By David Nagel
SOUTH EAST FOOTBALL NETBALL LEAGUE – THE PREMIERSHIP PLAYERS
A second premiership success in three years has seen Berwick step out of the shadows to become – without question – the pre-eminent force in SEFNL.
And so dominant in fact – with an 18-0 record – that a potential dynasty is on the cards with rivals clamouring to play catch up.
But even in grand final glory not every cloud has a silver lining, with superstar defender Michael Riseley the unlucky recipient of this year’s selection curse.
Each year players miss through injury or are forced out of the side – with a bulged disc in his lower back keeping one of the Wickers most important players on the sidelines.
Riseley was downcast before the game, but more upbeat as he strolled through the middle of the ground to catch up with his jubilant and celebrating team-mates.
“I’m feeling pretty good now, I was flat before the game but feeling good after watching the boys get across the line,” Riseley said with a wry smile.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t get up for the game but I’m rapt to see them win and win pretty convincingly in the end. I was feeling nervous because Narre had smashed Cranny last week, but the boys were enormous today … I’m rapt for them, I really am.”
Riseley’s replacement Jo West had mixed emotions after becoming a two-time premiership player.
“This is awesome, I took six months off and went to college and came back fat as f*#k,” West said openly and honestly before laughing.
“Struggling, I was really struggling all year but then got my chance and here we are today. I feel for Riser (Riseley), the bloke’s a jet, but I’m over the moon right now … it’s hard to explain the feeling.”
Forward Tim Gunn also made his way back into the team after missing the second semi-final; he kicked four goals, including the opening two to settle his side’s nerves in the first quarter.
“Yeah they came off alright and went through, I was pretty happy with those,” Gunn said, before comparing this year’s success to the one of 2015.
“It’s different, there are a lot of new boys in the team and if anything, it probably feels better. Disco (Stewart Kemperman) kept us pretty level-headed so we didn’t feel much pressure even though we were undefeated.”
For Riley Heddles, the premiership fulfilled his dream of returning to his junior club and enjoying the ultimate success for the very first time.
“Unbelievable mate, it was always a dream of mine to come back to my local club and play with blokes I grew up playing footy with,” he said from a buzzing change room.
“The plan was to win a flag with my mates and now I’ve done it … how amazing is that, I’m over the moon. You just do what you do for your mates and as long as I’ve got one of these (medals) around my neck … I don’t care what I have to do.”
Another to taste premiership glory for the first time was former Melbourne AFL midfielder James Magner, who was relishing the sweet taste of success – before he dropped a bombshell.
“Yeah it’s my first flag, 25 years of playing football pretty much, it’s taken a while, not even a junior one,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“I’ve played in a few losing ones, but this is so sweet right now. It’s everything I thought it’d be – in my last game as well. I’ve got a baby coming up early next year so that’s enough for me.”
One man who has enjoyed the physicality that Magner has brought to the table this year is club stalwart Andrew Morozoff, who went through the dark times at the club, often playing the role of the enforcer.
He was pinching himself after winning his second flag for his beloved Blues.
“I am mate, I’ve been dreaming about it a bit lately that we might have a bit of a dynasty coming up and I feel like we showed today how good we can be when we’re all switched on and firing,” he said.
“Coming up together with these blokes, through a few dark times down the bottom of the ladder, and now to experience this, you just shake your head because it’s unbelievable really.”
Morozoff said Riseley’s misfortune hit him hard at the club’s last training session for the season.
“I actually had a little dig at him on Thursday about how nimble he looked, and he turned at me and gave me a look and I thought this must be bad. I just feel for him because nobody deserves to miss out on something like this, especially him, he’s such a crucial part.”
Riseley’s regular partner in crime, Michael Johnson, held the backline together against a Narre Warren side that had him worried heading into the match.
“It’s unbelievable, Narre was in some red-hot form and I wasn’t quite sure how we’d go to be honest, but to get the result is just amazing,” he said.
“It was bit of a hard decision to leave Mazenod and come back, but playing with blokes like Ash Smith, Madi Andrews, Jimmy Magner, what more can you say, they’re great players.
Johnson’s dad Matt was a champion player at the club and was on hand to watch the action unfold.
“To have Dad here watching, and to wear the colours that he wore, I wouldn’t change this feeling for anything in the world, it’s just the best,” Johnson said.
For Jarrod Kemperman, winning a premiership under his brother made the feeling all the sweeter.
“Yeah, he’s done a great job, it feels amazing and to do it under him makes it even better,” the ruckman said.
“You can’t describe the feeling, it feels fantastic. Blokes tell you what it’s like but until you’ve done it you’ve really got no idea. This is the first flag I’ve ever played in, first one, full stop.”
Former Berwick junior Ash Smith had the number ‘2’ written on the taping on his wrist, reminding him that a second premiership with Berwick was at stake. He said winning as favourites for the first time proved this was a truly special team.
“It feels great, two’s better than one, and going in as favourites, we haven’t done that before and it was great to prove things on the biggest stage,” Smith said.
“You always think about it a bit, but we had the confidence in ourselves that we weren’t going to let it slip away. We’ve done it all year, we’ve done it twice to Narre and they hadn’t seen our pressure for 10 weeks. We showed them what was up.”
Forward Harry Money rated this as one of the best feelings in football.
“It’s right up there with kicking a snag or taking a mark I reckon, probably even a bit better,” he said, before praising his skipper Madi Andrews for his tremendous work rate.
“Madi’s always the first there and the last to leave and that just inspires you to work even harder at training,” Money said. “Look out tonight – I don’t make it out much but when I do it goes off.”
For 18-year-old Will Arthurson settling into a team full of stars was daunting, well initially anyway.
“It was daunting at first but everyone has been welcoming and they back you in 100 per cent,” Arthurson said.
“Especially today, everyone’s saying to back myself and that support has been amazing. We knew they were a fast-starting team, but once we started well I thought we could take over from there. It hasn’t sunk in just yet but it will when I get home tonight.”
League MVP Bryce Rutherford was another former junior who was rapt that he made the return from the Casey Scorpions.
“I can’t really explain it to tell you the truth; I’m pretty much over the moon, just really happy that we got wins in the reserves and seniors because there’s a real one-club mentality,” he said.
“It’s great coming back to my local club and winning a flag with my best mates. We had to match them early; we had some good midfield clearances and just kept driving and driving until we got the win.”
And last, but certainly not least, is Michael Harold, the midfield bull who was talked out of retirement after last year’s loss to Cranbourne. The 29-year-old was sucking in every single sweet moment.
“I’m not taking any of these moments for granted because they don’t come around too often,” the hugely respected Harold said.
“The committee, everyone at the top, you can’t win these things without everyone on board. I’m part of a successful era, but I think the whole club has worked extremely hard to make our own luck.”