North Ballarat Rebels made history in TAC Cup competition when they won their first and only premiership in 1997.
Dandenong Stingrays were the dominate team that season and boasted a number of soon-to-be AFL stars.
But for the Rebels, the work towards the club’s greatest achievement to date started seasons earlier.
After a tough inaugural year in 1993 and a finals appearance in 1994, the club identified a group of promising 16-year-olds in 1995.
“We took the group to Adelaide for a whole week and we knew we had something pretty special,” Rebels founder and general manager Tony Frawley said.
“You sort of have a rare situation where you had the three regions, Ballarat, Wimmera and Western, strong at the one time.”
When Garry Fletcher took over as coach in 1995, the club blooded the group of talented youngsters into the under-18 competition and most played in the preliminary final the following year.
By the time the season started in 1997, the team had both experience and skill.
But it was not until the national championships that the extent of this talent truly dawned on Frawley.
“I remember this vividly, we had 14 players in the Victorian Country team, which is unheard of… we knew we had a strong squad,” he said.
“And when our kids were away in the national championships, 14 of our best players away, we still won games against other clubs we were that strong.”
The Rebels brought in Sam Cranage and Marcus Picken from the south western region to fill the void.
Both went on to play in the grand final and be selected in the national draft.
Looking back on the grand final teams, Frawley described some of the match ups as “amazing”.
Travis Johnstone on James Walker, Trent Croad on Adam Goodes, Nick Preston on Brendon Fevola, Marc Greig on Stephen Milne, Shane O’Bree on Adam Ramanauskas.
But it was not these names that had Frawley worried on selection night.
“Adam Goodes had been playing in the backline throughout the finals…. and the coach, Garry Fletcher, announced to everyone that Adam was going to play full forward,” Frawley said.
“Everyone thought he was crazy… we all thought we were not going to get anywhere near it because he wouldn’t be able to perform at that level.”
Goodes had a best on ground performance, kicking six goals in the forward line in the Rebels’ 35-point victory.
Frawley now calls it a “master stroke” from the coach, with the game putting the spotlight on Goodes ahead of the draft.
While Frawley’s career expands to roles such as the boss of AFL Northern Territory, the Rebels’ premiership remains a highlight.
“Some of those kids you remember all your life,” he said.
“It was a special day because three regions had come together and beat the best of the metropolitan teams.”
- Mars Stadium, Sunday, August 20, from noon
TAC Cup triple header
- Geelong Falcons v Murray Bushrangers, 10.30am
- Gippsland Power v Bendigo Pioneers, 1pm
- Greater Western Victoria Rebels v Dandenong Stingrays, 3.30pm