An exciting and rare three-way football tie and confirmation of a burgeoning netball talent highlighted a big night of sporting celebration in Horsham.
In a shock Wimmera Football League best and fairest vote count, three players – from Ararat, Horsham and Warrack Eagles – won the P. J. Toohey Medal.
Midfield stars Dan Mendes from Ararat and Nick Peters, Warrack Eagles, and Horsham forward Ryan Kemp all polled 20 votes to share Wimmera football’s highest individual accolade.
It was only the second time in league history there has been a three-way tie.
The previous occasion was in 1987 when Andrew Johns, Horsham, Darren Lloyd, Minyip, and Tony Beck, Stawell, had the experience.
All three players polled exactly the same type of votes, with five threes, two twos, and solitary one votes. This meant that even if the league had a countback process in place, the players could not be separated.
The presentation dinner in Horsham Holy Trinity Lutheran College hall was a celebration of Wimmera Football League and Wimmera Netball Association.
An A Grade netball count for the Hatcher Medal marked the start of major celebrations when Horsham shooter Emma Buwalda, 18, clinched the award with 27 votes. The gifted teenager, daughter of former Horsham and Horsham Saints footballer Chris and wife Mary, won from Horsham Saints centre Ashlee Grace, 23, and Warrack Eagles duo Megan Werner and Emma Koschitzke, 20.
An excited and shaking Buwalda said after the count she did not expect to win the medal despite a strong year under the ring.
“There are so many amazing girls in our team and in the league,” she said.
“I can’t even process it at the moment. It is a bit of a shock but also very exciting.”
Buwalda, now trying to refocus on an A Grade grand final against Horsham Saints this weekend, said her parents were her greatest inspiration. She added that Horsham A Grade coach Pauline Butler had been the major influence on her netball.
“I don’t think I would have achieved anything in netball without her guidance,” she said.
Buwalda’s win was a precursor to the drama that followed in the senior football count.
As officials counted votes round by round, it quickly became obvious the stars of Wimmera league would feature prominently.
Horsham coach Deek Roberts, who missed much of the second half of the season with injury, polled heavily early, alongside Ararat’s Mendes, Horsham Saints coach Luke Fisher and Stawell talent Naish Mcroberts.
After 13 rounds, Mendes held a fourvote lead on the then ineligible Roberts with Peters and Kemp eight and nine votes off the pace respectively.
But Kemp and Peters powered home with votes in the final rounds and caught Mendes at the deathknock.
It was the first league medal that 30-year-old Mendes, who originally played with Vermont before shifting to Ararat, had won.
While confirming his return to Ararat next year, he described the win as the highlight of his career.
Quietly spoken Kemp, 21, also rated his medal, alongside a premiership with Horsham last year, as his greatest football achievement.
“I didn’t really know how I would go and it was pretty tight. It was good to finish strongly,” he said.
Kemp also won the league’s goalkicking award with 71 goals.
Warrack Eagles’ home-grown Nick Peters, who lives in Ballarat and played a prominent and match-winning role with the team this year, was absent from the count.
Eagles president Adrian Bibby accepted the medal on Peters’ behalf. Mcroberts won an under-21 award.
Award presentations attracted consistent audience plaudits with Horsham Saints’ Gavin Kelm, 42, joining league legends Peter Morrison and Terry Davis as the only players to win senior Toohey and reserves Hank Neil medals. Kelm was a runaway Hank Neil medallist, winning the award 20 years after his Toohey Medal success.
Kelm’s cousin Sherri Hicks, also Horsham Saints, won a netball C Grade best and fairest award.
Wimmera netball life-memberships to Colene Matthews of Stawell and Jane Robinson, Horsham, and a volunteer award to Vernetta Taylor, Horsham Saints, attracted standing ovations.
Stawell’s Courtney Mcilvride won a B Grade netball count with 22 votes from Eadie Garth-lindsay, Minyipmurtoa 21, Rob Bell of Nhill was Auskick Coach of the Year and Horsham Football Netball Club was club champion. Other awards: Champion footballer, Nick Peters; opposition star player, Nick Peters, Tom Taurau, Stawell; reserves goal-kicking, Michael Saunders, Southern Mallee Giants; rising star, Jordan Delahunty, Minyipmurtoa.