SUNBURY big man Simon Clarke and East Point playing coach Dan Jordan share a common bond. They were premiership players together at St Bernard’s Old Collegians when the club won the 2002 VAFA A-grade premiership.
Clarke attended the 10-year reunion of that premiership this year. While the classy forward has played plenty of finals football since, in the “ammos”, VFL and now Ballarat Football League, a second premiership has eluded him.
Tomorrow, when Sunbury faces East Point at Darley Park, either Clarke’s team or Jordan’s will be straight into this year’s grand final.
For Clarke, now 30, that St Bernard’s reunion is a reminder of just how precious the opportunities to win a flag are.
“I was 19 at the time we won at St Bernard’s and probably thought premierships come every other year,” he admits.
“I played with BJ (Ben Jordan) and DJ (Dan Jordan) there in 2002. After that I had a couple of losing grand finals unfortunately at St Bernard’s.”
Clarke played all of his junior football at Sunbury, making his senior debut as an under-18.
But there were bigger opportunities elsewhere.
“I got onto the supplementry list at Essendon back when they had reserves,” Clarke explains.
“We were training with the senior boys, so that was a great experience.
“When I wasn’t there I played at St Bernard’s, but it was mostly at Essendon.”
Being on a supplementary list meant being behind a host of senior listed players which, in turn, meant plenty of time on the interchange bench. AFL list or not, Clarke wanted to play more footy.
“The coach at St Bernard’s, Peter Nicholson, was very convincing about playing senior footy,” Clarke says.
“We won that premiership and lost a couple, and we lost a few players each year to different VFL clubs.”
Eventually Clarke followed the same path. A year after Dan Jordan went to Geelong’s VFL team, Clarke did as well, staying at the Cattery for three years.
Even while that was happening, Clarke maintained contact with his old club with a view to return.
“I was playing bits and pieces with Sunbury. I was always keen to get back there being my local club,” he says.
“I went overseas in 2007 working as a teacher and travelling. That was cut short because I spent some time in hospital.
“Actually I was in an induced coma. I got a tooth infection and then it spread through my entire body.
“I was in Vienna at the time and it was an old, rare disease. I’m lucky to be here.
“I came home in 2008 and had every intention to play at Sunbury. But Andy Lovell was coaching Sandringham at the time and he wanted a few players with VFL experience.
“I went there for a year. I thought it would be good for my recovery to be training with such professional staff.
“The year after that I went back to Sunbury and have been there ever since.”
Just as Clarke had changed, so had the Sunbury Football Club itself. Perhaps being in a country league for so long, the Lions have adopted the character of a country club. The group is tighter with a greater sense of community.
Whatever the reason, the change has been for the better, according to Clarke.
“There has been a changing in the guard behind the scene, the coaching staff and the playing group,” Clarke says.
“In the past we haven’t kept the playing group together each season. Now there’s a nice feeling at the club. Everyone plays for each other as well.”
“Everyone is close but especially the guys I went to school with such as Niall McGovern and Jay Cheep, who I played with at Geelong.
“I’m actually off on a holiday at the end of the year to the United States with Cheepy.”
Like any other country footy club, Sunbury has its rituals.
Clarke himself is likely to “suffer the consequences” of appearing in The Courier.
“We have this thing when, if you turn up in the paper, you have to throw a dart and do the punishment it lands on,” he says. “Either that or you have to pay a fine. Josh Styles runs that.”
Knowing that, Clarke is hesitant to dish up the dirt on too many of his team mates, except to say “Paddy” (ruckman Pat Cariss) has far and away the worst dress sense at the club.
But there is still a serious side to it all, especially given Sunbury’s heartbreaking losses in finals, including last year’s two-point loss in the grand final.
“We are extremely driven. We’ve been looking at making amends this year,” Clarke says.
“We’ve worked harder and I think we are a better side than last year.
“When the guys stick around they get to know each other, and the more you do that the better you play together.
“I don’t think we’ve been dwelling on last year.
“Last week we had a really good win but we’re under no illusions that it is just one final. You have to win all your finals if you want to get to the top.”