IT might have been the proverbial “monkey off the back”, but the focus from the Dandenong Stingrays’ playing group for Saturday’s TAC Cup Grand Final was purely centred around the present, rather than the past.
Stingrays coach Craig Black said everyone knew of the club’s grand final heartache – five grand finals all ending in defeat – but after a speech from Western Bulldogs defender Matthew Boyd at training during the week, the mindset was about making history.
“Matthew Boyd came in on Tuesday night and he said you respect the history, but you’re there to create your own, like the Bulldogs did (in their 2016 flag),” Black said. “The players there now, some of them weren’t even born in the 1997 Grand Final I played in. “I’m just rapt to get some reward, there’s been so many great people at our club. “Like you look at the talent managers, you had Steve Kennedy, then you had Darren Flanigan and now you’ve got Wheels’ (Mark Wheeler) who have put in so much work, then the coaches like Rob Dean eight years, Graeme Yeats 10 years and then I’m lucky enough to come in for five. So there’s been a lot of people who have done a lot of work around the club, so hopefully we can all enjoy the monkey off the back.”
Black said the emotions after the game were overwhelming with so many past players in the rooms and around the ground including Collingwood’s Adam Treloar – who is preparing for his own AFL Grand Final – GWS GIANTS’ Aiden Bonar, St Kilda’s Hunter Clark and Carlton’s Tom De Koning to name a few. The Stingrays coach said the feeling amongst the playing group was unbelievable.
“(It’s) amazing actually,” Black said. “It’s probably a mixture (of) we just wanted to get there, when the siren went it was more relief, and then the emotions you know when you see how excited the players are, you know it’s a kick the difference and it’s the end result is completely different. “Like you win by a goal or you lose by a goal, the emotions are completely different. “We’re happy today.”
Black admitted the last term was nerve-wracking with Oakleigh charging home and drawing within a goal in the final minutes.
“(I was) really, really nervous,” Black said. “That stoppage in the forward line I was like ‘don’t let the ball get over the back and we’re right’, ball gets over the back and I’m like ‘oh no’ and just our effort like Will Hamill and that just in the back half that just went ‘you know what, we’re not going to let them get this’ and I’m thinking extra time here, I’m thinking don’t concede a point, but extra time.”
The coach said the players were aware of the procedure if scores were level at the end of regular time and had been reminded on the day.
“Yeah we mentioned it during the week, and at three quarter time I just said to them, remember if it gets to 25 minutes, then it’s next score wins,” Black said.
Luckily for Black and the Stingrays, Dandenong needed just the regular hour to get the job done in what was a thrilling TAC Cup Grand Final, and one of the ages. Black described the win as a team effort.
“I thought our captain was awesome, Campbell Hustwaite,” Black said. “I just love the look of Sam Fletcher at the end of the game, like his shoulder was banged up, he had five stitches in the eye, blood all over his jumper. “That’s what footy means when you get that. “Our backs, like Will Hamill; Bailey Williams his effort to compete, Sam Sturt started the game really well. “Like anything you’ve just got to have contributors and I thought we had that today, and we were running up and down the ground when they were coming, we were looking tired, but we found a way.”