AFTER months and months of massive drainage and surface re-development works, Bendigo’s iconic QEO was ready for footy again in June 2011.
After the $2.2 million works had been finished, pushed back a bit because of central Victoria’s wettest summer on record, the ground was ready for the clash of the QEO’s oldest rivals. Sandhurst and South Bendigo were to play on June 11th.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago we were all traipsing out to Huntly to watch the Dragons play their early season fixtures.
But it’s more than six seasons ago now. And another thing sprang out at me while researching this article.
Did you remember that for the second QEO netball court to be constructed everything had to be sorted out through the VCAT process?
I’d clean forgotten about that. Apparently protesters had claimed it was inappropriate to remove three or four giant old eucalyptus trees in order for Court 2 to be installed.
But they had and eventually lost. The announcement of the first footy match date pleased then South Bendigo president Mal Balnaves.
“There was a bit of doubt but I’m just glad. It means we have things in place that we don’t have to change,” he said.
“We rely on gate takings and functions and it’s really hard to do that if we’re not at the QEO.”
Back in 2011 the Bendigo Bombers VFL side, along with the Bendigo Pioneers, also called the QEO home.
For the remainder of 2011 the Bombers had five scheduled matches and the Pioneers two.
On official opening day --- June 11th --- City of Greater Bendigo Rod Fyffe did the honours as he cut a ribbon to ceremonially open the precinct.
Also on hand were then Labour Federal member Steve Gibbons, state parliamentarians Jacinta Allan and Maree Edwards, Nationals Upper House M.P. Damian Drum (now a Federal politician), city CEO Craig Niemann and representatives of the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
LEADING up to the big Round 9 clash Bloods’ coach Rick Coburn (the 2017 Pioneers mentor) had walked the QEO and was pleasantly surprised at what he saw.
“It’s a bit firmer than what I thought it would be after all the work,” he said.
“I had thought it would be softer. And there’s one patch where the grass hasn’t quite taken off, but I don’t think us playing on it will be to the ground’s detriment.
“The ground looks great. It should be a great day.”
Coburn’s ground report was largely substantiated by Mr. Niemann.
“It’s in good condition, but we will be reducing usage by the various footy clubs by about 25 per cent,” he said.
“The surface is fine, the couch (grass) is well established although we had hoped the rye grass would have come on a bit better.
“We need to carefully nurse the new QEO surface through its infancy.”
The city CEO opined that perhaps because of 2011’s cooler autumn the ground surface had not come up quite as well as expected.
So the City Council advised the Bendigo Bombers’ VFL side that they’d need to re-locate their June 19th and July 24th matches against Williamston and Geelong, respectively, to other venues.
The Bombers re-scheduled both those matches to Windy Hill.
The BFNL fixturing was also impacted. The June 26th Sandhurst vs. Kyneton game was moved back to Huntly while the July 10th clash between South Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat was shifted to Golden Square.
BUT back to re-opening day.
Remembering, of course, that the QEO’s time-honoured rectangular shape with its deep, deep pockets had gone to God courtesy of Bendigo’s now defunct VFL entity whose leaders had insisted on a traditional oval shape.
So, the Dragons went into the big game with serious injury worries. Star midfielders Blair Holmes and Lee Coghlan and No. 1 forward Matt “Bear’ Thornton were all on the sidelines.
And at the halfway mark of the 2011 season the Dragons were almost on their last legs as far as making the September finals were concerned.
They were in seventh spot on a 3 wins--5 losses record and trailing fourth and fifth-placed Strath Storm and Eaglehawk by two clear games.
As well the Hurst were below sixth-placed Maryborough by four premiership points.
In their favour the Sandhurst had a far superior percentage over all those sides. For just three wins on the board the Dragons had amassed an imposing percentage of 136%.
Only top club Golden Square, which was unbeaten after eight completed rounds, had a better percentage. Theirs was 236%.
But second and third-placed South and Gisborne could muster just 130.7% and 133.8%, respectively.
WHAT happened next out on the brand new green grass of the QEO after Cr. Fyffe --- remember, he’s one of only two sitting councillors who were returned last October --- had cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Well, South’s Tom Dargaville etched his name into the BFNL history books by booting the first senior goal on the new surface as the Bloods belted the Hurst by 74 points.
A semi-final sized crowd paying more than $5000 at the QEO gates watched the South defence hold Sandhurst goalless from the 22-minute mark of the second term to the final siren.
The Dragons had strong marking forward Jake Hall prominent early. But he often grabbed those marks too far out from goal to score.
South led by 23 points at the first break with Michael Leech, Pascale Craig and skipper Brady Childs all banging home majors.
It was left to captain Michael Cornish to spear home Sandhurst’s first goal at the five-minute mark of the second term.
Leech went on to boot four goals in the ground-opener with Alexander and Ireland adding three each.
The yellow ball was used for the second half and the QEO lights were switched on three minutes into the final term.
THE G-Train Matt Gretgrix had a day out against Kyneton booting 13 goals as he tormented the Tiger defence match-long.
It came just a week after Gretgrix had nailed 12 goals against Castlemaine. Twenty-five goals in two weeks: nice work!
The entire Two Blues’ forward line had a picnic.
Small forward Troy Coates bagged nine goals while Travis Matheson and Matt Gilmore snared five each.
In just two matches Eaglehawk had lifted its percentage from 93.98 to 134.69 and was well and truly embedded in the Top Five.
Final scores: South Bendigo 15.14 (104) def. Sandhurst 3.12 (30); Gisborne 18.15 (123) def. Kang. Flat 12.12 (84); Strathfieldsaye 22.15 (147) def. M’borough 7.10 (52); Eaglehawk 41.14 (260) def. Kyneton 7.4 (46) and Golden Square 14.19 (103) def. Castlemaine 10.8 (68).
Sam Mildren booted nine goals for the Storm while Christian Carter and Grant Weeks landed five apiece for the Square.
Top Five: Golden Square 9 wins--0 losses, 36 points; South Bendigo 7-2, 28; Strathfieldsaye 6-3, 136.6%, 24; Gisborne 6-3, 135.0%, 24; Eaglehawk 6-3, 134.69%, 24 points.
Tips for Round 10, 2017: Strath Storm (v Sandhurst), Castlemaine (at Maryborough), Eaglehawk (v South Bendigo), Kyneton and Golden Square.
By Richard Jones