September 29, 2018, will always be one of those ‘‘I was there when’’ moments.
It’s now five days since I was at the MCG to witness the West Coast Eagles claim the AFL premiership — I’m still on a high and will be for quite some time.
It was an unbelievable feeling when the final siren sounded with my team leading Collingwood by five points.
An outpouring of emotion and celebration ensued, ending almost three hours of being on the edge of my seat and riding the highs and lows of the game.
To be honest, I was a bundle of nerves for most of the week, a feeling which peaked about lunchtime on Saturday when walking to the ’G for the big game.
For those who don’t follow AFL football, the feelings may be slightly difficult to comprehend.
But when you are a passionate supporter like I am, the result means so much to you. It really is more than just a game.
I chose West Coast as my team when I was in primary school, and have stuck with them ever since.
Since then, we’ve won two premierships and we’ve ‘‘won’’ the wooden spoon, and finished everywhere in between.
In fact, it’s reflecting on the lean years, when your team isn’t winning many games, that makes it so satisfying when you do finally break through to win the game’s ultimate prize.
Just three years ago, the Eagles made it to what they call ‘‘the big dance’’, only to suffer a heavy defeat to Hawthorn in what was the third of the Hawks’ consecutive premierships.
I wasn’t present at the MCG for that grand final, but watching at home, it was difficult to accept.
Twenty minutes into Saturday’s game, the score read Collingwood 31, West Coast 2 and the ‘‘Cooooolliiiiingwoooooood’’ chant was absolutely deafening.
It looked like the result of 2015 could repeat itself.
But the determination of the team to turn things around, get back into the contest and claw back the deficit showed they were not about to let it happen again.
All year, the Eagles have showed an ability to fight back from sizeable margins and get over the line and in some cases, even win the match close to or after the siren.
Celebrations by players and coaches in the moments immediately following the game were understandably significant.
But what really impressed me was the humility shown by the club’s leaders in the speeches, being sure to thank fans and offer commiserations to the opposition.
Then, to see what it meant to the players in the victory lap of the ground — many sharing it with their families including young children — made the day even more memorable.
Never in the history of the AFL has it been harder to win a premiership — there are now 18 teams all vying for the flag and equalisation measures make it more difficult for teams to stay up the top for long periods.
Some clubs, like the Western Bulldogs (until they won in 2016) and Melbourne, have gone several decades without tasting premiership success.
As a player, coach, or fan of a club, you just don’t know when the next opportunity will come around. It could be next year, it could be in 30 years, or you might not ever see another one in your lifetime. That’s the nature of the competition.
So I was sure to celebrate the win and soak up all the atmosphere. And I’ll continue to enjoy it.
I’ve collected newspapers from both Melbourne and Perth that have documented the club’s success, and I will treasure these souvenirs and enjoy looking back on them in years to come.
I also look forward to purchasing premiership memorabilia and watching the replay of the game more than a few times in the coming weeks and months to relive all the excitement.
This was a special day and one I will never forget.
Cameron Whiteley is editor at The News.