FIVE Eastern Football Netball League 300-game life members were inducted at the League’s 2019 Annual General Meeting on Wednesday night at Ringwood’s Karralyka Centre.
The evening saw newly-inducted 300-game life members Alex Bakens, James ‘Jimmy’ Wright, Craig O’Malley (all pictured above), James ‘Jimmy’ Grant, and Leigh Rankin all recognised for their contributions.
Meanwhile, EFNL Recognition of Service awards were also presented with Cyril Heron (Upper Ferntree Gully/Bayswater) and Kath Callaway (Rowville) the recipients.
Chairman Graham Halbish opened the evening with a review of season 2019, while Chief Executive Officer Troy Swainston addressed the attendees on the EFNL’s 2020 plans and objectives.
A number of the EFNL’s suppliers and sponsors for 2020 were also in attendance, including Club Warehouse, OnTrack, Project Clothing, TLA Clubhouse and Sherwood.
The EFNL was also pleased to confirm a majority vote for the admission of the Berwick Football Club into the competition from season 2021.
See below for full 300-Game Life Member and Recognition of Service award profiles.
2019 EFNL 300-Game Life Member Profiles
Alex Bakens (South Belgrave/Knox)
South Belgrave’s Alex Bakens played game number 300 in May of this year, in a career which has seen him forge an undeniable legacy across two clubs.
Beginning his senior football career in 2002 while still a member of the Saints’ under-18s team, Bakens would quickly go on to establish himself at senior level, winning the club best and fairest award in 2004, and finishing runner-up in 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, Bakens transferred to Knox where he played 73 games, kicking 129 goals, where he was an integral member of the Falcons’ senior premiership side that season, playing out a thrilling extra-time decider against South Croydon – in what many regard as the greatest final in Eastern league history.
Bakens returned to South Belgrave in 2011, where he has since played a further 156 games – for a current total of 314 – and has kicked a further 420 goals, for a total of more than 700 career goals.
He was a key member of South Belgrave’s senior premiership side in 2013, kicking two crucial goals in extra-time to defeat Forest Hill, as the Saints recorded an undefeated season – in what would be Bakens’ second drawn grand final.
Such has been Bakens’ reverence among the EFNL community, the former South Belgrave captain has been named in the 1116 SEN Team of the Year on three occasions across a decade – 2007 (Division 2), 2013 (Division 4) and 2017 (Division 3) – a true testament to his longevity.
James ‘Jimmy’ Grant (Croydon)
Debuting in the senior ranks at the age of 16 in 2002, James ‘Jimmy’ Grant would play eight top-flight matches in his inaugural season to begin one of the all-time great careers at the Croydon Football Club.
It wouldn’t be long before Grant would etch his name into the club’s proud history as a premier player at the Blues, taking out the first of three senior club best and fairest awards in 2005, before taking the honours again in 2007 and 2016.
A stellar 2007 season also saw him finish a close runner-up for the coveted Chandler Medal, and earn selection in the 1116 SEN Division 1 Team of the Year.
In 2009, Croydon named its team of the decade where Grant would be named in the midfield, as well as represent the Blues on the biggest stage of all in the Division 1 grand final at Bayswater Oval.
The club captaincy came calling in season 2012, of which Grant would assume from brother Chris and lead the Blues with great distinction for five seasons until the end of 2016 – with his tenure as skipper seeing his selection in the 2015 Division 2 Team of the Year.
Grant took the field for game 300 in August of this season, ahead of playing in the Division 1 senior grand final in September.
Craig O’Malley (East Burwood)
Club loyalty is scarce in today’s footballing landscape, but as a one-club player over nearly three decades, East Burwood Football Club’s Craig O’Malley optimises that trait.
First representing the Rams as an eight-year-old in the club’s under-10s side in 1990, O’Malley’s junior career would see a best and fairest in 1992 as captain, followed by the under-14s best and fairest in 1996, later finishing runner-up for the under-16s honour while enjoying a stint at the Oakleigh Chargers.
It wouldn’t be long before O’Malley would taste premiership success, with flag triumphs for East Burwood’s under-18s side in 1999 and 2000 – at a time when the Rams were the Division 1 powerhouse, also claiming silverware at senior level in both those years.
Transitioning into senior footy in 2001 culminated in the reserves flag that year, of which O’Malley was an integral part of – claiming best on ground honours in the grand final. With another reserves flag presenting in 2003, O’Malley would again claim the best on ground honours.
The club veteran would also play in the 2018 reserves premiership for the Rams, claiming the flag by nine points over Forest Hill.
In 2010, O’Malley achieved an honour nobody in East Burwood’s illustrious history had been previously bestowed, when he became the only person in the club’s history to be awarded a life membership while still playing.
Leigh Rankin (Fairpark)
Fairpark Football Club’s Leigh Rankin ran out for game 300 in August this year, and is as revered and as loyal as any at the Den as a one-club player with over two decades of service at senior level.
Debuting for Fairpark in 1997, Rankin would go on to forge one of the Lions’ most decorated careers, while establishing himself as a premier defender of the competition in the full-back position.
After representing the League at interleague level in 2001, Rankin would later go on to captain the Lions from 2005-2010 – becoming the longest-serving captain in the club’s history.
During his tenure as skipper, Rankin would take out the 2005 and 2008 senior club best and fairest awards, as well as earn selection in the 1116 SEN Division 4 Team of the Year on three consecutive occasions from 2008-2010, named at full-back.
In 2012, Rankin was inducted as a life member of the Fairpark Football Club.
The achievement of 300 games this season should not be undersold, after missing almost two seasons of football as a result of a foot injury which kept the former captain sidelined for much of 2017-2018.
James ‘Jimmy’ Wright (Surrey Park)
Surrey Park Football Club’s James Wright ran out for game 300 in May of this year, in what has been one of the most unique and challenging of football journeys.
Joining the junior club in 1996, Wright would later transition into the senior club which he would serve with the utmost loyalty and distinction across two decades.
Wright captained the Panthers’ under-18 outfit to a premiership in 1999, before featuring in the club’s reserves flag in 2004 – finishing third at the conclusion of the home and away season, toppling minor-premier Kilsyth by 37 points in the decider.
It would however be his two-year stint as club captain which would test and ultimately prove the undying loyalty of Wright to Surrey Park, whereby the club would begin its descent into a 67-game losing streak, of which Wright would lead from the front, week in, week out, by great example.
“It was the worst period in the club’s history, and that’s a tough time to captain. I learnt a lot about myself as a human being. As a man, to captain this footy club, I was so proud to do that,” Wright said of the captaincy.
2019 EFNL Recognition of Service Recipients
Kath Callaway (Rowville)
Rowville’s Kath Callaway has been an integral member of the club since her son Nick began playing in juniors over 15 years ago.
Over the years, Callaway has held many positions at the Hawks, including team manager, team manager coordinator, canteen manager, general committee member, secretary and treasurer, and more recently, the general manager. Such is her conscientious attitude, there has not been a year where Callaway has taken a break.
Callaway is a tireless and passionate club stalwart, is revered as the fountain of all knowledge for everything including sponsors, canteen helpers and council contacts and as a genuine and caring person to have around the club.
“She is literally the glue that holds our community club together. I cannot think of more deserving recipient of this award. She is an incredible, selfless woman whose contributions over the past 15 years have single-handedly raised tens of thousands of dollars for the club,” Rowville president Paul Mynott said of Callaway.
Cyril Heron (Upper Ferntree Gully/Bayswater)
Bayswater Football Club’s Cyril Heron joined the Waters in 1979.
Crossing over from Upper Ferntree Gully where Heron had previously been bestowed life membership, Heron began his involvement at Bayswater by coaching the bottom-age side before taking on the role of club president in 1983 – a position he would hold until 1992.
During his tenure, Heron founded the H20 Coterie Club at Bayswater in 1988, serving as its respective president – a position he still holds to this day.
Heron can be found on any given day or night at the club serving in a variety of roles, including helping in the kitchen on a Thursday night or after vets’ training on a Wednesday. Such is Cyril’s dedication, he still prepares the match-day half-time food for the H20 coterie lunch and opposition committee, whilst also cleaning the rooms after training and matches across all grades of football.
Cyril was awarded life membership of the Bayswater Football Club over 20 years ago, with the stalwart also revered at the club as a mentor, where he is always too happy to help anyone out in need.
He belongs to a rather exclusive group of people, holding a life membership across two EFNL clubs.