If history has taught followers of Yallourn-Yallourn North Football Netball Club anything, it’s that change represents opportunity.
It is with this spirit and endeavour that the club begins its latest chapter, in the AGL Loy Yang North Gippsland Football Netball League.
Yallourn-Yallourn North was unanimously accepted as the league’s 11th member club in December and club president Evan Sheekey said he was looking forward to exploring the new surroundings, meeting new people and introducing them to his club and community.
“We’re proud to be here and part of a club that is inclusive to all,” Sheekey said.
“[Opposition clubs] will be greeted with a smile and we’ll be rip-roaring ready to go so they’ll be up for a hard task but definitely we’ll be really welcoming and show them they want to come back.”
Sheekey understands first-hand the importance of a local footy and netball club.
The second-year president grew up in the town and joined the local club as a junior, following in his dad’s footsteps.
However, it was some years later that his bond to the club was truly formed.
“I had a bit of a personal tragedy in 2009 and the boys at the footy club really got around me. It was sort of a home away from it all,” he said.
“I owed them a bit of service back and that’s probably why I’m still around [even though] I’m not playing.
“It’s given me a second life.”
Sheekey’s experience offers a timely reminder that people lie at the heart of a club’s identity – more so than opponents, colours or emblems – as the club embarks on a process to change the latter out of respect for fellow Bombers outfit and neighbouring club, Traralgon-Tyers United.
“We’re rebranding over the next 12 months to move away from the Bombers to something totally different. A whole new strip, a whole new clean slate,” Sheekey said.
“We’ll stay as the Bombers for this year except when we play TTU and then next year we’ll roll out the new strip and new netball dresses and the new logo.
“I’m looking forward to playing TTU and forming a rivalry… Being neighbours we’ve had a great rivalry with Newborough over the years so hopefully we can build on that.”
Yallourn North stalwart Ray DeCarli has seen it all – from the amalgamation with Yallourn Football Club in 1977 and subsequent stint at the top table in the Latrobe Valley Football League, to the combined club’s relocation to Yallourn North and eventual return to the Mid Gippsland league.
He can attest that agility is key to sustainability and new beginnings need not dismiss the past.
“We’re not afraid to change, we’ve done it before,” DeCarli said.
“In ‘77 our footy club was pretty average, we were battling [and] we had no facilities. They were going to dig up Yallourn and we thought if we amalgamate we can get the facilities up here at Yallourn North where we play today. We played down there for five seasons then came up here and got the new oval and a lot of the facilities here now are from Yallourn… it was well worth doing what we did.”
The renovated social rooms, scoreboard and grandstand that once stood on the Yallourn No. 1 Oval and now grace the present-day facility at George Bates Reserve will soon be accompanied by new football oval lights and a second netball court, both of which should be ready for the start of the season.
DeCarli, who was named in the Yallourn-Yallourn North Football Club (1977-1985) Team of the Century, said all the changes pointed to a bright future and meant the club was well-placed to preserve what was most important.
“It’s about the social atmosphere, the camaraderie,” he said.
“It’s part of what a township’s about. It’s somewhere to meet, it’s what we love to do.”
The Bombers – as they remain for now – begin their campaign with a tough trip to Yarram for a blockbuster season opener on Good Friday, 2 April.
Pre-season has commenced with the club keen to build on a strong final season in the Mid Gippsland league, in which eight of 10 teams played finals, including four grand final appearances for two premierships.
Quite how their on-field and on-court competitiveness stacks up in a new league remains to be seen, but the club can be confident its proactive, member and community-driven approach has provided a strong platform on which to build once again.
Monday 1st February 2021: Damen Francis