By Michael Doran
In front of more than 4500 cold and wet supporters, Wandin led from start to finish to take the AFL Yarra Ranges Division 1 Premiership.
In a game they controlled from start to finish, Wandin defeated Woori Yallock 16.11.107 to 9.16.70 on Friday 28 September.
Despite being beaten twice by the Tigers during the home and away season, the Bulldogs turned the tables around in the two finals they played.
Wandin club president Shane Harris said the win capped off a great year for the club and the development of players from the junior teams played a big part in the success.
“We had 12 players under 23 playing today who have all come through our junior programs,” he said.
“We knew we could beat the teams in the top five, even though we struggled a bit through the middle of the season with injuries.
“Our reserves players really stepped up when injuries to key players hit us and it was a tough call when they missed out on playing in the finals.
“They did a really great job in getting us here today.
“We managed our injuries this year so that guys who were injured were well-rested and ready to go when the finals came around.
“On top of our senior football, today we had Under 17, B, C and D grade netball all win premierships.
“Those four teams played a combined 80 games this season and lost only one.“
The club sees itself as an important part of the wider Wandin community with more than 140 people playing in 2018.
“You have just got to see the build-up in town this week, it’s been fantastic, you only have to see all the signs along the highway and drive through Wandin to see everything is red, white and blue,” Harris said.
Wandin was named the AFL Ranges Champion Club for 2018 and such on-field success points to a solid team off the field as well.
Harris believes the depth of the club’s management team is something that sets Wandin apart.
“I have had a challenging year myself with mental illness, spending seven weeks in hospital,“ he said.
“I had to step back for around 14 weeks and the beauty of this club is that others were able to step-in and take over.“
Coach Nick Rutley is handing over the reins for 2019 to his assistant, Nick Adam.
Rutley combined his Wandin role with an assistant coach position at Carlton in the AFLW this year, a competition he might return to next season.
Understandably, Harris was bullish about Wandin’s prospects in 2019 after such a great win.
“I am really looking forward to it; I really think if we can keep all our boys together we can be very competitive against anyone,“ he said.
“We can do it again, I really think we can.“
AFL Ranges Commissioner, Mark Sargent, said it was a bold move by the league to schedule the grand final on the Friday public holiday.
“We took a big risk in pushing our season back by two weeks and today we were the only game in town,” he said.
“To get over 4500 people here on such a cold and wet day is a great result and we are looking to bigger and better things next year.”