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Close to the end: Kennington Saints in 1988

By Richard Jones

Although no-one knew it at that exact period, but by the time the late Eighties rolled around the Kennington-Strathdale Saints were on their last legs.

They had just a few seasons left before the final wind-up in 1993.

Nonetheless 1988 started off well for the Saints through the signings of Goulburn Valley F.L. full-forward Darren Comi and YCW premiership coach from the Loddon Valley F.L. in Marty Graham.

Graham, then with South, had been the joint winner of the BFL’s 1984 Michelsen Medal along with Garry Mountjoy of Northern United.

And BFL Legend Ron Best predicted Comi would be the player to take his (Best’s) mantle as the league’s top goalkicker.

Comi, 22, had played the previous three seasons with Shepparton in the GVFL snagging 110 majors in 1987 after beginning his senior career with Seymour, aged just 17.

He drilled 94 goals in his first season of senior footy.

In 1984 Comi had represented the Victorian Country Football League in the QEO fixture against the Victorian Amateurs.

Shepparton News footy writer Tom Carey described Comi as ”a spectacular high mark possessed of a long, left-foot kick.”

Saints’ president Bill Bateson was ‘over the moon’ with the signing of Comi describing the new spearhead as “an excellent asset with the BFL overall to benefit as well.”

He didn’t see out the 1988 season did Comi, though. By early July he’d been cleared to VFL club Melbourne.

More on that later in this story.

But strangely Bateson and his committee did not appoint Graham as the Kennington senior coach. He was the assistant coach to Peter Gorski, the former GVFL and Diamond Valley F.L. player in outer Melbourne, who was in his second year in charge.

Gorski and his recruiting staff had also signed four new players for the ’88 season: Kevin Swan (Seymour), Peter Tressider and Enrico Misso (Box Hill) and Andrew Conforti (Heathcote).

Tressider had won the fairest and best award for the VFA Thirds competition in 1987. He was just 22 years of age.

One thing I really love about looking back through old footy news stories and publications are the paragraphs about biffos and spectator involvement noted by writers. Especially in the BFL, as it was then.

At North Bendigo in one of Comi’s first outings Bulldog spectators were halfway over the fence at the Atkins Street end to exchange a bit of fisticuffs with Kennington rivals.

They’d been fired up by Saints players shooting them the old two-fingered ‘The Bird’ salute. As well as dishing out serves of verbal chatter.

More about that later. Read on.

Comi nailed seven majors in his first outing for Kennington on April 11th and the Saints were two points in front of Kyneton at the last change on opening day: 12.11 to 12.9.

But the Tigers banged home seven majors to four in the final term to win 19.15 (129) to the Saints 16.14 (110).

Next up, Comi was held to just three goals by the Golden Square defence with the Dogs winning by a massive 109 points: 29.23 to 13.10.

It was the battle of the key spearheads in the early May match against Castlemaine. Comi booted nine goals while the Magpies’ John Jefferies sent eight through the big sticks.

Neither Steve Pewtress nor Rob Moschetti could shut down Jefferies and the Maine won: 25.17 (167) to the Saints 20.6 (126).

Comi was injured in the opening quarter of the inter-league game against Western Border at Coleraine. He copped a kick in the shin and took no further part in the match.

Bendigo won: 19.18 to 16.9.

Comi was back for the QEO clash against Sandhurst and although he booted eight of the Saints’ 13 majors the Dragons annihilated Kennington: 30.16 to 13.11.

Hurst spearhead (later club president) Danny Ellis kicked 11 goals in a best afield performance.

But Comi’s performance of the year was still to come. Against Kangaroo Flat and just before final siren time Comi marked within scoring range.

He received a 50m penalty and then goaled to level the scores as the final siren was ringing.

The Saints had trailed all day. Twenty-eight points down at three-quarter time they booted six goals to one to tie the match: 16.9 (105) to 15.15 (105).

Pewtress and Moschetti completely shut down the Flat’s forwards in the vital final stanza.

With just two premiership points in the bank the Saints opened their winning account in the next fixture

The Saints came marching in with a nine-goal third quarter against North Bendigo with Comi nailing four of those early on.

As I noted above, tensions boiled over behind the goals at the Atkins Street end. A spectator had to be held back as he tried to scale the fence.

But the resulting melee among the on-lookers --- Kennington spectators were out-numbered and ended up more bruised --- didn’t deter the Saints.

Comi banged home his fifth of the third term and Quentin Blackmore added another.

Final scores: Kennington 19.14 (128) def. North Bendigo 7.16 (58). Comi 8 goals, Peter Tressider 4.

Buoyed by the big win the Saints had high hopes for the upcoming games against Northern United and South Bendigo.

Marty Graham passed the ball accurately and Rick Nancarrow was a tireless runner, but United surged to a 41-point half-time lead.

Kennington re-bounded brilliantly in the last term with 6.4 to 4.4, but the game was well and truly gone by then with United on top: 23.19 (157) to the Saints 15.15 (105).

Comi booted four goals against the Swallows and then nine for the BFL representative team the following week as the Blue and Golds smashed the Goulburn Valley: 20.14 to 11.11.

Back to BFL home-and-away games in mid-June and Comi managed just three snag rolls at the QEO against South.

Kennington blew any winning chance they had with a poor first quarter with the wind. They scored just 1.7 to the Bloods 3.3.

South showed just how the wind advantage should be used by banging home 7.8 and holding Kennington to 3.5 in a match-defining second stanza.

Third-placed Kyneton snuk home by 17 points against the Saints at the Kyneton Showgrounds on 20th June with just 1.8 (14) between the sides at the last change.

Nancarrow, Rod Southon, Andrew Conforti and Danny Conway were the Saints best with Comi’s last game in Kennington colours looming on 27th June.

He turned in a creditable effort, nailing five goals, but the Saints were slaughtered by Golden Square after trailing by only 15 points at half-time.

The Dogs added 16.10 to 4.6 in the concluding two terms. Pewtress, Gorski and Blackmore were the Saints best three with the reliable Townsend again in the top six playerss.

 

More to come from late 1988 with Kennington’s off-season proposal to re-locate to the then-new Strathfieldsaye suburb and Rod Southon’s Michelsen Medal win.

With thanks to longtime footy colleague and Kennington official historian, Peter Harrick.

And as an afterthought, I used to watch North Bendigo matches I had to report on not from the Bulldogs’ clubrooms area at the Atkins Street end, but from a much safer spot: from memory, the area where the newer clubrooms stand, now.

Playing coach Wayne Walsh was by far the easiest North personality to interview. I went on to broadcast a number of BFL matches in the 90s with Walshy providing special comments on Triple C-FM.

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