over 1,000 players and their families had participated in our activities, three teams grew to thirteen, a new ground was secured, considerable funds were raised, interstate affiliations created, a fully integrated junior and senior club established and 27 Premierships had been won.
However as Grahame Willis commented:
“The Club cannot however, rest content with the past. Conditions are changing and Baulkham Hills must now position itself to meet the challenges of the future.
“We need to retain a pro-active management together with experienced and capable coaches and managers. We must ensure that players are well trained, enthusiastic and committed to individual, team and Club success. Finally, we need financial viability and a loyal and vocal contingent of helpers and supporters.
“Further Premiership success is essential at all levels of juniors and seniors. However the ultimate target must be achieving that SFL Premiership.
“This ultimate goal can only occur through unity and strength of purpose throughout the Club. This commitment has served us very well in the past. We must ensure it continues”.
The First 20 Years…. 1976 to 1995.
Your author is indebted to Grahame for his foresight in 1996 when he wrote “The First 20 Years …. 1976 to 1995” manuscript and the writings above have been adapted from his superbly written recollections.
The balance of this historical record has been written by reference to the excellent Year Books produced by the Club since 1978. In particular, those written since 1996 by Peter Physick. Without them, significant history and memories would have been lost.
Towards 2000 …
Following the completion of the 1995 season, the Club adopted a business plan for the future entitled “Towards 2000 – A corporate strategy for the late 1990’s.”
Key elements of this plan involved developing and managing strategies in the following areas in particular:
· Club Management
· Team Management
· Ground Facilities
· Social Activities
· Ladies Auxiliary
From 1996, the Club’s 21st year, an Executive under the Presidency of Peter Physick took on the task of fulfilling those key elements. Peter was to remain as President of the Club for a record 12 years before choosing to retire from the chair before the 2008 elections.
1997 … the first SFL Premiership
It wasn’t a senior Premiership, but it was a flag for the U/18’s at Wagener Oval on Sept 14th. Amid scenes of joy, Jon Lee held the Cup high and perhaps the most interested spectator there that day was the newly appointed 1998 coach Craig McGrath. Like others, Craig would have seen an abundance of junior talent emerging from the greater Sydney area. An unmistakeable fact, which surely wasn’t lost on the Sydney Swans. However they, like every other AFL Club in the nation had a process called a national draft to take into account. Put simply, not every stand out Sydney junior could play for the Swans.
In June of 1997 the AFL commissioned a Task Force whose job it was to investigate and recommend how NSW (and in particular Sydney) football could be reshaped to take advantage of the code’s ever growing profile. When released in 1998, it was an investigation which very nearly resulted in the demise of the Baulkham Hills Senior Club, but at the same time was to completely change the Club’s future identity and image across the course of the next two years.
It was during ’97 that the sheer size of the Club demanded that an alternative home ground to Charles McLaughlin be secured for the senior club. ‘Charlie’ would be retained for the juniors, but a physically larger playing arena was preferred for senior SFL football. Thus began the very prolonged process with Council for local space to be allocated to the Club for this purpose. Mayor Geoff Brooke-Cowden was instrumental in his assistance and advice in this regard.
At junior level the twin streams within the Club continued their battles with all other sides in the Northside Association competition, although sadly it was no longer as the Kookas and the Hawks. For 1997 and beyond, they became known as the Maroons and the Golds. Junior Vice President Greg Fisher noted with pride in his Year Book report that all coaches under his domain were now Level 1 accredited and that the U/10 Falcons Maroon and the U/16 Falcons won their respective Premierships.
The senior First Grade team had a difficult, injury plagued season winning only three games and finishing seventh. 1997 also saw the Club part company with the Baulkham Hills Sporting Club for purely financial reasons. The Castle Hill Tavern was willing to sponsor the Senior Club; however there was a conflict if ties with the Sporting Club were maintained.
1998 … Phelan and Kealey Medallists
250 players turned out each week to play football for the Junior Club in 1998. A further 56 Auskickers ran around with Pops Quintrell, while 80 or so players competed in the three senior teams fielded each week. The Baulkham Hills Falcons were now at bursting point with growth forecasts for 1999 causing headaches for the administrators.
‘Baulko Backchat’, the official Newsletter of the Club, so lovingly put together each week by Laima Physick, reported that the U/11 Falcons Golds were successful with a Premiership and that Jarrod Crosby became the second winner of the Phelan Medal at SFL First Grade level for the Best & Fairest player in the competition. That same year Steve Jackson won the Kealey Medal for the B&F in the U/18 SFL competition.
* Steve was later to lose his life in a tragic car accident in September 2005.
Craig McGrath continued with his youth policy at First Grade level using more than 40 players throughout the season. A seventh place finish was the end result.
1998 was also the year in which Peter Physick introduced the player auction, known in those days as Baulko Bonanza. A first up pool of $7,180 was a tentative step, considering that in later years it has exceeded $30,000 as Eagles Extravaganza.
The Northside Grand Finals were allocated to Charles McLaughlin and a bigger and more profitable day hadn’t been seen for a very long time. A very young Delta Goodrem sang the national anthem from the back of a truck to signify the start of proceedings!!
The Council agreed that Charles McLaughlin needed re-seeding with a winter grass and for a month all teams had to train and play elsewhere whilst that vital task was undertaken. The traffic the ground took was a massive indicator to Council that they should start listening to the Club’s requests for a hearing re an additional ground. The 1998 Year Book devoted two entire pages to Graeme Merkel’s summation of action taken throughout that year in relation to the new facility.
One historic date to remember is that on November 4th 1997 Council resolved at a full meeting to accept the Club’s proposal to develop an AFL complex on a site in Commercial Road, Rouse Hill. The plans adopted a community approach with the inclusion of multi-use facilities, 25 metre swimming and hydrotherapy pools, indoor fitness centres, tennis courts, child minding centres, coffee shops, grandstand and licenced club with administration facilities. Even a motel was included.
The media release of these plans caused some degree of animosity with one particular sporting group in the area who protested long and loud about the AFL’s intentions to build “an MCG” in Kellyville.
1999 … a watershed year
A watershed year was just one way to look at it ….
The AFL Task Force report in NSW and Sydney football had been released in March and amongst its recommendations was the interpretation by some members of the NSWAFL Commission that two clubs should be eliminated from the Sydney Football League. One of those was Baulkham Hills. The Club was asked to “prove itself” against the reigning Premiers Balmain in a pre-season match which it did, in front of its own supporters and apparently no one else. The outcome was such that the Falcons were graciously permitted to remain as a First Grade club for 1999, but changes were necessary.
A steely resolve came over the Executive and “a good hard look at themselves” became very necessary in order to address a number of key issues. Firstly, despite the principles espoused by the Club’s forefathers in earlier years, did it still hold true that Baulkham Hills should maintain a fully integrated approach as a combined junior & senior club? Thus relying on just one junior club to supply senior players into the future.
Secondly, there were ‘suggestions’ from the NSWAFL Commission that the Club should change its name from the Falcons to something else which corresponded with an existing national AFL team. Thirdly, advice was received that Charles McLaughlin was not up to scratch in terms of size and standard for State League football.
The Club however soldiered on through this season weighed down by the ramifications of the decisions faced by its administrators. At the end of the season Craig McGrath announced he was being transferred in his employment to Melbourne, hence adding to the burden of major conclusions that had to be reached.
There were three Premierships at junior level when the U/9 Maroons, U/12 Golds and the U/16 Falcons took the honours on Grand Final day. Graeme Bleus took the bit between his teeth and started off a tradition within the Club by commencing the annual Falcons’ corporate golf day and later in the year the very first corporate sponsors’ lunch was held. The Don Bradman bat caused great merriment as an auction item!
But all eyes were on what would happen at the Extraordinary General Meeting called in August to discuss and to decide on vital resolutions for the future. That very well attended meeting at the Castle Hill Tavern consisted of an excellent cross section of players, supporters, members and, very importantly, representatives from the Club’s management hierarchy of the 70’s and 80’s.
The 1999 Executive Peter Physick (President), Graeme Bleus (VP Juniors), Richard Lee (VP Seniors), Jan Frost (Treasurer), Graeme Merkel (Facilities Development), Bob Wynne (Secretary), Samantha Edmunds (Social Executive) and Mike Pilkington (Sponsorship) successfully put their plan to the floor that the senior club should be amicably separated from the junior club and that it should undertake a name change. However the nexus between the clubs would be maintained for the time being for Constitutional reasons and to ensure both bodies could survive financially. As a result, the Baulkham Hills Australian Football Club Inc still provided administration and management services to the senior club.
What happened next was quite remarkable. Peter Physick attended the Northside Junior Association Awards evening in early September and struck up a conversation with Richard Colless, the Chairman of the Sydney Swans. Peter knew that Richard’s background included a stint as Chairman of the West Coast Eagles. Peter also knew that if there was an alignment to be made with an AFL club then it needed to be one which was successful and independent. It didn’t matter that it was in Perth. And finally Peter knew that Richard Colless had been a member of the AFL Task Force which had been driving these decisions.
Peter put the Club’s vision to Richard and nominated the West Coast Eagles as their preferred club, if in fact it were possible for a small organisation in Sydney to choose an AFL club as their partner! Richard agreed with the business plan and promised that he would confer with the newly appointed CEO at West Coast, Trevor Nisbett. Six agonising weeks passed before Richard phoned and suggested that if Peter was to ring Trevor then he might be agreeably pleased with the outcome.
During that six week period there was much to be done. Whilst quietly confident that their proposal to West Coast would be accepted, the 1999 Executive had absolutely nothing to tell a prospective new coach who had to be appointed urgently. Tim Jones, to his credit, accepted the role on the basis of a “watch this space” promise. Fortunately to Tim’s and everyone’s delight, agreement was reached with West Coast for the Baulkham Hills Falcons to become the East Coast Eagles.
Little did anyone know at the time that Bob Wynne (Secretary) had already registered the trading name of East Coast Eagles AFL Football Club Inc in anticipation of such agreement for the alignment being reached.
A further step forward came when an arrangement was agreed with Macquarie University for the brand new East Coast Eagles to train at and play their home games on the Roger Sheeran Oval within the Uni grounds. Some matches were also played there during 1999.
Little progress was made throughout the year on the prospective new complex at Kellyville. Funding issues were causing concern.
2000 … the Eagle has landed
“Whichever way one chooses to look at season 2000, it cannot be denied that the changes which took place within the Club in November 1999 will be far reaching. The formation of the East Coast Eagles in partnership with West Coast was a revolutionary move in its lateral thinking and creativity. Its effect on the Baulkham Hills AFC and the Sydney AFL competition will be extensive.
“Indeed, since the alliance was promulgated, four other Sydney AFL Clubs have announced similar partnerships with national AFL teams. All have varying degrees of strength and effectiveness. We have no doubt that the Western Australian connection will be the benchmark for others to be judged”.
These words were the opening paragraphs of President Peter Physick’s report within the 2000 Year Book. The union with West Coast also brought with it another chapter in the Club’s history when it was able to appoint its first full-time General Manager in Andrew Bence. The majority of the funding came from the NSWAFL who had seen the need to assist clubs with their workloads. Andrew remained with the Eagles for three years before returning to Melbourne, but in that time created a legacy which still remains.
It was his view, shared by all, that for football to be a truly national code, Sydney needs a healthy and competitive State League competition. The opportunity to also be involved with grass roots football at a junior level is the second leg of the double. There was a lot of development to occur in this vitally important area and West Coast wanted to be part of it as they too truly understood that identifying talented Sydney kids was the lifeblood of the future.
For the first time since the late 80’s the Club could now refer to the Falcons and the Eagles, instead of the juniors and the seniors. At Falcon level, there were two Premierships for the U/11 Maroons and the U/14’s. At Eagle level, the U/18’s went from 7th position at round 13, to Premiers after a bruising Grand Final against Pennant Hills. The new jumpers had well and truly been worn in.
Perhaps the highlight for all was at the SCG on a bright sunny afternoon of July 1st when the East Coast Eagles defeated the Sydney Swans for the first ever win by an SFL Club against their Reserves team. The exciting three point victory was achieved in front of a very vocal Swans crowd who strangely were cheering for the Eagles, having been used to the Swans destroying the local Sydney side each week. The length of the Scott Abercrombie winning kick for goal increases each time he talks about it.
Howard Sattler, a legend on Perth radio, decided he wanted to crack the Sydney market and accepted the morning show at 2SM. Howard subsequently became East Coast’s first #1 member and gave the footy club terrific publicity throughout his time in Sydney. The Hills News maintained their extensive coverage of local football in the area and always found room for the Eagles’ match reports and it was also in 2000 that the Club renamed its First Grade Best & Fairest award as the Club Champion. Similarly, to recognise his service to the Club and his unashamed love for the Ressies, the Billy McLeod Medal was created for the B&F in Reserve Grade.
Continued political bickering at State and Council level again stalled any further real progress with the new ground at Kellyville. Town Planners in fact moved the intended site about 300 metres to the south and linked it into the planning for the proposed Rouse Hill Regional Centre which in itself was mired in political controversy over infrastructure development, until such time as the State Government “fixed up” Windsor Road.
2001 … the Eagles are on their own
The 25th year of operation of the BHAFC.
Despite the establishment of East Coast, both the Eagles and the Falcons were divisions of the Baulkham Hills Australian Football Club Inc. However in November of 2001 the Club’s AGM approved the amicable separation into two different entities. East Coast, whilst never forgetting or neglecting the Falcons, needed to forge relationships with other junior clubs in the area.
The AFL in their wisdom decided to establish a Scholarship program for Sydney juniors. An AFL Club could identify a talented player, who was not yet of drafting age, lock them into a deal and as time went by and the chosen player became of age, they could be automatically drafted by the club in question. West Coast would have been very happy with this proposal and East Coast had the legs on the ground to immediately assist in player identification.
The Falcons secured two Premierships at U/10 Gold and U/11 Maroon level whilst the season also saw the departure of long time stalwart Warren ‘Pops’ Quintrell who announced that he would be leaving the Falcons, but only because he wanted to start up yet another junior club (his third) from scratch. This time the Kellyville Magpies were to benefit from Warren’s knowledge and enthusiasm.
The Eagles had a disappointing year with the 18’s finishing 3rd and Reserve and First Grade each wrapping up their seasons in 7th, although expectations had been high in the Vili’s pre season Cup when the Eagles progressed through the Sydney rounds undefeated and met Belconnen from the ACTAFL in the final at the SCG.
Having the home ground at Macquarie Uni allowed the Club to strike a relationship with the erstwhile lessee of Blueys Brasserie, the restaurant which overlooked the spacious Roger Sheeran Oval. The late Vince Thomas admitted that he didn’t know the first thing about AFL football, but could see the potential for his restaurant to benefit from an association with the Eagles. Thus began a relationship whereby Blueys took on the shorts sponsorship and Vince’s separate business of Security & Property Management Services took on the naming rights as the major sponsor. This intriguing relationship endured for the rest of the Club’s tenure at Mac Uni. Blueys became the venue for many a good corporate sponsors’ lunch or dinner and they even ran the canteen out of there on match days.
Tim Jones tendered his resignation at the end of the season and once again the Eagles were on the lookout for a senior coach.
The annual Presentation night at the Club continued to grow in stature as once again the Digital Sports team led by Craig Abercrombie continued to provide outstanding television footage of all Eagles games. Club Champion night, as it had become known, was acknowledged throughout the Sydney football world as the standard to reach.
The Commercial Road ground development again appeared to stay in the background but once the Windsor Road upgrade was approved, some action was achieved. In fact it transpired that Council resolved to re-allocate the original motorcycle club land on the corner of Withers and Commercial Roads as the preferred site now that a proposed new road was not going to go through the middle of it.
2002 … things were looking glum
For the third year in succession, the Eagles spent more than they earned. Debenture holders had been secured and the Club was in danger of becoming merely a statistic in the annals of Sydney football history. The general consensus was that expenditure had already been reduced to an acceptable level; hence the only solution was to increase income. Very easy to say, but difficult to do in reality.
General Manager Andrew Bence had decided to return to Melbourne after three years and he was replaced with a part time GM in John Evernden, thus providing a saving in that area. But it was the generation of income off the field which became the key to survival. At the 2002 AGM, it was proposed that the East Coast Enterprises be established. This body would have the sole responsibility of harnessing recurring funds from the “top end of town” rather than securing a sponsor for one year and wondering whether they would be there the next.
Andrew Baxter and Gus Seebeck jointly took on the task of ‘player coaching’ the Eagles when time ran out to make an external appointment for the 2002 year. It didn’t turn out to be a good year on the field either, as notwithstanding a promising start, the Club slumped to finish 9th out of nine teams. Reserve Grade however were the shining lights under Coach Scott Abercrombie when they romped home against St George to win the G/F by 38 points.
A head coach was needed for a brand new crack at things in 2003 and Michael Knuppel, who had moved to Sydney from Melbourne, was appointed by a committee which included West Coast’s Trevor Nisbett and Stephen Nash. Michael was intrigued with the challenge of taking a Club which finished bottom of the ladder in 2002 to the level required to continually participate in final’s football. He understood, like others in the Sydney football world, that there was substantially more to the East Coast Eagles than recent on field results indicated.
2002 was not a good year from the new ground perspective either. A full 12 months passed without any real progress on the resolution to provide land to the Club. The Executive were beginning to wonder whether the rainbow from several years ago which had brought the welcome news of the approval, had now changed colours and that there wasn’t a pot of gold at the end after all. For their own reasons, Council were still delaying a decision to specifically earmark any land at all.
2003 … a year of recovery
The supporters must have been excited about the year because Eagles Extravaganza took in a record $35,550 at Jumper Presentation night at the famous Corus Hotel. Michael Knuppel had what looked like a good squad and the Club had extensive plans to bridge the negative financial gap of previous seasons.
A new major sponsor had been secured via a sponsorship draw which saw Mudix Austerberry win the naming rights for the East Coast Eagles. Blueys continued their deal, as did the very supportive Mike Pilkington from Taxi Clothing who for many years had the courage and commitment to very quietly and without fanfare, provide financial support for his Club, be they the Falcons or the Eagles.
By season’s end First Grade had improved by three spots on the ladder to 6th, Reserves and U/18’s both lost their Preliminary Finals and the finances were in the black with a healthy surplus for the year being partly applied to reduce outstanding liabilities from the previous two years. The Year Book for 2003 records the unforgettable auction night at the Corus Hotel as one of the standout reasons for an excellent income producing year. A nett $33,000 was emptied into the Club coffers when Richard Lee and Craig Barber put their own stamp on proceedings that night.
It was more of the same in respect of the Council and its deliberations over any new ground development for the Eagles. In fact progress went from very slow, to a complete standstill which prompted the Eagles’ management to call an urgent meeting with the NSWAFL Commission. With no prospect of their own home oval for some years yet, the situation was exacerbated when Macquarie University refused to allow the Eagles to train any longer at Roger Sheeran Oval. Arrangements were therefore quickly made with Ryde Council to secure the ELS Hall Oval in North Ryde on training nights. Although the ground was acceptable, the change facilities and lighting were not. Following negotiations with the Council the Club donated $3,000 towards the proposed upgrading of the lights.
2004 … sponsors strengthen the Club
Further incremental improvement occurred in First Grade where 9½ wins achieved 5th spot, just a game and a half outside a final’s appearance. The Ressies once again reached the Preliminary Final, but couldn’t go the next step while the U/18’s, after finishing the minor round in third, went out of the finals’ race in straight sets.
After two years at the helm and a further season to go on his coaching contract, Michael Knuppel announced his inability to extend to a third year owing to increased family responsibilities. Once again the Eagles were looking for a coach.
Taking a leaf out of the “Kookarettes” book from 1978, “Chappy’s Angels” became an integral part of the Eagles scene around this era. Their enthusiasm and willingness to help were greatly appreciated by the players and management alike.
Bob Wynne (Treasurer) had acted for most of 2004 as the part time General Manager of the Club. However Bob obtained more lucrative employment in his preferred accounting field and upon his departure the Club budgeted once again for a full time GM. Consequently Dave Ralston from Wangaratta came on board as Development Manager in late 2004.
Earlier, the Executive had ratified the creation of East Coast Enterprises to secure longer term and more rewarding income streams. Whilst some effort had been expended in this regard, work effectively ceased after Steve Gawley accepted the position of Sponsorship & Fundraising. Never had an individual exerted such an influence on a particular portfolio than Steve, who cemented in more than 15 new corporate sponsors. Steve had so many sponsors keen to partner the Eagles that he needed to create new opportunities for them. The Eagles now had individual match day sponsors for each home game. Too bad they still didn’t have a home ground to go with it.
In that regard however, positive news emerged from the Baulkham Hills Shire Council, when it finally approved the development of a specific site on the corner of Withers and Commercial Roads in Rouse Hill for use as an Australian Rules / cricket ground. Upon hearing this news, the Eagles, with the active support of the NSWAFL and Cricket NSW immediately submitted a proposal to become the permanent co-tenant of the ground, along with the Kellyville Magpies and the Hills Hurricanes cricket club.
2005 … at last, approval is granted
Macquarie Uni was now a distant memory and once again East Coast continued their itinerant life, drifting from ground to ground. Often it seemed that if there were goalposts on an oval then the Eagles would kick a footy around on it. This nomadic existence caused an underlying unrest, which although not publicly noticeable, must have been testing for the Club and surely was a major factor in its frustrating inability to play finals football.
Alan Davidson Oval in Alexandria was next – as far away from the Hills as you could possibly get. In 2005 all home games were played at this diminutive ground – one that is smaller than Charles McLaughlin Reserve which had been deemed as unacceptable back in ’99. However it would only be for one more year as on the celebrated date of 13/09/2005, Councillors unanimously voted to approve the occupancy of the site exclusively to the NSWAFL, East Coast Eagles, Kellyville Magpies and a Cricket NSW consortium. Council would cover 100% of the costs, but should the AFL and / or Cricket NSW want incremental improvements over and above what Council was prepared to fund, then additional separate contributions would need to be made. Via the AFL’s generosity the changeroom sizes were dramatically increased, a large outdoor electronic scoreboard was erected and 500 lux light towers were installed.
Site clearing and soil testing would commence quickly and an early estimate of completion was for the 2007 season. The cost estimate was around $6.8 million and would be only the second ever purpose built AFL ground in Sydney.
Meanwhile Rohan Graham had been appointed as senior coach late in 2004 with a two year term, recruiting had been excellent and things looked and felt good around the Club. But regretfully nine wins weren’t enough to get First Grade into the final four. The 18’s finished 8th and the Two’s made the first of what was to be five successive Grand Final appearances, but lost this one to UNSW/ES.
2006 … the highs and the lows
A season to remember forever!! An inward look at where the Club wanted to be, an excellent pre-season, a top up of new recruits, retention of most players from 2005 and the appointment of Wally Gallio as the Club’s new Development Manager following a referral from West Coast Eagles, all suggested that this would be the year of finals’ football. But no one could have predicted what was to unfold.
Round 1 saw a great victory over Campbelltown, Round 2 was a victory over Pennant Hills and before anyone really comprehended it, First Grade reached the midpoint of the season undefeated. The Club was entering unchartered waters as it sailed through the season, eventually finishing the minor round unbeaten by any other side in the competition. Rohan Graham’s contract was extended into a third year.
At this point the Business plan goal of finals’ participation had been well and truly achieved, but entering the finals undefeated meant nothing, except to give others ammunition to fire. A healthy 31 point victory against Wests in the 2nd semi-final saw East Coast through to their first ever Grand Final appearance.
Unusually for Sydney that September Saturday dawned as a shocker and continued that way all day. The Eagles were playing the Demons in both First & Reserve Grades and the local rivalry had certainly not dissipated in any way. The Reserves, appearing in their second consecutive Grand Final, showed the way with a 6-7 to 2-7 victory in weather that surely only a duck would feel comfortable in.
The driving wind and torrential horizontal rain increased throughout the main game, destroying any chance of a spectacle for the crowd. At the final siren an extraordinary score line of 5-20 to 7-6 saw Rohan Graham’s Eagles go down by just two points for their only loss of the season.
On the home ground front, Council called for tenders to construct the complex with the advice that the Eagles would again need to find somewhere to play in 2007, but 2008 would see the first Sherrin kicked on the pristine new surface. Henson Park in Marrickville was secured for home games throughout 2006 and would be used again in 2007.
2007 … Reserves win the flag again
2007 was an indifferent year on the track with First Grade finishing 5th on 10 wins, the Reserves winning back to back Premierships and for the first time, the Club fielded two U/18 teams with the Premier League 18’s just missing out on a spot in the four. The Challenge Cup lads finished seventh.
At season’s end, the Board elected not to renew head coach Rohan Graham’s contract into a 4th year. It was a difficult decision, but one which reflected the direction the Club wished to head in future years.
Off the field the Eagles’ sponsors continued to provide terrific support. PMA Solutions entered into their third consecutive year as major naming rights partner with Loscam following that lead for their 3rd year of shorts sponsorship while Taxi Clothing were proudly displayed on the front of the jumper for the second year running. Numerous match day and subsidiary sponsors were also involved with the Club.
Wally Gallio had resigned as Development Manager late in 2006, so the quest was on to locate and appoint an officer to the Club who had the knowledge of Sydney football, plus had an extensive football management and administration background. That search culminated in the appointment of Anthony Dignan as General Manager. “Digs’” most recent appointments had been as General Manager of the ACTAFL and prior to that held senior roles with the NSW/ACT AFL Commission.
The Withers Road complex, as it had been called for so many previous years whilst under discussion and planning, officially received a new gazetted name from the Baulkham Hills Council. ‘Bruce Purser Reserve’ would be where the Eagles would play from 2008 onwards. However the Club had received permission to source a major naming rights sponsor for the oval itself.
The official ‘sod turning’ by the then Mayor Tony Hay occurred on March 7th with delegates from the Council, the ACT/NSWAFL, Cricket NSW, East Coast Eagles and the Kellyville Magpies proudly in attendance.
2008 – Close, but no cigar …
The heading for this year held true both on and off the ground. Unseasonal heavy rains across the summer of 2007/08 created havoc for the builders at Rouse Hill and as the pre-season rolled around for 2008, it was clear that East Coast would not have use of Bruce Purser Reserve in the early months of the year. Hence arrangements were once again made for temporary training facilities somewhere else in Sydney. This time rights were granted to use the Castle Hill Showground which meant that in some ways the Club had turned a full 360 degrees from when as Falcons, it used this same facility way back in 1978.
However it was only to be for a few weeks until BPR was ready for occupancy. Or at least that’s what everyone thought. Those weeks turned into months and expectations became bitter disappointment when Council finally made the call that it was not to be available to us at all in 2008.
Major sponsors were again PMA Solutions and Loscam, with Steve Gawley’s Base Course Management taking the prominent front of the jumper sponsorship. At the AGM in late 2007, Peter Physick decided not to seek re-election as President after 12 years at the helm since 1996. He did however seek election as a Board member and took on the Facilities role. Gus Seebeck became the new Chairman (an earlier extraordinary AGM had voted in a revised Constitution for the Club) and because he was still active as a player, he became Sydney football’s first playing Chairman. Other Board Members were Craig Abercrombie (Vice Chairman & Marketing & Sponsorship), Phil Bester (Finance & Admin), Mark Pinchen (Strategy) and Chris Ford (Football). Anthony Dignan moved into his second year as General Manager and once again, although the Eagles didn’t have a home ground, they did have numerous generous sponsors who financially supported the Club.
Although the 2008 Sydney AFL fixture list showed Bruce Purser as the Eagles’ home base, the clock was once again turned right back in time with all home games being played at Charles McLaughlin Reserve. The Baulkham Hills Falcons junior club are to be thanked for their kind cooperation. Under the Head coaching tutelage of Glenn Garner, at Round 6 First Grade had a 3-3 win / loss ratio but expectations were high that an improvement on that position would be forthcoming. Reserves had lost two and the U/18 Premier Cup team had the same result. What followed however was unexpected in anyone’s perception. The Club finished the season with three sides in three Grand Finals on September 20th.
Reserves, under Jason Duss, did not lose another match and won their 3rd successive Premiership. Peter Steer’s Premier Cup U/18’s finished the home and away season in 3rd possie and won the qualifying semi-final against Pennant Hills, which was their first victory over that team in many years. They went on to make the Grand Final, but were defeated by North Shore.
First Grade had another two losses after Round 6 and finished the season in 5th spot. However successive finals’ victories over North Shore, St George and UNSW-ES saw them running out into a very hot Henson Park day for the Grand Final against favourites Pennant Hills. The battle weary boys were up to it in the first half, but succumbed in the 3rd & 4th quarters to end their gallant campaign for 2008. The U/18 Challenge Cup lads under Jon Lee finished their season with a creditable four victories.
2009 – The year the planets finally aligned …
Bruce Purser Reserve (BPR) was finally handed over to the Club in December 2008, thus allowing the Eagles to undertake their first pre-season program on its own turf. The Hills Hurricanes Cricket Club has occupancy throughout the summer period, however with their kind cooperation, training proceeded from January 6th 2009.
There was much to be done to get a brand new facility ready for football and to cater for the crowds that the club expected would attend home matches. Before the Eagles could even play their first match on the pristine new surface, the AFL scheduled an NAB Challenge Cup match between the Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs on the evening of Saturday March 7th. The game was sold out and was a roaring success, both financially for the club and as a promotion for AFL Football in the Hills.
PMA Solutions entered their 5th year as a premium partner and joined Base Course Management as the major naming rights sponsors. Perimeter fence signage at BPR proved very popular and numerous national and local companies took space. Board members remained stable under Chairman Gus Seebeck, although Peter Physick stepped down and was replaced by Martin Tolar. Anthony Dignan continued as General Manager through until June 30th when that role became redundant.
Glenn Garner went into his second year as senior coach, with Jason Duss continuing with Reserve Grade, Peter Steer coached the U/18 Premier Cup side and Ryan Madden headed up the Challenge Cup squad. New in 2009 was the entry of a third senior side coached by Sean Streat. This team was formed to cater for the increasing number of senior players who were missing out on Reserve Grade selection.
AFL Sydney had chosen to re-jig the playing levels and whilst Premier Division remained unaltered in teams and numbers, the next level down became Division One in which the Eagles’ Reserve Grade played. This division also included two senior clubs (UTS and Manly) who played their First Grade teams in this competition. UTS went on to win the Premiership, although the ECE Reserves were gallant in defeat when competing in their 5th successive Grand Final in an attempt to win their 4th Premiership in a row. Division Two saw the club’s Third Grade team entered into a level that was probably too high for them and a season which only saw three wins proved to be a difficult inaugural year for them.
The Premier Cup U/18’s had a great home and away season finishing second on the ladder, but went out of the finals in a disappointing “straight sets”. The second U/18’s side enjoyed a better season than last, winning five matches and improving each and every week.
But it was the Premier Division First Grade side which took all before it. Moving to the top of the table after Round 5, they remained in that spot through to Round 18 and into the finals. A week’s rest before the 2nd semi-final paid dividends and the win there took them to their third Grand Final in four seasons. Unlike 2006 and 2008 however, this year’s version was all East Coast when they defeated the UNSW-ES Bulldogs by 54 points. The prize was the ultimate when Glenn Garner and (captain and subsequent Club Champion), Jon Vlatko held the Bill Hart Premiership Cup aloft at Blacktown Olympic Park on September 19th 2009.
Gus Seebeck kicked an incredible 10 goals in the Grand Final to take his season tally to 111. The first Eagle in Premier Division to kick the century in the club’s short history. The partnership with West Coast Eagles further strengthened throughout the season with significant plans afoot to take the relationship to even higher levels in 2010.
Bruce Purser Reserve has lots to answer for. A Premiership, a wonderful facility, a place to call home and vastly increased crowds to Eagles matches. 2009 was indeed a good year ….
2010 – Back to Back Premierships ….
Following the success of 2009, many Premiership players chose to take an alternative path in their life. Gus Seebeck, Michael Sankey, Ryan Smyth and Aaron Byerlee announced their retirements, Ben Bourke went to the UK to play cricket, whilst Mark Skuse, Michael Johnston, Brad Ure and Luke Stanford went interstate to enhance the footy careers. Faced with such a loss, the Club recruited well and secured the prize services of Jamie Vlatko from Norwood in the SANFL, along with Peter Dugmore (St George) and Mike Beardsley from UNSW/ES whilst regaining past players, Mark Goodey, Kieran McRedmond, and Damien Charleston.
Of the remaining 2009 Premiership players, Mark Maher and Glenn Garner were to miss virtually the entire 2010 season with injury. A huge number of senior players were “lost” to the Club, however with Glenn Garner’s knowledge of the quality emerging from the U/18’s, he sat back and started to plan the season.
All coaches remained the same as 2009, with Garner determined to mould a totally changed senior list into one which had the strength of mind to win successive Premierships. PMA Solutions and Base Course Management renewed their premium partner packages and Gus Seebeck was the Chairman for the third successive year. The Club again fielded five teams and Bruce Purser Reserve was in superb condition. All was in readiness for the biggest challenge the Club has yet had.
Sean Streat’s Third grade side went down a division and the boys found Div Three a much better level for their footy. Although they didn’t make the finals, their greatest claim to fame surely has to be twice beating Moorebank Sports, which wound up winning the Flag having suffered just two losses for the season. U/18 Challenge Cup again benefitted from a tough season for them. At Reserve Grade level, the end of a golden era came unexpectedly when for the first time in nine years this side did not play in the Preliminary Final or better!
For the U/18 Premier Cup side and First Grade however it was a different story. Peter Steer brilliantly led his team to a Grand Final appearance against Sydney Uni. Seasoned supporters cannot remember a more thrilling U/18 G/F when, at the final siren the scores were tied, with extra time being required for the first time in living memory. Regretfully the boys went down by six points, disappointed but proud of their efforts.
At Premier Division level, East Coast would have been at long odds to do it again when their minor round season progressed with a number of hiccups and matches were lost that weren’t expected. Finishing third and then losing the Qualifying final to Wests meant that if there was going to be any silverware in 2010, then it was cut throat from there. With pace galore across the park and many sets of young legs, the Eagles defeated Pennant Hills and Wests (again) to move into their 4th Grand Final in five years. Sydney Uni were the opposition and they were ready to go, having had successive two week breaks. They had only lost two matches for the season, but as they were to find out soon enough, their third came in the Grand Final.
Glenn Garner had devised and plotted what turned out to be a perfect finals’ campaign. His knowledge of the opposition, his ability to devise tactics to counter them and a playing group capable of carrying out the game plan gave East Coast a 17 point victory that even surpassed the euphoria of 2009. It was historic and memorable and has now positioned East Coast as a force within the AFL Sydney competition.
2011 – Back to Back to Back Premierships ….
There was a steely resolve amongst the playing group that making it three in a row was a distinct possibility. It would go into the 2011 season as essentially the same senior group, but with new recruit Pat Walton providing additional strength in the midfield. Glenn Garner once again was in charge as senior coach and as per each of the last three years, the fourth demonstrated Glenn’s exceptional level of commitment, discipline and application which is required to get the ultimate prize in footy. He already knew the players shared his outlook and it was no surprise that at the end of the minor round the Eagles sat on top of the ladder with 15 wins, a draw and two losses by a total of eight points.
A new innovation came into AFL football across Australia this season with the introduction of the Foxtel Cup televised live on Fox Footy. The 2010 premiership qualified the Eagles to represent AFL Sydney in this competition in 2011. Whilst we didn’t get past the first round, the experience was a special one for the Club and the players with the East Coast Eagles being introduced to a national audience.
Our two long term Premium sponsors remained on board for 2011. Steve Gawley’s Base Course Management and Phil Okill’s PMA Solutions have been instrumental in providing the financial backing and support so necessary for success at this level. Without their support & generosity along with that of all our other sponsors, the Club could not be where it is today.
At U18 level Peter Steer’s side emulated the senior team by finishing as Minor Premiers, but cruelly fell short of raising the flag when they lost the Grand Final to Riverview by 32 points. They will bounce back in 2012 as the pain will burn in all hearts, especially the one inside Peter Steer.
Trevor Nisbett, CEO at the West Coast Eagles maintained his 12th year of enthusiasm for his Sydney based partner club. Contrary to most people’s opinion, West Coast do not financially support the East Coast Eagles, preferring to add value with their knowledge, experience and know how which we at Bruce Purser Reserve value very highly. It truly is a remarkable partnership which has stood the test of time for 13 years.
It was during this season that the Club was invited by the AFL to consider submitting a proposal to enter a team in the newly formed Eastern conference of the North Eastern AFL competition in 2012. Under Chairman Gus Seebeck’s guidance the submission was prepared and an invitation was subsequently issued by the AFL for the Club to accept. At the 2012 AGM the Members endorsed the decision to play in the NEAFL in 2012 and 13. A name change to the Sydney Hills Eagles was also approved. Teams would still be entered into the AFL Sydney competition at Premier Div, Divisions 1 & 3 and U18 levels. Life at the Eagles was about to change.
But there was still a premiership to be won on the field. The Eagles defeated the Balmain Dockers by 18 points in the second semifinal to go straight into their fifth Grand Final in six years. The Dockers used the Preliminary Final to win their way into the GF for another crack at the Eagles. They were very confident and the big one shaped up as a real battle between two Sydney Clubs who each have West Australian alliances. But no one could have expected what was about to unfold. The Eagles kicked nine goals in the first quarter to shatter the hopes of the challengers. 51 points up at 1/4 time increased to 70 at 1/2 time and the match was as good as over. As what often happens in these circumstances the Eagles took the foot off a little in the last two quarters to coast home by 43 points.
Ben Physick announced his retirement after the game to rapturous applause from the fans and his fellow players. Ben holds the club record of 189 First Grade games of which 29 were played as a Baulkham Hills Falcon. It will be several years into the future before that tally will be surpassed.
2012 – 2014: The NEAFL years ….
It was an interesting period for the Club and is best summarised over the three year time frame, rather than year by year. It was certainly a move into unknown territory and to be honest at the outset no one could really provide a definitive view on what would happen.
For the record, the AFL covered all flights, accommodation and ground transport costs for away games and provided a financial subsidy to the club in each of the three years. All other costs were the responsibility of the Eagles within their income and expenditure budgets. Matches were played against the Swans, the Giants, the Gold Coast Suns, the Brisbane Lions and the Northern Territory. Many games were played in Canberra against ACT sides as well as in Brisbane.
Glenn Garner received a two year contract to coach the Eagles for 2012 / 2013 and prepared his team with even higher standards and workload than during the Premiership years. 20 new players were added to the squad for 2012 from across Sydney, interstate and even Papua New Guinea. Ryan Houlihan from Carlton was the most high profile player ever to play at the Eagles and with his influence along with ex Collingwood rookies Trent Stubbs and Scott Reed, the Eagles opened 2012 well with four wins and two losses to sit inside the top five at R6. The momentum continued mid season, the highlights of which were consecutive victories in R’s 9 & 10 over Sydney Uni (110 pts) and the Giants (109 pts). The victory over Mt Gravatt in R19 cemented an historical NEAFL finals berth for the boys from Bruce Purser. And although Eastlake beat them by 15 points at Manuka Oval in the elimination final, Glenn Garner had every reason to smile because his team had answered many questions, established a winning reputation and above all had surprised more than a few people.
The introduction of the NEAFL side had in turn weakened our AFL Sydney Premier Division team which was under Michael Sankey’s direction. With only five wins, seventh position was the highest they could achieve. However Peter Steer’s U18’s, who had carried the pain of last year’s Grand Final loss, took all before them to win their second Eagles Premiership, the first being in 2000. They defeated Illawarra by 22 points.
Tony Moran was appointed as the fulltime Club Manager and at the Phelan Medal Night in September Peter Physick was awarded AFL Sydney Life Membership in recognition of his services to football in this city.
In 2013, former Richmond player Marc Dragicevic was appointed to the NEAFL coaching role after Glenn Garner’s two year contract was terminated 12 months early. Former Sydney Swan Amon Buchanan was recruited as the Club’s marquee player whilst Gavin Lawrence was appointed as the Full time Club Manager.
Unfortunately it was not a good season for on field results when the Club failed to have any team playing in the finals for the first time in 10 years. The NEAFL team finished seventh on the ladder with seven wins, four of them being against Sydney Uni the only other NSW side in the competition, Premier Division managed just the one victory and finished bottom, Division One went through the season without a win, Division Four won 50% of their matches to finish seventh and the U18’s got to 6th with eight victories.
At NEAFL level the Club retained the Physick / Gordon Cup competed for annually between the Eagles and Sydney Uni.
2014 required the Eagles to renew their contract with the AFL for another two years. The new season also saw yet another change in the coaching ranks when Michael Sankey was elevated from the Premier Division role to take charge of the NEAFL team. New premium sponsor “The Brewery” out at Rouse Hill came on board as the major naming rights sponsor for the jumpers. A further change occurred within the NEAFL itself when a number of Queensland clubs did not return to the competition. The reduced number of clubs caused the AFL to eliminate the separate Northern and Eastern conferences and create a stand alone competition which in turn increased the travel requirements for the Eagles.
A concentrated recruiting campaign saw many new players accept contracts. Amongst them were Andrew Browning from Belconnen, Andrew McConnell from Noble Park, Ben McNiece from Morningside, Josh Milani from Southport, Kieran Emery from Broadbeach, Luke Jericho from Norwood, Adam Eckermann from Mt Gravatt, Michael Riseley from Casey Scorpions, Mark Weekes from Box Hill and Jackson Ferguson from St Kilda.
Adding these guys to the 2013 NEAFL squad gave rise to optimism that 2014 would be a good year. The expected strength of the Eagles was diminished however when the Captain and star local junior Rowan Bilkey was promoted in his job to New Zealand by no other than his boss (and coach) Michael Sankey!! Good for Bilks though ….
But just two wins in the first eight rounds was not what was expected, although a mid season resurgence with three consecutive victories gave some optimism that a finals spot was still on the cards. But just one win in the last six rounds saw the Eagles finish in 10th spot.
Premier Division under elevated coach Peter Steer finished ninth with just four wins, with notably two of those coming in the last two rounds after it had been announced that the Sydney Hills Eagles would not continue in the NEAFL competition in 2015. Financial circumstances dictated that remaining in the NEAFL was unsustainable and the Club would be returning its top side to the AFL Sydney Premier Division in 2015 as the East Coast Eagles.
It was a decision which was fully endorsed by all members and players in the Club. An Extraordinary General Meeting on August 14th 2014 saw the entire existing Board of Directors replaced by a new Board led by Peter Physick returning as President along with Jon Gawley and Richard Lee. Peter had been the president of the Club from 1996 when it played as the Baulkham Hills Falcons in Premier Division and remained at the helm with the Eagles through until 2007.
The Club faces many challenges financially as it returns to the AFL Sydney in 2015, however it is an environment it knows and understands very well.
2015 – The Eagles return to AFL Sydney …
2015 was a successful year from many perspectives. After reaching the decision to “give it a go” and save the Club from extinction, the existing Board of Directors was strengthened by Rodney Frost’s appointment in January, David Arndt in March and Paul Meyer in June. Richard Lee elected to retire from the Board in order to take up the Catering Manager’s role at Kanebridge Oval.
Michael Sankey, the 2014 NEAFL coach was appointed as senior Coach with John Hupfeld at Division One level, Matthew O’Connor at Division Three and Greg Thomas coaching the U19s.
A suite of brand new sponsors were secured by the hard working Board and the Club welcomed Kanebridge Limited as the ground naming rights sponsor, Vesta Homes, Mansfield Corporation, KFC, the NAB, Jatec Transport, issd.co and The Fiddler as premium sponsors. Many others made contributions as individual Match Day and Player Sponsors.
The 2015 season was all about ensuring the Eagles remained intact and could continue as a going concern in order to provide a Community Football Club environment that players, supporters and members would enjoy. Whilst off the field the Board imposed harsh restrictions on expenditure so as to be able to service the long term loans and debt repayment plans entered into with existing creditors, there were no such guidelines or goals set for on field performance in 2015. All the Club wanted was to be able to settle back into AFL Sydney footy.
Nobody appeared to have told the Premier Division however as after losing Round 1 courtesy of a Manly Warringah goal after the siren, the team went through the rest of the season undefeated only to lose the Grand Final to Pennant Hills. Reserve Grade and Division Three enjoyed a competitive year but unfortunately both sides missed the finals by one spot when each finished sixth. The Under 19s had a difficult season which prompted a post season decision to immediately institute an U19 Development Program for 2016 and beyond.
The last 18 months as they unfolded inside the East Coast Eagles can be reviewed by clicking on the Year Book link below.
2016 – A Grand Final win for the ages …
The disappointment of 2015 was soon erased from players’ minds with coach Michael Sankey reminding them that they remain the hunter, not the hunted. 2016 was not about redemption. It was all about settling into a routine, following the game plan and delivering on-field every week.
Off the field, the Club was getting progressively stronger as it recovered from the numbing losses of the NEAFL era. Yet another major partner was signed with Stonemasons & Landscapers taking the front of jumper position for their logo. Vesta Homes remained proudly on the back of the jumper and Mansfield Corporation continued as the shorts sponsor. Kanebridge Limited kept their profile highly evident by renewing their three year contract for ground naming rights …. 12 months early.
Many individual NEAFL incurred debts, but certainly not all, were cleared during 2016 by a hard working Board who watched all expenditure very carefully to ensure that operating costs this year, and in those to come, were manageable. Including the second instalment of a 10 year long term debt being paid five months early.
First Grade lost only two games during the season, with both being to North Shore in Rounds 3 & 18. It entered the finals series with a single minded focus and complacency was a word never uttered. Two finals was all it took and St George were the losing opponent each time. Vettas Photography captured some wonderful images of players, staff, family and supporters celebrating beneath the scoreboard. As President Peter Physick said later that evening. “It was the best feeling in football I’ve ever had. The three-peat Premierships of 09, 10 and 11 were outstanding, but winning this one after such a tumultuous last two years off the field, is very special.”
At other competition levels all East Coast teams finished last on their respective ladders. Work is in progress to restore the playing strength of these grades, the personnel of which were whittled away during our time in the NEAFL.