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Countdown to end of year with 10 biggest sports moments in Geraldton

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Reuben CarderGeraldton Guardian
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Harry Taylor and the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership Cup at Geraldton Football Club during the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership Cup Tour on September 12.
Camera IconHarry Taylor and the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership Cup at Geraldton Football Club during the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership Cup Tour on September 12. Credit: Tamati Smith, Yama(t)ji/via AFL Photos

After COVID-19 disrupted life in almost every conceivable way last year, with sports no exception, this year has marked a surprising return almost to normality in WA and the Mid West.

Most major sports have run, uninterrupted, in a form close to normal, and there have been plenty of big moments along the way.

Here are 10 of them.

10. A year of landmarks

With no local lockdowns and few restrictions, it was a first uninterrupted year for local sport after the start of COVID-19.

Towns won their first women’s cricket premiership as the competition marked its second season in existence.

The women’s country week side won the first ever CCB Women’s Country Week Cricket Championships .

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn took to the boxing ring for his first competitive fight as Paul Barrett’s Fists of Fury event returned for a second edition. The event also included Geraldton’s first mixed martial arts bouts.

Jake Peacock’s gym ran the second edition of the State Regional Titles, the first boxing event to be held at Queens Park Theatre.

Among too many others to mention, a junior girls’ cricket competition wrapped up its first season, complementing the other divisions, and Mullewa came on board as the seventh Great Northern Women’s Football League team. This completed the league’s complement of women’s sides — a landmark in a fast-growing part of the sport that both the WAFLW and AFLW are yet to reach.

9. The Geraldton Guardian Mid West Sports Awards

The awards took into account two years of sporting achievements.

Peter Rowsthorn — better known as Brett from Kath and Kim — had the crowd in stitches with behind-the-scenes tales from I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here. His stand-up set included a bit on what he called “the best day of my life”, as Danny Green challenged Anthony Mundine to a fight on set.

Mountain biker Marissa Drummond won senior sports star of the year in a strong showing for adventure sports. Footballer Jed Hagan won a third junior award in a row, sharing it with track-and-field star Christi Bestry.

Athletics, cricket, softball and netball were all also represented across the awards.

8. Geraldton Buccaneers

Harry Evans probably did not think at the start of last season he would be posting up on pro basketballers at the age of 15, but that’s exactly what happened.

With veterans Liam Hunt, Aaron Ralph and Mat Wundenberg all long-term injured and various other senior player departures, a young group stood up that included Evans, Tom Dobson and Bob Griechen, none of them old enough to drive.

The NBL1 West includes serious players from NCAA colleges, many with pro experience in Europe and NBL aspirations. (Former Bucc Brayden Inger debuted for the Cairns Taipans against the Perth Wildcats this month.)

The national second tier is a serious competition. The Buccs ultimately did not make playoffs, but were not disgraced, and the next generation stepped up when they were needed. With aggressive off-season recruiting likely to improve results this season, the court minutes the youngsters gained will be key to the future.

7. Politics

With much at stake in an election that eventually led to a historic wipe-out for the Liberal party, political hopefuls campaigned hard and fast to sporting groups. Lara Dalton was seen cooking snags at Rovers Soccer Club, while former then-Opposition leader Zak Kirkup watched the women’s cricket grand final with a campaign sign in tow on a trailer.

The Geraldton Amateur Basketball Association secured funding for a much-needed stadium expansion through an election promise. Along with other clubs, the Geraldton Hockey Association also benefited, getting new blue turfs. You can’t please everyone in politics, but the election showed politicians were willing to listen to the needs of the sporting community.

6. COVID-19 management

Opinions are divided on border closures, vaccines, boosters and almost everything to do with the pandemic.

One thing is for sure — WA was fortunate when it came to sports this year. The pandemic shut down competition for months in 2020, and the Mid West Sports Awards were cancelled.

But outbreaks in the Eastern States and cases in Perth did not stop local competition this year. There were some casualties, notably country week footy. But most sports ran, on time, in a form approaching normal.

That allowed Aztecs to go through the netball season undefeated and win a blockbuster Senior 1 grand final against Pumas by two points.

A full GNFL season ran after last season’s shortened fixtures, and the Buccs played their first season in the NBL1 West.

Hockey, soccer, and the other winter sports ran; and cricket, water polo, and horseracing are on now. Some dedicated — and fortunate — AFL fans even got the chance to travel for WA’s first home grand final.

5. Races

With spectators or without, the racing industry kept going in Geraldton and WA throughout the pandemic.

Geraldton Turf Club has 20 races on its calendar this season and will be expecting to run all of them.

At the height of pandemic precautions, spectators were spotted looking through the fence as the races were run at a nearly empty racecourse, with only essential personnel permitted. Crowds have been back this season and a feeling of normality has reigned.

The turf club is one of the most hallowed sporting institutions, and club management and Racing and Wagering WA will do all they can to keep the races going. Fashions on the Field has dazzled, too. The Walkaway Cup runs on December 27.

4. Olympic visit

It’s not every day an Olympian comes to town. The sight of 800m runner Peter Bol running sprints at the athletics field with local juniors shortly after his Tokyo 2020 runs was surreal. Bol turned up at Rangeway Primary School the next day to shoot some hoops with students and talk about athletics, as well as his love of basketball and soccer.

Bol has been to Geraldton before — coach Lindsay Bunn works with local athletics guru Jacko Whitby — and given increasing recognition in Perth, it’s a good chance to get away.

He hopes to be back in the Mid West for longer in the new year. As Bol matter-of-factly said when taking a question at Rangeway, when he runs 800m there are three men on Earth faster than him. If his plan to visit more often comes to pass, his talent, humility and friendly attitude will continue to inspire people in the region.

3. Harry Taylor’s return

It was difficult to believe when news broke that a local favourite son would be returning, right after playing his fourth grand final in his 280th AFL game. Taylor could have played on with the Cats or gone to the WAFL or any other State league. But pulling on a Northampton league jumper for the first time — he played his senior local footy at Rovers — was a dream he was determined to accomplish.

Having an all-Australian defender playing for the Rams, mostly up forward, drew huge crowds, and Taylor smashed the club record for goals in a season.

He was also able to provide insights to the GNFL in his back-office role as operations manager, help out with relief efforts after cyclone Seroja struck Northampton alongside Josh Kennedy and other AFL Rams, and be there for the unveiling of his statue among the rest of his home town’s AFL stars.

2. GNFL’s big season

The league celebrated its 60th anniversary with twilight games, memorabilia and an all-time dream team. Performances on the pitch did not disappoint.

At the end of a thrilling season, Brigades proved too wily in the league grand final, with heartbreak for Railways for a second year in a row.

The Blues have an emerging group of young stars and players like Jack Cocking, Noah Cachard, and Shayden Edwards can now say they have played against the likes of Jayden Schofield, Ethan Paholski and Dale Williamson at the highest level of local football.

It was all the more meaningful for Brigades, who dedicated their win to former president Jason O’Brien after he tragically lost his battle with cancer in August. Two reigning J.J. Clune medallists faced each other in the league final — Schofield and Railways’ Mitch Boyle shared the award in a four-way tie with Rovers’ Jaimon Alone and Northampton’s Flynn Dillon. It was nearly impossible to pick a best on ground.

In the GNWFL decider a day earlier, Northampton celebrated their first women’s flag. The win came after a tough year for Northampton, which was devastated by cyclone Seroja.

The players showed the community’s fighting spirit, with youngster Tiani Teakle one of the league’s best in her first year of senior footy, and Asha Poletti playing in a boxer’s helmet after a broken cheekbone.

Julia Teakle was women’s fairest and best. Railways beat Northampton in the reserves. Towns beat Railways in the colts as they look to a new generation to rebuild.

1. AFL Cup’s visit

What else could it be? The AFL’s big dance had never made it to WA and only been played outside Victoria once before. Getting a look at the AFL Cup at Towns oval must have been a dream come true for the kids who lined up to see Harry Taylor carrying it. Yamatji man Tamati Smith followed the cup’s tour from up north in the Kimberley and Pilbara, through the Mid West and down to Perth as the AFL’s official photographer for the tour.

The colts, reserves and league sides all got a look at it on GNFL grand final day along with the crowd. Surely nothing could inspire local footballers more.

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