AN ELIMINATION FINAL NEVER TO FORGET
THRILLING 2014 FINAL LEAVES INDELIBLE SMILE ON CATS FANS’ FACES DESPITE DEFEAT TO MIGHTY BOMBERS
To mark what would have been the first weekend of the Goulburn Valley League finals series, The News’ sports desk has decided to take a trip down memory lane and look back on the best encounters from years gone past. This week Aydin Payne caught up with former Mooroopna coach Blake Campbell to chat about the memorable 2014 elimination final against Kyabram.
Ask any Mooroopna supporter about the 2014 elimination final and it is certain to bring a smile to their face.
It may not have finished with the Cats singing the team song, but that game at Tatura Park on September 6 against Kyabram — the reigning premier — is a fond memory for many.
Not only was it the last time the Cats featured in the Goulburn Valley League finals series, but it was also the final time a trio of gun teenagers represented the club together.
AFL superstars Clayton Oliver and Jy Simpkin starred that day, while former Richmond talent Nathan Drummond made his sole appearance of the season.
In fact, glance back and there was an abundance of classy performers on both team sheets.
Incoming Kyabram coach and multiple premiership mentor Paul Newman was prolific in the Bombers’ forward 50, while versatile performer Jason Morgan shone in the midfield.
But while the do-or-die final is mostly remembered for its crop of skilled players, it lives on as one of the most thrilling post-season matches the league has witnessed in recent memory.
Mooroopna, having snuck into the top six in the final round of the season, was up against the reigning premier.
Highly-decorated coach David Williams was at the helm of the Bombers and the majority of the players from the juggernaut side of 2016 through to 2019 were beginning to reach the height of their powers.
“It was an unreal game of footy. It was pretty special for us even more so having ‘Clarry’ (Oliver), Jy and Nathan playing for us,” former Mooroopna coach Blake Campbell said.
“Everybody knew deep down it’d be the last time that we got to see them play for Mooroopna.
“We felt we could do it, we went in with our strongest side and had multiple VFL players in Pat (Contin), Mitch (Keddell) and Luke (Conca) playing as well.
“The game before it, we had to beat United to play finals and we came back from seven or eight goals down at quarter-time which was unreal in its itself.”
Despite Campbell’s charges being sky-high on belief, many expected the Bombers to power past the young Mooroopna outfit.
But nobody predicted what would be the half-time scores.
Former News sports editor Oliver Caffery highlighted in his match report that an upset was brewing at half-time at Tatura Park.
“When the Cats led by 19 points early in the third term . . . one of the biggest upsets in recent Goulburn Valley Football League finals history looked possible.”
Mooroopna’s young guns came to the fore, Oliver evaded a couple of tackles close to the goal-line, while Murray Bushrangers star Simpkin received a free kick and made no mistake from 40m out.
Those goals lifted the Cats’ pressure and intensity even further as they went into half-time 14 points ahead.
A team, led by three promising teenagers, was on the cusp of a historic victory.
But Williams and his band of reigning champs fought back.
The Cats had kicked away to a 20-point lead, but the storm was building by the 12-minute mark of the third term.
Kyabram’s trademark run and intensity had lifted to a level not previously seen in the game.
In three minutes, the Bombers were on their way after brilliant goals from Liam Ogden, Nick Coulstock and Jordan Williams.
In the fourth quarter, Oliver had the chance to put the Cats back in front, but he hit the post, before the Bombers responded by kicking two quick goals.
Star forward Newman was uncharacteristically off target early, but he straightened up to finish with six to his name.
But it was Morgan’s shift from defence onto the ball which orchestrated the comeback.
Fittingly, best-on-ground Morgan kicked the sealing goal with minutes remaining after a towering effort.
“I remember they swung Jase into the middle and he really turned the game on its head,” Campbell said.
“We just didn’t react and they wore us down.”
Campbell says he often thinks about the 19-point defeat to the Bombers.
“Even to this day I still think about that final. I’m spewing I didn’t start those boys in the middle,” he said with a laugh.
“One of my biggest regrets from that day is that I didn’t utilise Clarry and Jy more than what I did.
“I was a bit hesitant to throw them in the middle just because they were teenagers and against Ky’s bigger bodies. Hindsight is a beautiful thing though and the rest is history for those boys.”
Drummond, after a stellar season with the Murray Bushrangers, was picked up by Richmond in the 2014 draft with pick 52.
A spate of serious knee and hamstring injuries curtailed the winger’s progress at the top level and he managed just five games.
Oliver and Simpkin have been far more fortunate on the injury front — although Simpkin did break his leg in 2016 — and have transformed into remarkable midfield talents at their respective clubs.
Oliver, a two-time bestand-fairest winner at Melbourne, is red-hot favourite to clinch this year’s Brownlow Medal and is one win away from a grand final appearance.
While Simpkin, at age 23, is vice-captain at North Melbourne and one of the elite midfielders in the competition.
“Everybody knew that we were watching three special players,” Campbell said.
“Jy was one of the most professional and dedicated kids you will meet. He has turned into a mighty fine footballer and he is possibly the next captain at North.
“Clarry had all the natural ability in the world, but he was the opposite to Jy in terms of his dedication. But you knew that once he ended up in the AFL system that they would get the best out of him and we’ve seen that happen in his young career.
“Even Nathan, it’s unfortunate that his career was cut short by injuries because he could have been anything as well. There’s always one unlucky player and it’s a shame for Nath he never got a good run at it.
“Just to coach them for a few games, it still brings a smile to my face.”
Campbell joked about watching out for the Cattery in 2034.
“I actually spoke with Darren Hall (former Mooroopna president) not too long ago and I told him we’ll get the gang back together again one day,” he said with a laugh.
“In another 10-12 years[ time, once the boys finish up their footy careers and come home.”