By Hayley Wildes
Heading into the big dance with a 0-5 record in grand finals, this Dandenong side was determined to write its own history.
It was reward for a truly incredible season from the Stingrays. Just one loss all season was credit to the teamwork and desire to work for one another. Whenever they were challenged throughout the season – including, most importantly, in the grand final – they responded.
The likes of co-captain Campbell Hustwaite, Ed Cahill, Riley Bowman, Bailey Wiliams and Zac Foot were sublime on the biggest day of the year.
The defence was steadfast against an Oakleigh forward pack that boasted speed and class. Lachlan Young simply wouldn’t be beaten, while Daniel Frampton, Lachlan Stenning and Will Hamill were absolutely crucial down the stretch.
But in fairness, it was a total team effort; all 23 players played their role and now they are all premiership players.
For coach Craig Black – himself a former Stingrays player – in his final game with Dandenong, it was a fitting way to finish his time at the club. He has driven standards and developed some of the finest players in the land over his time with Dandenong and he heads to Collingwood in a development role as a TAC Cup Premiership coach.
After the game, Black spoke about his nerves in those thrilling final minutes.
“I was getting really nervous late, as you could imagine – I was counting down every second, but credit to the boys to be able to dig deep in a couple of really important moments,” he said.
“I thought we set the game up in that second quarter and luckily we were able to hold on.
“Will Hamill and a couple of the defenders just halved key contests and allowed a couple of stoppages late – I was about to run over and push the siren!”
From Black’s perspective, Dandenong’s maiden TAC Cup premiership is reward for everyone involved.
“It’s a great reward for not just this year, but the people who put in a lot of hard work over 27 years – for our club to finally have success is outstanding and unbelievable,” he said.
The play of Riley Bowman and Bailey Williams – two key pillars who will be highly sought after in next month’s AFL Draft – was crucial.
“You just ask your big men to compete and I thought they both did that,” Black said.
“Riley in the ruck competed really well, which allowed us to use Bailey forward a bit more and a couple of time he just willed himself on the contest and he took a couple of important marks, which was fantastic.”