Three years ago, a national football club set a league record and made headlines with a 509 point loss to the senior team.
Ararat Eagles Football Netball Club was on the brink of collapse in 2019, reaching its lowest point shortly after its brutal beating when the seniors forfeited a game for failing to draft a team.
Now the club is enjoying the aftermath of its first major final win and celebrating its remarkable comeback.
The Eagles seniors defeated Tatyoon by 45 points in the Mininera and District Football League Finals on September 10.
Former club president Nats McRoberts said the win was a “great relief”.
“For everyone who has been involved with the club… all the hard work, it felt like it was all worth it,” he said.
Ararat Eagles Football Netball Club was formed in 2000 following the merger of two Ararat clubs, Prestige Trinity and St Mary’s.
But 2019 was not the first period of turmoil for the club, with a failed attempt to switch leagues from Lexton Plains to Mininera in 2008, bringing the club dangerously close to collapse.
Mr. McRoberts was one of the few people to come to the AGM and said the president’s role “virtually fell into his lap,” and with it a determination to rebuild the club.
“That involved a lot of barbecues, talking to a lot of people, potential players and coaches,” he said.
Momentum picked up, but just a few years later, there was another disruption when the Lexton Plains League was disbanded and Ararat Eagles were pushed into the Mininera League.
“There were definitely dark times,” McRoberts said.
“There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the journey, but that was the commitment I made.
“My family is deeply rooted in the club. My son played in the premiership, my wife is the treasurer and there are other families who have stayed with the club throughout the journey.”
Mr. McRoberts said the Eagles’ success is due to the families and players who stuck through the tough times.
He said they have done a “force of work” to help water the club through 2019.
“The club was broken. We were breaking our heads about how we were going to get through the next week,” said McRoberts.
“Players played two games. They were exhausted. We did everything we could to get the club over the line.”
The extensive media coverage of the 509-point loss to Great Western proved a turning point, with former players returning to the Eagles in hopes of helping change the club’s fate.
A group of four highly regarded players joined forces and pledged to return to the club, causing a “snowball effect” according to McRoberts.
“We heard the guys were coming back in 2020, and everything just went up a little bit,” he said.
“The sponsorship started pouring in and the support grew tremendously throughout the rest of 2019, and by the time we got to the pre-season it was unbelievable.”
Joint senior coach Damian Joiner, known by the nickname Buhn, followed the players to the Eagles and wanted to help change the destiny of the club.
“Country footy has always been the heart and soul of every town around, so you see a club that has it so bad, you can’t help it that you don’t help one way or the other,” he said.
Co-coach, life member and former senior coach Brett Sladdin returned at the same time in 2020, driven by his former ties.
He and Joiner said they were excited to take on a new challenge by rebuilding the senior team from the ground up.
Their goal was to have fun and let the players and supporters enjoy football again.
While success on the field was not the main focus, the caliber of the players returning helped to achieve it quickly.
“It was a fun ride to keep going. We didn’t think we’d be in this position so early,” said Joiner.
Sladdin said the grand final win would help build future success.
He said work for next year had already begun.
“We’ve been in touch with everyone who has played. We need to keep building, so we’re still going to be strong in the coming years, to make sure it’s not just a matter of one or two years and we don’t hit rock bottom again. ” ‘ said Sladdin.
“It will be a lot easier to attract people now than it was a few years ago.”
Joiner said he believed it was “just a kickstart.”
“We want to continue to improve as a club and team and work together to ensure we are on the same page and enjoying country footy,” he said.