1990s: Highs and Lows
Recollections of Ian Jessup on the 1990s.
Our third decade resembled a mountain – lows on either side and a summit in the middle, that being the 1st grade premiership in 1994.
At a club meeting in February 1990, the men had 12 players – barely enough for one team let alone three. What a start to Ian Jessup’s presidency, the first of an eventual 13 years he would spend on the executive. We could wind up and have a $1200 party, or get on the phone to players who had stopped playing in the preceding few years and beg them to come out of retirement. The latter tactic worked and brought us up to about 25 players, but two games in and it was clear we had to withdraw from first grade. What then became 1st and 2nd grades both finished eighth. At least we had survived – but we had to ask SHA to drop down a division and lick our wounds for a few years among the unskilled and elderly folk who spent their Saturday afternoons trying to trap a ball or whack their opponents.
We found ourselves in third division, playing SHA 10th grade instead of 4th grade, and having to umpire our own games – with all the dramas that brought. The drop in standard allowed us to catch our breath and regroup in 1991. Firsts finished third in a seven-team grade but lost the minor semi, in which we were missing key players Ian Jessup and Ralph Scott through work commitments, to Baulkham Hills thanks to some disgracefully biased umpiring (can you believe we had to provide one umpire each?). Seconds were fifth and sniffing around the finals yet again.
But things were looking up and in 1992 1st grade made a brave run from fifth entering the last round, to losing the grand final in sudden death extra time. There were goals galore (83 for the year, including 23 to Ian Jessup and 10 each to Ralph and Boris Kasalo) and a memorable finals campaign. In the minor semi we were down 1-0 to Rooty Hill Juniors with two minutes to go when Steve Stack deflected a penalty corner shot to equalise. In extra time Ian Jessup earnt a penalty stroke but Peter Milthorpe missed. After a scoreless 15 minutes we went into 7.5 minutes of sudden death extra time and Peter Milthorpe redeemed himself with a superb ‘Ned Zelic’ goal to send us into the preliminary final against our nemesis Glenorie. The country bumpkins liked to play it very rough, despite having many skilful players, but were on the receiving end when our goalie Phil Petersen took out their star centre forward with a shocking tackle that deserved a red card. Just a corner. We scored early, they levelled, but we put two more away in the second half and held on to win 3-2 and reach our first grand final since that disappointing loss in 1986. Up against the formidable Rooty Hill Seniors outfit, neither side had clear chances and so we went into extra time at 0-0, and again into sudden death scoreless. Alas, with Ralph and Peter off due to cramps and 45 seconds left on the clock, their gun striker (43 goals that year) shot and then sank the rebound to deny us what would have been a fairytale premiership. We could hold our heads high. Seconds were once again mid-table, occasionally shocking a higher-ranked team only to succumb to a lower side.
The competition changed radically in 1993, from 11 teams down to six, meaning four full rounds. First grade continued its charge, finishing second, while seconds could do no better than fifth. Firsts had beaten minor premiers Manly in a catch-up game on turf and had every reason to be confident of winning the major semi. We put the ball in the net three times but finished 0-0 after extra time and were consigned to play Glenorie in the preliminary final. They were clearly fired up after the previous year’s happenings and went 3-0 up in no time. It didn’t help that we had four senior players with the flu. We rallied to 3-2 and were pressing when Glenorie scored in the final minute to deny us.
Several of our senior players made it clear afterwards that they would not be playing with us if we stayed in the lower grades on grass. Artificial surfaces were clearly the future of the sport at club level and everyone agreed at the AGM to take the plunge in 1994. We asked to field two teams in Premier B once again, albeit in 2nd and 3rd grades to allow us a year (or two) of adjusting to the higher standard. Third grade would remain in Third Division on the unpredictable grass fields.
Some proper coaching was needed for 1s and 2s, so Ralph Scott did his Level 1 and enlisted Greg Farmilo, Ian Jessup and Marcin Firek as assistants. The executive also decided on a controversial selection policy – players who did not train were ineligible for first grade that week, regardless of how weak or inexperienced a team would be fielded. Needless to say, there were some shocked but happy second graders called up to the top flight and one committed first grader even showed up to help run drills despite suffering a heavy cold. Interestingly, there was barely a gripe about this policy and if anything it served to focus everyone’s minds on the job at hand.
After six straight wins to start the season we obviously had to revise our goal of possibly sneaking a semi-final berth, to giving serious thought to winning the premiership. We ended the round robin matches as minor premiers, level with Baulkham Hills on points but ahead on goal difference. We had not beaten them in three encounters during the year and knew an extra effort would be required in the finals. After a 2-0 major semi-final victory, in which we could have scored 10 times, we were quite upset to learn they had trained hard that morning and were thus spent early in the second half on a warm day at Homebush. And when Baulko knocked over Briars to earn a rematch in the grand final, we were determined to beat them ‘fair and square’. We were missing our vastly improved left wing John Connor, who was getting married at Nambucca Heads, having set the date back in March when none of us thought we would realistically be seeing September action. And when Baulko scored after just 90 seconds, you could have been forgiven for thinking the curse had struck again.
But a curious thing happened. As goalkeeper Phil Petersen fished the ball out of the net we all looked around at one another. No one said anything. There was just a measured, if somewhat nonchalant, acceptance of our opponent’s good start as if to say “That’s what you can do, now we’re going to show you what we can do.” By the 5-minute mark our star right half Peter Milthorpe had put us level, slamming one into the sideboard. We dominated the next 20 minutes before Ian Jessup thundered home a cross from the right to give us the lead, as he did in the semi-final. And five minutes later club stalwart Joe Dean scored from where Peter Milthorpe had done to make it 3-1 at the break.
The first half of the second half was even and we had to repel several Baulko attacks as they were desperate to find some way back into the match. But we held out and 10 minutes from time Greg Farmilo went on one of his trademark d’Artagnan runs from fullback to earn a penalty stroke, galloping back to halfway musketeer-style to celebrate. Peter Milthorpe slotted it home and we were safe – but not finished. Marinco Kojdanovski, a first-year player at uni, soon after beat five defenders and undercut into the top net past a shellshocked keeper to make it 5-1. Baulko replied two minutes from time but the match – and the flag – was ours.
It was a tremendous reward, when none was expected, for a season of hard work. We celebrated our first premiership since our inaugural year in 1971 with gusto. For Joe Dean it was fourth time lucky, for Ralph, Greg, Peter and Ian third time lucky.
With second grade just missing the finals, and third grade’s weekend warriors set to move up to turf, we had every reason to be optimistic about 1995 when we all played one grade higher. It could hardly have been worse – 1sts and 2nds finished ninth, and 3rds eighth. First grade were in the running for the finals but lost their last seven matches. At the AGM 12 players had still not paid their fee, much of the admin was incomplete and relations with MUSA and SHA were at rock bottom. A rare highlight was 1sts downing Baulkham Hills 1-0 despite having next to no ball, and thanks to some great goalkeeping. A very carnivalesque, MAGUT-like performance.
And it was worse in 1996 – 1sts and 3rds picked up the wooden spoon while 2nds came eighth. In the top grade we had some talented new students but they could not gel with the older core of players, resulting in low morale. The lower grades remained full of players seeking a social outlet for hockey; wins were scarce as always – just seven for the year all up for the club. In our second year with all three teams in Premier B we were finding it very tough indeed. The Uni games team went to Armidale and had a great time but failed to qualify for the Australian championships. With the club’s administration and finances allowed to become haphazard, we had undone much of the good relations built up with MUSA over the previous few years.
So 1997 beckoned and thanks to some smooth talking we avoided being relegated one division after our shocking ’96 efforts. With a generally younger first grade there was some better hockey played. SHA experimented with a five-team finals and first grade snuck in, then beat Glenorie and gave Gordon an almighty fright. Seconds and thirds struggled again, but things were on the up generally.
All this time the Premier B competition was evolving, with clubs folding, merging or returning to the Penrith competition after a brief flirt with SHA. Through all our ups and downs, we were one of the few clubs to hold their place in Premier B.
1998 brought the biggest influx of students for some time and with a few skilled veterans dropping down the grades upon their return from overseas postings there was now a good mix across the three teams. And so it proved – 1sts missed the finals by one place, while 2nds and 3rds saw finals action for the first time since 1975! Ian Thompson’s dad Alan, a Level 2 coach and stalwart of North Sydney in Premier A for many years, helped with coaching in a welcome infusion of outside influence. Ralph excelled with 13 goals in 1sts while Ian Jessup scored his 150th goal for the club among his 13 in 3rd grade. There were records galore set in third grade – most notably Joe Dean most goals in a season (20) and most goals by third grade in a year (73). Sadly, 2nds and 3rds both lost their minor semi-finals to Randwick. Fourth place in the club championship indicated promise.
Just when we should have been on the rise again, 1999 proved another massive fall from grace. A handful of our better first graders had decided to flirt once more with playing Premier A for Sydney Uni, leaving us weakened right through the grades. In our last game, first grade needed to beat Easts to avoid the wooden spoon on goal difference. We led 4-0 at halftime and 5-1 soon after, only to go down 9-5 in a turnaround as sudden as it was heartbreaking. I don’t think I have seen a Macquarie side so low. The only bright spot was Ralph’s 12 goals for the season. 2nds and 3rds both came fifth, although well behind fourth spot. Second grade had their moments, downing semi-finalists St George and UTS, but dropping points to Easts and Parramatta. Joe Dean put away 11 goals in another sterling effort up front. The ultimate indignity, summing up our year, came in October when we learnt that we had missed out on a pair of season tickets in the Olympic ballot – only to find they were still for sale in the second round. Clearly, we needed to return to a formal coaching structure and somehow attract better players if we were to survive in Premier B.