25th Anniversary of the 1996 Reserve Grade & U18 Premiership

25th Anniversary of the 1996 Reserve Grade & U18 Premiership

May 27, 2021


‘No-one remembers Reserves flags … it’s all about the Firsts!’ – Club Patron, Gus McKernan (as related by Greg Hume)

Nineteen Ninety Six was a stellar season for Pennant Hills. For the first time in the Club’s history, all three teams, Firsts, Reserves and Under 18s, were Grand Finalists with two of them, Reserves and Under 18s, going on to win flags. On Saturday 29th July 2021 we mark the 25th anniversary of this significant Club milestone.

2021 is also the 45th and 15th anniversary for flags won in 1976 and 2006, respectively. In 1976 Pennant Hills Seniors won a second consecutive flag in the 2nd Division of the Sydney Football Association. This was the year prior to the Club’s elevation to the first grade competition in 1977. In 2006, the Demons won an improbable flag against red hot favourites East Coast Eagles. Played in a quagmire at Henson Park, the Demons snuck home by a mere 2 points. This was the Demon’s second first grade flag with another two added since in 2008 and 2015, both also against arch Hills rivals, East Coast Eagles.

1996 Season Overview

The Club’s on-field success saw it SFL Club Champions and for Club President, Lindsay Thomas, 1996 was “another excellent and highly successful season … all three grades competing in finals for the fourth consecutive year, with all three this year playing in their respective Grand Finals, the first for a Club since the early ‘80s, best illustrates the strength and depth now at Pennant Hills … Winning Premierships in Under 18s and Reserves and missing the Senior’s by the narrowest of margins (2 goals) was a wonderful effort … It has produced in 1996 the strongest Club in the Sydney Football League.”

Ironically, for our Reserve Grade, 1996 was the last time they have achieved flag success. And, it’s not through want of trying, considering they have competed in seven Grand Finals since 1996 only to be runners- up on each occasion. What’s more, last season’s devastating 1 point loss to 5th placed Sydney University was the third time the team has lost the Big Dance by the smallest possible margin.

In more recent times, the task of winning is that much more difficult for Penno because the first grade side for a number of Club’s now participate in the Division One competition (formerly Reserve Grade). That means our seconds are playing their firsts! For example, in this season’s 10 team competition, five of them are the first grade for their respective clubs. Despite two barren decades, insofar as trophies go, Pennant Hills Reserves (today’s Division One side) has a formidable history of success and there is a long and distinguished list of talented footballers who have worn the ‘red and the blue’ for the Penno Reserves.

Significantly, premiership success at the highest level is only possible where a Club has the necessary depth of players with the right mix of skills, talents and ambition. The four First Grade flags won by the Club, starting with the maiden breakthrough in 2000, says much about the player depth and talent at this great Club, not the least of which, is a long line of talented footballers, newcomers and old hands alike, that have passed through the ranks of our Reserve Grade sides.

For Terry Donohoe, Captain of the 1996 Reserves, the Grand Final victory was the sweetest moment of them all, particularly special as it was arch- rivals, North Shore, that were vanquished that day in a one point thriller. Ironically, four years later, Terry was coach of the Reserves in the 2000 Grand Final and, as fate would have it, the tables were turned and North Shore got their revenge, this time by a single point in their favour. Oh, the fickle fortunes of footy!

Incredibly, it was in 2000 when all four Pennant Hills sides made Grand Finals – Firsts, Reserves, Under 18s and a third grade side. Not only did Terry Donohoe’s Reserves lose, but all three lower grades lost that year! Rising like a legendary phoenix from the ashes, the Firsts conquered North Shore in the contest that counts the most, to record the Club’s inaugural First Grade flag. Arguably, it was the depth of player stocks available to the Club at that time and the sacrifices inevitably made by the boys in the lower grades, that were significant contributors to the success of the Senior side.

First Grade – Still waiting for the breakthrough

Pennant Hills First Grade finished 2nd after the Home & Away rounds, 13 wins and 4 losses and were runners- up in the Grand Final. Western Suburbs were Minor Premiers, one game (14 wins) ahead of Pennant Hills. The Demons were denied a shot at the Minor Premiership when their Round 21 match against North Shore was washed out. Had they played and won, Pennant Hills would have pipped Wests for the Minor Premiership by percentage.

Pennant Hills was first or second on the ladder for the whole season, with one week’s exception mid-season, after losing consecutive matches to Western Suburbs and St George, when they fell to 3rd place. According to Senior Coach, Steve Barratt, leading into the finals, the team “had a couple of untimely injuries to both Matthew Daykin and David Dighton. This unsettled us and our performance in the 2nd Semi-Final was our worst for the year. However, like our team has done regularly … the guys rallied and were able to turn things around the following week to upset St George in the Preliminary Final.”

“Winning the Grand Final following a 97 point loss to Western Suburbs in the 2nd Semi-Final was always going to be tough, and one that many gave us no chance. But our performance against a much tougher side on their home ground was [admirable] but unfortunately a couple of late goals saw Western Suburbs win the Premiership by just 12 points. Our best players over the final series were Anthony Brawn, Chris Yard and Peter Dixon.

For Coach Barratt, the 1996 season, although successful, was tinged with bitter disappointment as the team had failed to take the ‘next step’ after being runners-up to Campbelltown the previous season 1995.

Other highlights of the 1996 season included:

  • Beating both East Sydney and Western Suburbs on their own ovals, something the team had not done for many seasons;
  • Randal Green topped the SFL goal kicking with 59 goals (68 including finals);
  • Michael Carey was voted best on ground for SFL in the representative match against Riverina;
  • Peter Bennett (Senior Best & Fairest) and Tony Regan (Pennant Hills Footballer of the Year) alsopolled well in the Phelan Medal, placing 5th and 6th with 14 and 13 votes, respectively. Joe Cormackfrom Wests was the winner (21 votes);
  • Barnaby Howarth won the Ken Macrae Shield for the Best 1st Year Local.

Radio personality Helen Myer reflected on the senior Grand Final:

“In the senior Grand Final, no team could have beaten Western Suburbs on this day. Well known for putting their body on the line, the Magpie now had found his heart, and the boys were well prepared to give their all.

Flushed with Phelan success, and home ground atmosphere, West were all-powerful in a commanding first quarter, as they laid out the ground rules and proceeded to set a classy pace for the remainder of the game. Pennant Hills kept up admirably and provided an excellent contest – CHRIS YARD, the worthy recipient of the Rod Podbury Medal” … for the Best on Ground in the Grand Final, a rare event in a losing side. (Although, as chance would have it, all three BOGs in 1996 were in the losing teams – editor)

“With the scores level, and only several minutes to go, you could have been excused for asking who was writing the script – then the last two goals of the 1996 season provided Western Suburbs with a dream come true.”

For Wests had not won a senior flag since 1977 at a time when the Club was a dominant force in the Sydney League. During the 1970s Wests competed in 8 Grand Finals, winning four and losing four and, before 1996, the most recent Grand Final appearance had been as runner-up in 1979. Since then, they’ve only had one other Grand Final appearance, a loss in 2005.

Of course, at this time Pennant Hills did not have a first grade flag to its credit, since its entry into the top grade in 1977. So, hopes were high that 1996 might be the breakthrough year. Pennant Hills had only reached the Grand Final on two previous occasions, the most recent being the year before in 1995, hence Steve Barratt’s optimism that 1996 could have been THE YEAR! But alas, the Club would have to wait another 4 years before that dream could be fulfilled.

The Last of the Glory Days – Reserve Grade in 1996

After a strong start to the 1996 season, Pennant Hills Reserve Grade finished in 3rd place after the Home & Away rounds, 10 wins, 7 losses and a draw. North Shore were Minor Premiers (12 wins) and St George finished 2nd (11 wins). After Round 10, Pennant Hills was sitting on top of the ladder, undefeated. Then the tables turned and for the remainder of the home & away rounds, Reserve Grade only managed to win two out of nine matches, including a four match losing streak between rounds 11 and 15. The abrupt change in fortune seems to have resulted from injuries and a generalised slump in form and premiership player, Greg Hume, recalls the need to top-up the team with boys from the Under 18s.

In the last match before finals, they went down to North Shore, only managing to kick 2 goals, 5 behinds in what former player Greg Hume described as “cyclonic” conditions at Gore Hill Oval. Mind you, North Shore only kicked 3 goals, six behinds themselves, testimony to what must have been an exceedingly difficult day for footy. So bad, that neither First Grade nor the Under 18s got to play that weekend (Round 21), the matches abandoned due to a wash out, and costing First Grade a tilt at the minor premiership.

Scott Didier was Player/Coach of the Reserves and former first grader Terry Donohoe was the Captain. Todd McKernan, son of Club Patron Gus McKernan, was Vice Captain. During the season, against Grand Final opponent, North Shore, Pennant Hills won the first encounter then lost the two subsequent match-ups. A string of poor form and mixed results leading up to finals can’t have been great for team morale and making it to the Grand Final, let alone winning it, little more than a flight of fantasy? But, according to Coach Didier: “… we regained some form and a few players came back from injury, and then we regained some consistency coming into Finals. Our Finals campaign was sensational with every player having to dig deep against Western Suburbs (first semi) and St George (preliminary final). Coming into Grand Final we were certainly the underdog and things must have looked grim up to 3⁄4 time, however I honestly admit I knew the character of the side had a great deal of fighting – a ‘never say die’- spirit.”

Helen Meyer observed “The physicality of the opening term saw the gladiatorial nature of footy at its toughest and reminded everyone how much we hate seeing a player unconscious on the ground.”

For her, “… the Penno boys snatched away [the] Cup by a single point.”

Player Recollections

Greg Hume, Daryl Vella and Terry Donohoe played in the 1996 Reserve Grade premiership side and have generously provided some of their recollections of that ‘famous’ day.

Greg Hume, who was 22 in 1996, had this to say:

“We were no chance of being in the GF a month out. North Shore had easily beaten us in the early rounds when we were being topped up by U18s (there were 12 U18 boys who played one or more games in Reserve Grade – editor). Todd McKernan got 3 weeks for belting a bloke in frustration!

Scotty Didier (the coach) flew up his mate Banksy (Peter Banks) from Melbourne to play each week. He was a very handy addition to the side as much for morale as his solid play.

In the last round we played Nth Shore again in cyclonic conditions that should have suited them better and they beat us by less than a goal (it was 7 pts actually – editor). But, that close loss was the first time I actually believed we could be a chance in the Reserves that year.

We then beat Wests in an elimination semi. They had beaten us that year (Wests were 2 and 1 in the H&A season – editor) and had one particularly good player, Chris Masterton, who we stopped. (Chris kicked 2 goals that game, season total 31 – editor). The next week in the prelim we were on the ropes against St George before Jason Palasty killed them in the last quarter and we won running away. (Penno kicked 4 goals to 1 in the last quarter. Jason Palasty kicked 1 goal and Ken Couchman kicked 4 for the match – editor).

Grand Final day was a VERY good day for the Club. It was the day after Plugger had kicked that famous point to get the Swans in to the ‘96 Grand Final. (Swans legend Tony Lockett kicked a winning point after the siren against Essendon to earn the Swans a berth in the 1996 Grand Final – which they lost to my team North Melbourne – editor).

On a sunny day, (Saturday 22 September 1996), we watched the U18s win a tight flag over Baulko (by 5 points) in the 10am game and that set the scene for the Twos. First Grade were also in the GF as massive underdogs against a very good Western Suburbs and almost pinched the flag. Three teams, 3 GFs … all games decided by 2 goals or less.

As for Reserves, we were tight for numbers and Craig Hartley sat on the bench all day kitted up knowing he couldn’t play due to a severe knee injury and did not come on the park.

Terry O got absolutely smashed after taking a hospital handball and North Shore were kicking away. Silva (Steve Monahan) had had enough and ran past the ball with his elbow cocked and near killed Robbo (Robbo … Who’s Robbo? Gus McKernan reliably informs that the North’s player was Matthew Gaden and the Football Record shows that he kicked 5 goals against St George in the 2nd semi-final two weeks prior – editor). There is little doubt in my mind that it defined the game. I see Silva regularly and it comes up [in conversation] every time. I will be forever grateful to him. He copped 10 weeks [suspension], I think (15 or 16 weeks according to TerryO – editor) and he deserved it!

The Demons stood taller and North Shore dropped their bundle. Banksy kicked a couple of big goals late from tight angles to draw us level (actually, Peter Banks only kicked 1 goal and the other was probably from Ken Couchman who kicked 1 goal – editor). In the end it was a very unconvincing Murray Best soccer kick that went through for the winning behind. We had to weather some late North Shore charges but held on. Our best player on the day was Mark ‘Chook’ Collings. He played full back and was outstanding. A good comeback for a player who was knocked out in the first quarter of the 1994 Grand Final win.

It was the second flag in 3 years and 4th consecutive finals campaign. It should have been the start of an era where we dominated Reserves footy but we just kept losing them. I remember the North Shore president was quite gracious at the time and attended our presentation evening … an action that I admired at the time.

During his speech Terrry O said- “What’s better than beating North Shore by a point in the Grand Final?…NOTHING!” I think it summed up how intense the rivalry was at the time. I feel that this has since been overtaken by our rivalry with the East Coast Eagles.

Celebrations were at Penno Pub. It was a long, long, long night although a little muted after our second successive runners up in the top grade. I remember Gus being a bit morose saying that ‘no one remembers Reserves flags … it’s all about the Firsts’. So he will be happy that since then we have won 4 flags in the top grade and none in the twos … maybe?”

Greg is currently on a sabbatical with his family in the United Kingdom. He is a Demons veteran of 188 open- age games and we hope he returns to Penno in the near future to take it to 200.

For Daryl Vella, season 1996 was his last with the Demons. Struggling to retain his spot in a talent-packed First Grade side, Daryl chose to switch to Baulkham Hills where he played for a further year or two. He is still involved in footy and is currently the Coach of the Under 13 Division One side at Westbrook Juniors.

His first observation is that he had more hair back in 1996 and that he has very fond memories winning the flag that season.

“The 1996 Grand Final proved to be the last game I played at Penno. I reached my 100 game milestone during that season. But it wasn’t a happy one for me. It was the first season I’d been at the club that I’d not been selected to play in the 1sts. As a result, I felt very frustrated and I had an angry head on my shoulders by finals time. We certainly had a very strong list right the way through the club that year. We made the GF in all three grades and from memory Lenny Hayes and Mark McVeigh were both playing U18s at the time.

I’d been brought off the field by the coach (Patto – Steve Patterson was gameday coach) for a rest late in the prelim against St George and I remember I gave him an almighty spray. I spent the GF week concerned I’d be benched as a result.

Preparing for the game on GF day everyone had an eye out for what was happening in the U18s. It was great to run out after they’d had a win. I was selected to play in the forward line in the GF, but I wanted to get involved early so I ran straight into the contest. I spent most of the day running in the middle and the coach left me as an extra man around the ball for the entire game. The guy Norths had on me, was a heavy guy and he struggled to keep up for most of the day. I remember we were struggling but Norths hadn’t put us away and we were talking about that during the half time break. I had a sense that we knew we had improvement in us. The thing I remember the most was just the surge in momentum we got in that last term. It was an experience I won’t forget. We hung tough all game and the collective lift to get us over the line was remarkable.

I’d been moved onto the ball and so was very close to the incident involving Steve Monahan. Steve basically ran through one of North Shore’s better players at a bounce and the poor fellow was a bit sick afterwards. It didn’t sound or look so good. The game stopped for a while and both sides huddled up. North Shore definitely went into their shell. We started getting first use of the ball afterwards and started to believe we could win it. [The incident] definitely had a bearing on the result.

Apart from the incident involving Silva, I remember Kenny Couchman kicking a final quarter goal from the boundary which was the moment I first started to believe we could win it. It was a pretty hot day from memory.

For me, Mark Collings was the guy that played really well in the GF. We had a solid on-ball brigade back then … Scott Didier, the Hartley boys, Justin Kerley. A lot of us had been playing together for a number of seasons. I think we must have been one of the more experienced teams going around. Looking back now, for a Reserve Grade team it was a pretty balanced and stable side.

[After the match] we went back to Patricks nightclub. I had the premiership cup and so I kept going back to the bar to have it filled up. I remember it
leaked where the screw was to fix it to the base plate. As a result, I drank from it quite quickly. I held onto that thing all night filling it up and handing it around. I drank a lot of beer in a short space of time. The next day I rang in to work sick and went back to the Penno pub. We celebrated pretty hard. I wasn’t really renowned for that, but I hit it quite hard those two days.”

Club stalwart, Terry Donohoe, had played most of his footy in the first grade side up until the end of the previous season 1995. No one was more surprised than Terry when he was named captain of the Reserve Grade side at the beginning of the 1996 season. Awarded the Best Team Man trophy, Terry’s 1995 season had been one of his best and, although participating in the pre-season jumper presentation, inexplicably seemed not to be an automatic first grade selection in 1996. Even to this day, he remains quite puzzled by this!

As such, Terry played a mix of Reserve and First Grade footy during 1996. In his third appearance for Firsts in the Round 10 match against East Sydney at Trumper Park, he suffered an horrendous dislocation of one of his elbows, the worst injury of his career, which meant that he missed much of the rest of the season.

He made it back in time to become a premiership captain in the Reserve Grade Grand Final, although during the first half of the match he spent some time on the bench after receiving a ‘hospital pass’ from Ashley Bell and getting cleaned-up by an opposition player.

Of the incident involving Steve Monahan, Terry thinks it was just prior to half time. As the teams departed for their half-time break in the sheds, he recalls his Demons team-mates having to provide a cordon for Silva to keep the angry North Shore players seeking retribution away from him.

Terry is convinced that the incident was a turning point in the game as Norths, who were outplaying Penno before, seemed to lose focus after, and this opened the way for a comeback by the Demons. At half time Norths lead by 13 points, having kicked 3 goals to one:

Half-time: North Shore 3.6-24 to Pennant Hills 1.5-11

In such a low scoring affair, every point was going to the important. Norths still out-scored the Demons 2 goals to one in the third term, but with goals at such a high premium, the 3 goal margin must have looked a high mountain to climb.

3Qtr time: North Shore 5.7-37 to Pennant Hills 2.7-19

On the other hand, Penno were still within striking distance and, as things turned out, they ran home with a wet sail kicking 3 goals, 2 behinds and keeping Norths goal-less and they only managed 1 point in the final term:

Full time: Pennant Hills 5.9-39 defeated North Shore 5.8-38

With that, it was time for the Demons to celebrate.

In 1997, Terry took on the job of player/coach of Reserve Grade and his first grade career was over. He played for a further 4 seasons before retiring at the end of season 2000. Ironically, his last game was a 1 point loss to his North Shore nemesis in the 2000 Grand Final. Talk about football being the Great Leveller!

Terry played a total of 220 games for the Club and was the second all-time games record-holder in 2000 when he finished his career. A that time, Rod Miles was the only player to have played more games, with 233. Sixteen years later, although a number of other players have since surpassed him, Terry’s tally still ranks him within the top 10 for the Demons.

For Pennant Hills, Danny “Big Dan” Ryan was the Reserve Grade Best & Fairest and Terry Donohoe tied for runner-up (with Ashley Bell).

The Sanders Medal was won by Andrew Lindfield from St George (14 votes). Pennant Hills’ Stephen Brown was runner-up (12 votes) and also the competition’s leading goal-kicker with 43 goals. He kicked one goal in the Grand Final.

Inaugural Under 18 Premiership

Although Pennant Hills had previously won two Under 19 flags in consecutive years in 1993 and 1994, the under-age premiership in 1996 was the Club’s first flag in the Under 18s. Across both age-groups, the Demons have competed in 14 Grand Finals all told, winning on six occasions and runners-up eight times. The most recent flag was won in 2013.

Pennant Hills Under 18s had a fantastic season in 1996, winning the minor premiership two games ahead of Hills rivals, Baulkham Hills. They ascended to the top of the competition ladder after Round 3 and were never headed. Fittingly, the Grand Final was played between first and second place, with the Demons edging out the Falcons by 5 points.

Coach Tony Regan had the following things to say about season 1996:
“Earlier in the season the U/18s were unstoppable, blitzing the competition with some very big victories. After Round 10 we were undefeated and two games clear on top of the ladder.

The second half of every season is always a lot tougher … and all Clubs were using Pennant Hills as a benchmark. With many of our players committed to representative football, RAMS (e.g. Lennie Hayes) and playing senior football (e.g. Barnaby Howarth), our strength had been diminished.

Our team spirit was clearly evident in our loss to St George [in Round 13], when playing with 16 men and the opposition having 22. Our guys showed character and maturity, well above their years. Being 4 goals in front at 3⁄4 time and just losing in the dying minutes (by 4 points) was far from a disgrace.

The Grand Final against Baulkham Hills was a low scoring affair. The first quarter was won by Pennant Hills, but to Baulkham Hills’ credit they answered every challenge. By 3⁄4 time Pennant Hills had a two goal lead going into the last quarter. The last quarter became a heart stopper, with Baulkham Hills hitting the front with only minutes remaining. A great last quarter goal by Gerard Smits provided the winning kick and a 5 point victory.”

For Pennant Hills, Mark McVeigh was the Under 18s Best & Fairest and Lennie Hayes was runner-up.

The Kealey Medal was won by Matthew Burton of Baulkham Hills (20 votes) and Mark McVeigh tied for runner-up (19 votes).

Steve Smith from North Shore was the leading goal-kicker (81 goals) with two Penno boys close behind, Luke Ellis (60 goals) and Ben Scott (48 goals).

Greg Hume says:

That U18s side was as good a side as we have had in that age group and Gus could probably produce the team list with a few names that went on to be great servants of our Club and AFL sides for the next 10 years. (Gus did. The team included the likes of Mark McVeigh, Andrew Clarke, Peter Carey, Tim Kenny and Simon Collins. Lennie Hayes was a member of the team but did not play finals. Barnaby Howarth, notionally the team’s Deputy Captain, only played first grade in 1996 – editor.)

Updated by John Acheson for PHAFC, Saturday 29 July 2021

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