Shrill roars of delight fill Horsham City Oval all at once.
A few seconds later there is a lull, as the initial shock of joy subsides.
Then comes a high-pitched shriek, then another, then another, as the reality of what has just happened begins to sink in, person by person.
This is how it feels and sounds to make history in country football.
Celebrations like this are likely to last well into this week in the towns of Birchip and Rupanyup, after their football teams both broke 21-year premiership droughts on Saturday.
Both towns have worked hard to keep young people living locally.
Keeping the band together
Down by 21 points in the second quarter to Donald, the Birchip-Watchem Bulls came back to win by 21 for their first flag since 2001.
Club secretary Stephanie Coffey said when the final siren sounded, the relief was palpable.
“From 2017 to 2019 we lost three senior grand finals in a row, and then missing two years due to COVID — two years we thought we’d have a strong team as well — there was really a sense of ‘when will we get another chance’,” she said.
Birchip-Watchem play in the North Central Football League, which keenly felt the effects of the lockdown-era “ring of steel” barring Melbourne from the rest of Victoria — and vice versa — last year.
Other clubs in the league, Wycheproof-Narraport and Donald, had to forfeit matches because their Melbourne-based players weren’t allowed to travel to their clubs, before the season was ultimately cancelled.
Birchip-Watchem themselves were denied access to players it had signed from Melbourne and Adelaide, though Ms Coffey said that, luckily, they never had to forfeit.
“I guess that’s something we’re very proud of, the fact we’ve been able to keep everyone at the club and add a couple to the list as well,” she said.
“Players come and they enjoy our club, and possibly also that sense of unfinished business; people wanted to stick around and see out the journey.”
Ms Coffey was a high school student in Birchip the last time the Bulls won a premiership; she now has a young son and teaches at a secondary school in nearby Wycheproof.
She says premierships, especially in the senior divisions, change the entire mood of small towns.
“It’s a community celebration really, and it’s a feeling we haven’t had in a very long time,” she said.
Birchip is well known for having a huge sculpture of a red bull on its main street.
“We might have a few people riding the bull, and I don’t know what the players have in store for Monday — I might be better off not knowing,” Ms Coffey laughed.
A match for the ages
The Horsham District Football Netball League 2022 grand final is barely 48 hours old, but it is already being spoken about as the league’s most iconic matches ever.
Rupanyup had 12 scoring shots to three in the first quarter against Kalkee, but were wasteful, only leading 2.10 (22) to 3.0 (18) at quarter time.
It meant the scores stayed close as Kalkee — a farming area of 48 people and one football field to Horsham’s north — came back into the game.
With minutes left, Rupanyup had a shot which some of their players thought was a goal, but the umpire signalled a behind, meaning the Panthers were only four points up.
The ‘Kees, as they are known, then sprung the ball forward before one of their players attempted a long-range shot for goal, the ball leaving his boot just as the final siren sounded.
The shot missed, and Rupanyup won 11.17 (83) to 12.8 (80).
Rupanyup’s playing coach Jack Musgrove says the town has been lucky to keep a core group of young players.
“You’re always going to have kids go out to university, and the town has struggled with that,” he said.
“The last couple of years for us, [getting] those locals back and playing has been a big thing for us.
“It’s obviously hard; you want to recruit blokes that played their junior footy here, and to get them here it’s been unreal.
“And it’s all worth it now.”
Like the Bulls, the Panthers were a successful side before the pandemic, and had been challenging for the flag before last year’s season cancellation.
Mr Musgrove is relieved his side finally has some reward for effort.
“It was a bit tough early — a lot of blokes put in a lot of work in previous years and then didn’t get any result for it,” he said.
“So, it was hard to find motivation for it, but once round started, everyone was fired up and ready to go.
“This premiership is something a lot of people around Rupanyup will remember forever.”
Source: AFL NEWS ABC