The Murrumbateman Football Club has achieved one of the toughest achievements in sport by claiming back-to-back premierships in the AFL Canberra Community Men’s Division Three Grand Final.
In a tough and tight affair, all game, the Eagles ran out winners 6.11.47 to 6.5.41 victors over the Goulburn Swans at EPC Solar Park in Phillip during a twilight timeslot, beginning at 4:30pm.
The Grand Final between the second (Eagles) and third (Swans) placed sides on the competition’s ladder lived up to expectations, with just six points separating the two sides at full time.
Murrumbateman took the ascendancy of the game from the first bounce and created a lot of scoring opportunities but couldn’t find the middle of the sticks.
A wasteful Eagles outfit eventually kicked the first goal via a set shot straight in front in the first quarter, before Goulburn responded with a goal at the end of the term when they dribbled through a long-range bomb from outside 50.
The Eagles were again the faster team to start the second quarter when Matt Bell ran onto a ball that went over the pack and slammed through Murrumbateman’s second goal from the goal square.
The Swans and Eagles went goal for goal to end the second quarter with Murrumbateman taking in a single figure lead into the main break that could’ve been a lot more if it hadn’t been for inaccurate kicking in front of goals.
The Grand Final kicked up yet another gear in the second half where the Eagles would go on to lift the premiership cup, however, it wasn’t without two cruel casualties for the premiers.
Mark Welsh, first year Murrumbateman Eagles Head Coach and now Premiership Coach, told The Times the intensity of the game was exactly how he expected it to be.
“The game was exactly what I thought it was going to be and that was a highly skilled, fast game, where Goulburn moved the ball really quickly,” Welsh said.
“They just kept on coming all day and gave everything they had, and we couldn’t really kick away. 20 points was the biggest margin we had all day, and we probably should’ve kicked a lot straighter. At one point in the first quarter, we had kicked 1.8.
“That kind of inaccuracy and not being able to put on scoreboard pressure just kills your momentum, particularly early on. If we were six goals to two, it would’ve been a completely different game.
“It was a tough and physical game. We ended up with two guys in hospital. Pat Ryan got taken off the field in an ambulance with a suspected broken leg, however, it’s not as bad as first thought. Mitch Evans took a high shot and has got two fractures in his jaw and went in for surgery on Monday.”
Welsh had a simple but clear message for his team at halftime to continue the job to go on and taste premiership glory.
“I was impressed with our discipline through the first half, so that was the number one thing that we wanted to continue. There was no backchat to the umpires or anything like that,” Welsh continued.
“The other thing was that the second that we stopped running or giving options for each other, we gave Goulburn an opportunity. In the third quarter it probably wasn’t there, but in the first couple of minutes of the fourth quarter the boys didn’t seem to be on the ball and Goulburn kicked two quick ones.
“It doesn’t take long against a quality side, if you switch off, they can kick goals really quickly. We just worked at what we wanted to do which is using the whole ground with our run, spread and carry and just back our fitness in.
“Credit to Goulburn, they were fit and really built on the start of their season really well. They got fitter, faster and more skillful throughout the year, and if there had been a couple of more minutes, they probably would’ve got us.
“It was definitely tense for me at the end. I kept on seeing guys willing to stand up and take big hits and big marks. There were three big marks in that last five minutes that kept our one goal lead.
Chris Klefisch took a mark in the Goulburn goal square under pressure, if he dropped that or it went through, it would’ve been a completely different game.
“Blake Collins took a couple of marks as well under pressure in the last two minutes, and once again, just stopped that drive forward from Goulburn.”
Welsh admitted due to the late, serious injuries to Ryan and Evans, the celebrations immediately post-game was quite subdued, before getting an update on their conditions.
“To get reward for the work that you’ve done during the year is a huge relief and then sheer joy. It was a bit quiet initially with our celebrations because of those two boys that were injured,” he said.
“We wanted to get word back from the hospital and how they were travelling before we started letting the hair down.
“To go back-to-back with all the challenges that we’ve faced is fantastic. We finally finished up celebrating on Monday afternoon.”
Like last year’s inaugural Eagles premiership, the Murrumbateman community turned up in numbers to Phillip Oval to watch their boys and provide a terrific atmosphere in the crowd.
“Our supporters are fantastic. They get there in numbers, and they’re respectful to the other team and the umpires. It’s great to have big numbers there supporting us in good spirit and good sportsmanship, which we love.
“Some of the parents of the younger players at the end of the game came up and said how much they appreciate their sons being guided by the coaches and club members through the year. It’s good to get that feedback that we’re doing the right thing by everyone and you’re having a positive influence.
“Those supporters got us over the line for sure, you could hear them all afternoon.”
Despite Murrumbateman taking home the premiership cup, Goulburn player and coach James Armstrong was adjudged best on ground in the Grand Final.
“I thought Matthew Walls had a fantastic game for us, as well as Blake Collins. Mitch Lamb was pretty handy for us as well, he kicked a couple and gave plenty of opportunities,” Welsh said.
“We really didn’t have a massive standout performance, we had an even spread across the park, but I think those three names come to mind pretty quickly when we’re talking about our best.
“We just had another enjoyable season and have built a really fun culture where the boys are enjoying their footy. Hopefully, a lot of them will stick around for next year and go again.”
Saturday’s Grand Final success for Murrumbateman follows on from last year’s inaugural premiership that they won over Battle of the Barton rivals in the Yass Roos at the same venue.
The Murrumbateman Eagles have punched well above their weight since being founded in 2018, with the 2022 and 2023 back-to-back premierships adding two pieces of silverware into their trophy cabinet in just five years as a Club.
Andy Ingold, Murrumbateman Football Club President and one of the founders of the Club, said he is proud of everyone’s commitment inside the four walls to achieve the ultimate success not once, but twice.
“For the Club to go back-to-back is just out of this world. One premiership was a dream, but to go back-to-back is just amazing,” Ingold said.
“It’s a testament to everyone involved, from supporters and staff right through to the playing group over the last five years. It’s a massive effort.
“I’ve had a few messages from some staff at AFL Canberra and they’ve said congratulations. Internally, I’m so glad we got there and could secure two premierships in five years.
“The boys have shown throughout the whole year their grit and determination which they showed on the weekend. They obviously wanted it more and didn’t give up.
“The players could’ve easily thrown the towel in that last quarter when Goulburn came back pretty hard, but they stood tall and came away with the chocolates.
“[Mark] It was Welshy’s first year as head coach and he has done quite well with a premiership in his first year, that’s a big tick to put in his resume. He’s led the group well to the Grand Final and prepared them the right way to win it.
The Eagles as a Club have had many hurdles and obstacles to overcome since their inception, including their much-maligned home ground, which is finally set for a makeup.
“We’ve had people give us crap about the ‘goat track’ and the amenities at Murrumbateman Park, but to turn around and say we’ve got back-to-back premierships is pretty pleasing,” Ingold continued.
“With the amenities building under construction and the irrigation in the ground now, it’s all coming together.”
The Eagles players and staff headed back to Murrumbateman Country Inn on Saturday night for their post-game celebrations which went well into the night, where the players were presented to the crowd with the 2023 premiership cup.
Murrumbateman Football Club held their end-of-season awards and presentation night with a Gala Ball Saturday night, September 9th, at the Canberra Casino. Well done to the Eagles on another exceptional year.
2023 Murrumbateman Eagles Premiership Team: Chris Klefisch, Andrew Courir, Pat Ryan, Harry Ryan-Baker, Matthew Walls, Kaiden Armstrong, Elwyn Stannard, Ben Telford, Jake Prince, Sam Ryan-Baker, Cam Hourn, Jono Leayr, Blake Collins, Mitch Lamb, David Jeans, Tom Rankin, Matt Bell, Jordan Flanagan, Adam Hill, Mitch Evans, Dave Guttler, Kevin Mangan. Coach: Mark Welsh.