By Russell Bennett
WGFNC – SENIOR GRAND FINAL
Prior to Saturday, Inverloch Kongwak senior coach Ben Soumilas’ grand final record stood at seven losses – including four as a coach – and one win.
But leading into the first ever grand final day of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition he felt more relaxed than ever and there were two key reasons why.
“I suppose it’s just experience, and the enormous belief I have in this group,” he said candidly in the home rooms at Wonthaggi long after most had left to go and celebrate a breakthrough premiership win – the Sea Eagles’ first in 31 years.
“I’ve coached some bloody good sides and I wouldn’t criticise any team I’ve coached, but I’ve never had one with this much depth,” he said.
“I’m not saying this is the best team I’ve coached either, but I just didn’t have one guy who I doubted. Never.”
After last year’s Alberton league grand final loss to Fish Creek, the Sea Eagles knew they had to take measures to improve.
“But it wasn’t about just going out and chasing players because that’s not how it works,” Soumilas said.
“Our job as a club is to give our local people and volunteers the chance to be successful.
“You can’t win it without looking outside of your town for a few stars and bringing them in, but you have to give your local boys the best possible chance.
“There’s no point bringing guys in who can’t complement your local team. That’s what we’ve done – we’ve got a really good mix of local boys and we’ve said they’re good enough and working hard enough, we’ll complement them with the right people and they nailed it.”
Soumilas said he didn’t have all that much to say to his charges leading into Saturday’s showdown.
“We had this mantra we went with,” he explained.
“I tried to see if they’d buy into an idea that if you look at a mate, you’re going to say in your own head ‘because of you, I will not give up’.
“Those players bought into that today. No one had to say it, but they just looked at each other and thought ‘because of you, I will not give up’. It was a very powerful message for them. I should be giving them tactics, a plan, ideas and a structure but I didn’t because I’ve already coached it all and they’ve got it all.”
Soumilas explained that his group went into the game without a tagging role allocated to a single player.
“We just decided that they’d choose when and where that had to happen,” he said of his players.
“In the second quarter I felt like Cora Lynn was starting to come back at us and get some control of the game but our boys weren’t organising each other well enough.
“For me, really, tactically I didn’t really get involved. I made some moves that paid off but I left it to them because I’d already handed over the knowledge I’ve got. Today was about trying to find a way to execute and making sure the boys didn’t waste their two hours of opportunity.
“I ask a lot of the boys from a time commitment five or six weeks out from finals.
“We have our own training program that we’ve done for five years to prepare for finals. Last year it got us through the finals and we stuffed up in the last two hours, and this year these guys lapped it up again. Everything I asked of them, they did.”
Soumilas said the strength of this year’s Inverloch side was the evenness of contribution from its most recognised stars, right through to its most unheralded.
“Someone like Toby (best on ground medallist Toby Mahoney) – we haven’t relied on him to kick big bags for us, but today he got himself in the right positions and bounced back,” Soumilas explained.
“He carried a broken thumb into the game and who would have known? It’s amazing resilience to say ‘I’m not going to let something like that stop me’.
“People would say what an amazing game he played, but people haven’t spoken about Tom Wyatt in our forward line. He was a workhorse – I can’t wait to see what his GPS stats are because he ran himself into the ground.
“We’ve also brought in someone like Santo (Joma), who played in our reserves grand final last year. We brought in two kids from our thirds premiership last year too, and the one who missed out today was also a thirds premiership player.”
When it came to Inverloch’s most recognised player – Ben’s younger brother Andy – the coach said the club hadn’t even presented him his league medal yet.
“We’ll give it to him tomorrow (Sunday) when the whole club is there and we’ll celebrate that, because now he can,” he said.
“It’s a nice individual award to have but it’s not his focus and I think that set the standard for everyone else.
“The thing about him is that people are saying he’s just as good now as he’s ever been but as you get older you might lose fitness and speed, so then your confidence goes after that. He’s never relied on speed – he’s just had to prepare himself in fantastic condition, and have good players around him. The bottom line is that he won that league medal with 10 best on grounds. Regardless of how well he plays, if the team doesn’t play well he doesn’t get the three votes.”
Sea Eagles president Bruce Clark has been involved at the club for 25 years and Saturday marked his first taste of senior premiership glory in seven attempts.
“Seven is my lucky number so it must’ve meant something today,” he said with his trademark grin.
“I’m very proud. It’s a lot of hard work off the field. I know the boys have done their hard work but as a committee and as a club we’ve really worked hard at getting the right people to the club and the right culture around the place.
“Not only do we feel we’ve done well on the ground, we’ve earnt respect off it as well. People from outside our club have shown respect to us and that’s a big part of footy – earning respect on and off field. As a club we’re very proud of that.
“We’ve got eight-year-olds involved at this club, and we’ve got 80-year-olds. This is for 21, 22 guys but it’s also for 2000 people. I’ve been president for the past two years and had a three-year stint prior to that, but the foundations were already built.”