To set the scene, it’s 1996, and the Ballarat Lions women’s footy team has folded. A core of Ballarat’s players choose to join the Falcs, who at that stage were in struggletown as a team.
“The Ballarat players who joined the Falcons included Patty Kinnersley, Yasmin Horsham, Monique Kelly, Bronwyn Hutchinson, and her twin sister Meredith Flanner, Rhonda Rumler, Kerry Bond, Tanya Beecham and Larnie Johnson along with coach Rosalie Scott who took on an assistant role in 1996. Rosalie would take over from Deb ‘Henry’ Lawson as head coach in 1997.
For the Falcons, who had struggled in their early years to win a game, the inclusion of the Ballarat players lifted the team. “It just shot up our professionalism,” Fiona said. “We just got better as a team straightaway.”
The skills passed on by the women from Ballarat, the extra training and the knowledge of how to play the game was a game changer for the Falcons according to Sal [Rees]. “It all just clicked for us. It really clicked for us.”
Despite the positives, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “It was a pretty big culture clash because Ballarat had been a really highly successful club, I think there were 10 or 11 of us playing state footy,” Patty explained. “Fairfield, I don’t even know how many games Fairfield had won at that point, so it was a pretty big culture clash in that first year.”
This ‘culture clash’ was front of mind for the Ballarat players who were careful about how they went about joining the Falcons—aware that some players might be pushed out because of them. It took some time for the players to come together as a team and the beginning of the 1996 season in no way foreshadowed the ending.
The Falcons lost every game in the first half of the 1996 season. But they won every game in the second half and propelled themselves into a grand final—the club’s first. “We sort of went in a little bit… as underdogs,” Sal said. Playing against Sunshine, a club the Falcons shared a friendly rivalry with, at halftime, the Falcons were down by 36 points. “They just jumped us big time,” Patty said. But what happened next is now club folklore.
“So we came in at half time just getting flogged. I don’t think anyone was winning their position. And [Sunshine] were just running all over us and celebrating,” Patty said.
Enter Meredith Flanner. The “beautiful pack marking forward, who was just so accurate” had broken a finger and couldn’t play. She took charge of the half-time break and delivered what Sal calls the “John Kennedy speech”.
“Everyone just lifted,” Sal recalled, laughing. “And it was like, you know, the coach is there [but] what can the coach say when Meredith’s just come out with this “lift, do something!”
“She seriously did, she just gave it to us,” Patty said. “And you know, I’m not somebody—and most women aren’t people—that rise to the getting yelled at challenge [but] I remember… Mer going, ‘Pat, do something!’”
“But that’s what got us over the line. It was pretty wild,” Sal said.
When the Falcons returned to the field after halftime, it was as if they were a different team. Patty says the team “transcended” that day.
“We kicked the first goal [after halftime] and I heard one of them say ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s only one’,” Patty said. “And I thought ‘Ahh we’ve got ’em!’ It was in the third quarter. We’ve got them here. And… we just rolled over them as a group.”
The Falcons would kick six unanswered goals to win their first Aussie rules premiership.
“[It was] amazing to be part of it. Especially after all the hard years, it was good to sort of get that success on the field,” Fiona said.”
Look out for Falcons History events in the coming months!
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