RECORD FEATURE: COLLINGULLIE GP DEMONS
You can’t buy self-belief. You might be able to bluff it, but only briefly and you’re unlikely to get away with that more than once.
No, the best way is to breed it.
Days out from last year’s grand final, Collingullie-Glenfield Park captain Kal Sykes was asked about taking on the Goannas – who had beaten them by 51 points and 60 points during the year. He told The Daily Advertiser, “That might give them a slight mental edge but we all know grand finals are completely different to what’s happened during the year.”
And so it proved to be. Sykes won his fifth senior premiership in 10 grand finals, maintaining an incredible run of consistency at the club.
“I think it’s probably a little bit hard for me to explain because ever since I started out at the senior club, which is 11 years ago now, we haven’t not played finals,” he says.
Success breeds success and plants the seeds of self-belief, But it’s not cockiness.
“I think with the player movements to be honest with you, internally, we probably didn’t expect the success we’ve had the last couple of years – at the start of the seasons anyway,” Sykes says.
It’s written in history now that they broke through for a Riverina League flag in 2014 with a thrilling comeback against Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes, before backing it up last season with a devastatingly brilliant performance on grand final day – a 71-point win victory.
“You do pinch yourself to think how we actually did it,” Sykes reflects.
“And the fashion in which we won it was… ridiculous. Unbelievable really. It was a lot more enjoyable, I know that much!
“The first one, there was emotion I think. We’d lost two and we finally got one – it justified the RFL move I think. But last year was just excitement and a lot of fun really.”
Sykes has taken on an assistant coaching role this season along with Chris Gow. The pair is looking forward to working in partnership with head coach Brett Lenon, after last year’s co-coach Chris Gordon opted for a change of scenery.
“They’ve just freshened up the coaching side of things so much,” Lenon says.
“Chris is just really professional and he’s helped me a lot – he’s taken a lot of pressure off. Game plan-wise and structure-wise, he’s very smart.
“And Kal, he’s just always been an excellent on-field leader and it’s good to have him in the coaching side as well.”
The trio’s focus is on keeping Collingullie-GP ahead of the curve, aware that success can never be taken for granted.
“I think one of the things we said early was that we can sit back and say – well it worked for us last year, it’ll work for us again,” Gow says.
“I think if we think that way, we’ll probably be found out so we’ve got to be always looking to get a bit better and think ahead of the game a bit.”
Gow – who retired after the 2014 flag – is young enough to have enjoyed the golden era at Gullie but old enough to know it wasn’t always this way.
“The guys that have gone before me mention the lean days in the mid-90s where they went three years when I think they won one or two games,” he says.
“So you do pinch yourself and think, I was in the right era at the club to experience some of that success.
“It’s in a pretty good place at the moment, the club, with the numbers we’ve got in the juniors and the netballers. Going back 10 years ago to the mid 2000s and we had two sides – firsts and reserves, no 17s – and we didn’t have a netball club.”
It’s fitting that Gow and Sykes are in leadership roles as the club reflects on where it came from and where it’s going.
Gow was among a group in their late teens early this century to benefit from the coaching of Shane Lenon, enjoy success and then play a role in handing over to the next generation.
Sykes says it was from Gow and Brad Aiken, the Bruckners and the Fullers, that the players of his era learnt what it takes to be successful.
“We had had the privilege of having those three, four, five years with those other older blokes. It gave us enough time for them to instil the values – particularly on the field – that they had.
“We’ve probably taken that up a bit and, inadvertently really, passing it on to the next generation of those core blokes that we know as long as they’re in Wagga, they’re going to be playing for Collingullie.”
Gow knows who Sykes is talking about, and says that comes back to the culture at the Crossroads.
“You’ve got the Kennedy family, you’ve got the Perryman family, you’ve got the Fuller family, you’ve got a family club that doesn’t just have one person involved. In some cases it’s three generations involved, and three to four brothers playing.”
President Glenn Crane says young footballers bring enthusiasm and build atmosphere but need the right guidance.
“It starts from a good committee and good staffing – good coaches,” Crane says.
“(But) it still comes back a lot to having sensible senior players that will pull young blokes into line and let them know when to pull their heads in – that’s why we’ve been successful.
“In the last few years, you’ve had some players that have played a year or so and they step up a cog. And that’s where you win your flag from, those young ones that come through that improve that 10 percent every year.”
The buzz this off-season has been around teams like Tigers and Leeton-Whitton but – even allowing for the departure of Gordon, Aiken, Matt Kennedy and Chris Jackson – only the brave would write the premiers off.
Sykes says the game has changed dramatically in recent years, from being built around big, dominant players to the influence of the younger, running midfielders. He believes Gullie have benefited from being on that path for a couple of years. Not to mention experience.
“Most of the squad now have been in those last two grand finals and even the losing ones so we know what it’s like to be a few goals up, a few goals down, neck-and-neck the whole way… you don’t really need to say much amongst our group of boys now because they’ve all got big-game experience and they know what it takes.”
The sort of thing that helps breed self-belief.