A Panther’s Story – 1993-2011
We as Old Carey past players all have a story we can tell about the club we love. In the words of Dale Kerrigan, my name is Nick Vas and this is my story.
2011 A Grade…1993 G Grade…1984 E grade! Think about that. Old Carey’s climb from E and G Grade cellar dwellers into a respected Premier division club on the verge of finals was a climb that was slow and steady. Sometimes we went backwards, at other times we rushed forward like a tsunami.
The first specific step forward can be traced back to the clubs decision to field an U/19’s side for season 1984. It was the then Carey committee with notables, such as John Dunshea, Eric Dick, Chris Thomas, David Jones, many of them now life members, who knew that the path to A Grade lay in convincing the kids who play Carey 1st and 2nd XV111 football to come and play their senior footy at Old Carey. They knew kids would not want to play senior footy in lowly E Grade. However, they also knew most of us would want to stay and play together, if given a choice!
The opportunity lay in convincing us that if the club registered an U19 team, then it was only one year of footy and it was a great standard of footy. The other key to keeping us all together was by appointing our former School and Carey First XV111 coach from 1979-1982 in Roger Cutts to the U19 coaching role.
It would not be easy to get this to happen and it would mean that a number of us would need to turn down invitations to play with A Grade clubs and walk away from opportunities in the then VFL U19 competition, where we had trained or played. Could the club possibly convince us to stay and play together as a group for one more season…... where we belonged at The Panthers?
We held a team meeting at Rowe’s Pub (Des Rowe) - The Elgin Inn and the decision was made that we would all stick together managing to ‘collect’ 25 players and thus embark on our VAFA U19 season in 1984. We knew we didn’t have the polished skills of finalists, such as Marcellin O.C. Ormond, or De La Salle however, had grit and determination and managed to reach and win a final thus finishing in 3rd position in 1984. A mighty effort in our first year!
The 'tipping point’ for the club was the following year as to how many players would stay at the club and join the seniors in the E Grade competition. A core group stayed however unfortunately the top 4-6 players chose to play with U19 VFL clubs or with the ‘powerhouse' clubs within the A & B grade competition.
Eight years later in 1992; there was another push and this time the mastermind behind it was John Hands and his committee (who were part of the club in 1984 and witnessed the positive effect the U19’s had had on the club) together with Craig Jobson as U19 coach. The year before the Carey 1st XVIII came within a last round victory against Wesley to win the school’s first ever APS premiership. Many of these players including 1998 premiership players Cam Campbell, Simon Greenwood and Tim Price played in that inaugural 1992 u/19 side.
However season 1993 was a difficult one for Old Carey. The senior side had suffered heart breaking preliminary finals loss in the previous seasons, so close to promotion proved to be a mental hurdle too tough to climb. The club finished season 1993 with 2 wins and 16 losses in G grade.
Rick Daniels, a man that brought a competitiveness and ruthlessness previously not seen in Old Carey sides as well as that deep seated hatred of losing, felt he could give no more. His departure mid-season was a big loss for Old Carey and Barry Rist took over. The playing group were on notice – a more competitive and honest effort was going to be needed to drag the club up the VAFA ladder. Rick and Barry laid the foundation for this.
In those early years on the playing field the club was held together by the likes of Jimmy McQuie, Scott McRae, Tim Styles, John Raft, Paul Harris, Greg Berti, Ross Cutlack and Greg Skene, these players were excellent role models for the young u/19’s just new to the club.
In the early years did the u/19’s give much back to the club? Unfortunately it is fair to say not a lot. I say that honestly because the culture in the u/19’s was all about playing together and not aspiring to play senior football. Craig Jobson and Mick Lord implored the young group that they should be aiming to play at senior level and see themselves as long term Carey players.
In 1994 Jobbo and then senior coach John Wise made the tough decision and told the u/19 group that each week 2-3 players would be selected in the senior side. Some went up without argument; some went kicking and screaming and nearly all went up wishing they were not there.
The other issue the club faced at seasons end was losing not only key u/19 players to A Grade clubs but also not getting the gun players straight out of school.
The feeling was if you wanted to play the best footy Old Carey was not the place to be. Slowly but surely this attitude changed…….
In 1995 the VAFA changed the structure of the competition, no longer was there G section and F section, the league announced three E sections meaning those clubs in G and F section were now elevated and closer to D section. Old Carey fielded its youngest side for many years and welcomed back John Raft, Chris Anderson and Matty Cohen from other clubs. Hamish Morrison and Cam Campbell bucked the previous trend of talented u/19 players and returned to Old Carey after brief stints at higher clubs and gave their best years of service to Old Carey.
The club made the finals and was beaten by well over 100 points by Aquinas in the First semi, Nick Everett vindicated the decision to reinstate the u/19’s years before by winning the Senior Best and Fairest in his first year of senior footy, he then backed it up in 1996 again winning the Senior Best and Fairest. Had this been done before in any club in the amateurs?
John Wise again took the side to the finals in 96 and Old Carey made it through to a preliminary final, where it again lost to Aquinas.
Season 1997 saw changes at the top for Old Carey, Glen Taylor a man driven almost to the point obsession took charge and made the first major decision that would benefit the club for years to come…..installing a 22 year old by the name of Cam Matthews as Captain of the club. Two strong willed albeit different personalities were driven by the one goal – to take Carey up the grades.
By now the inaugural u/19 squad were maturing, ably supported by experienced campaigners such as Chris Hickey and Matt Cohen, as well as two more returning players from higher levels Bruce Cohen and Michael Addison. Old Carey finished season 1997 on top of the ladder with only one loss. Yet promotion is never handed to you and the club was bundled out in straight sets, beaten by eventual premiers Yarra Valley as well as arch-rival Kew. What was not lost in the disappointment was the form in the prelim of two youngsters Chris Angus and Simon Wood two boys who would taste premiership success sooner rather than later.
The clubs biggest hurdle in 1998 was its mentally fragile mindset, this was seen by rival clubs as Carey’s biggest weakness. However Old Carey smashed this myth to pieces taking out the 1998 premiership in a canter losing only one game for the year after the traditional Old boys’ dinner. During the year Old Carey disposed of arch-rival Kew on all three occasions, with the margin in the Grand Final being 12 goals.
Of the premiership 21 in 1998, 15 were graduates from the u/19’s, however the culture of still wanting to play all year in the u/19’s was still evidenced by the fact the club had produced the competition best and fairest in the u/19’s for the previous 4 seasons, a stat that if we really analyse was not something to be proud of as it suggested younger players good enough to play senior football were not doing that. This continued throughout the 2000’s with the club winning at least 3 more VAFA best and fairest from the u/19’s. One player who belied this trend was Jason Woods, a young man still eligible for the u/19’s in season 1998, unfortunately broke his collarbone in the second semi against Richmond Centrals and missed out on being a member of the premiership 21 two weeks later.
The club went to D grade in 1999 and performed admirably to make the finals where it was beaten by another suburban heavyweight Bulleen Templestowe, a club that would test the mental resolve of Old Carey for years to come. However on a positive note at school level Carey won its first APS premiership on the back of names that would lead the club through the next decade and ultimately to where we are now.
The Carey 1st XVIII in 1999 had players of the ilk of Alistair Parton, Andrew Kent, Dale James, Cam Smith, Damien Shutie and Peter Unkles….these names sound familiar? Most are now premiership players of Old Carey.
At senior level Old Carey stumbled its way through the early 2000’s, unfortunately the club was relegated back to D2 section in 2001 and did not play finals until 2003. Where it again was beaten in a first semi final.
By now the initial u/19 squad of the early 90’s were ageing and the new breed of u/19 graduates were coming through, Alistair Parton had returned from Old Xavs where he had tasted the ultimate success and was announced as the club captain for season 2004. This announcement, like the one that appointed Cam Matthews in 97, would be seen as a pivotal moment and reason why the club was able to take the next step and head into uncharted territory C grade and beyond.
Season 2004, Old Carey made the D2 Grand Final and lost convincingly to Bulleen Temp, the clubs had played off 4 times that year for a 2-2 record, yet significantly Bulleen Temp won both finals including the Grand Final. Significantly in the grand final Carey’s two best players for the season Al Parton and Jogga White had been struck down by injury. Both would play lead roles in the club flying through the grades in the next few years.
Old Carey went through significant player changes in 2005, many of the old guard retired and Al Parton along with James “Jogga” White were able to be supported by the likes of Andrew Kent, Dale James, Pete Unkles as well as some fresh faces in Al Stewart Holmes, Geoff Trumbull and Tommy Evans. Old Carey was building again and this group of players led Old Carey on a golden run between 2006 – 2008.
The stars aligned for Old Carey in 2006, Cam Matthews was installed as senior coach, as well as the return of two of Old Carey’s finest in Steve Collins and Matt Angus. Old Carey stormed to the premiership in D section in 2006, on the back of Steve Collins having probably the best individual season seen by an Old Carey player where he won every individual accolade possible.
Old Carey continued its meteoric rise through the grades, going through C section to again play finals, the side now had the services of Al Parton’s younger brother Lachy McQueen as well as mature recruits Nick Holland, and Martin Heppell. Rac had played previously at the club in 2001 and that year took out the best and fairest after only playing half the year.
The 2007 preliminary final was and still is one of the clubs finest moments. A big crowd came to watch Old Carey take on young upstarts Rupertswood, incidentally both clubs had played off in the previous year’s 2006 D section Grand Final, one club would do the unthinkable and earn promotion in consecutive years.
Old Carey won a thriller on the back of an 8 goal haul from Nick Holland to book a place in the 2007 C Section Grand Final against another rival club Old Camberwell.
Old Carey would be in 2008 in B section! Amazingly this achievement offered so many past players the thrill that when now asked who they had played for, with pride we could all answer Old Carey we’re now in B grade!
The club performed brilliantly in the 07 Grand Final, falling just short of defeating the more fancied Camberwell side, but not before we didn’t give them a fright. Al Parton who cruelly missed the O6 Grand Final with a knee reco would be denied and have to wait a little longer for premiership glory.
Martin Heppell at 33 years of age typified the fighting qualities the side possessed taking out the medal for best on ground in a losing side, he then threw the medal away and it is probably still in the forward pocket at Trevor Barker oval.
Old Carey maintained ground in 2008 and remained in B section; Cam Matthews stepped down as senior coach at the end of the year and an unknown Trevor Rowe took over. Could the club continue to move forward without the leadership of Kanga?
Under the guidance of John Raft and Michael Cooke, who had both played a significant role in leading the club as President and Vice president, the club led the way in the VAFA in recruiting. The club welcomed back Cam Howat from Richmond as well as the recruitment of Julian Rowe from Collingwood. Added to this the new captain of the club Tom Evans who played as if his life depended on every contest but also had the skills to match any player in the competition, the club was ready to attack B grade.
Season 2010 will go down as the greatest year in the history of Old Carey. The club achieved what it had never achieved before…a premiership in B section and promotion to A Grade. Old Carey defeated Old Haileybury on a cloudy and gloomy day at Elsternwick Park in the B section Grand Final; however there has never been a sweeter sight than that of Trevor Rowe and Tom Evans standing on the dais with the premiership cup in their hands. Both men epitomized the no nonsense approach the club took all year – no big statements just a business like attitude to the goal the group had in mind. The win was made even sweeter with Al Parton and Andrew Kent two players who had given so much, finally enjoying much deserved premiership success.
So now here we are in 2012, the club sits comfortably amongst the best clubs in the VAFA, we as past players should feel proud because as you have just read the journey to the top could not have been made by one man. Sure some had a more of an impact than others, but every player who has pulled on an Old Carey jumper should feel proud to have contributed to the rise of our great club.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane; I loved every minute of my time as an Old Carey player and treasure all the great friendships. Some of the best times we had weren’t even on field!
Today is a way of celebrating what we all have in common a love of Old Carey, lets enjoy the chance to pull on the black gold and blue one more time and relive the past over lunch and a beer and recall some of the great moments of the past that helped us get to the top.
Cheers Nick Vas