Aquinas Old Collegians
Red, black and green
Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) since 1987
During 1980, informal discussions among a group of former students of Aquinas College gave rise to the germ of an idea to form a football club. The germ quickly spread, and at a meeting in the Ringwood Parish Hall on 18th February 1981 the Aquinas Old Boys Football Club was formally, and enthusiastically, brought into being. At the meeting it was agreed to approach the Eastern Suburbs Churches Football Association with a request to be admitted to its E Grade competition for the season ahead. Despite the fact that the official draw had already been made an circulated to member clubs, Aquinas committee members found the ESCFA quite receptive to the idea, perhaps at least in part because the uneven number of teams in E grade made it comparatively easy to re-cast the draw.
Given the fact that when the club first approached the ESCFA it boasted assets of precisely $50 (donated by the chairman, Con Hickey), had no players, coaches, trainers or equipment, and nowhere to train and play, its achievement in having both seniors and reserves teams in place by the time the season got underway just ten weeks later is remarkable. Aquinas College had gladly made its oval and changing room facilities available to the club, while Our Lady’s Ringwood had agreed to provide the sponsorship necessitated by the ESCFA’s rules. Coached by John Limbon, the Old Boys seniors produced what in the circumstances has to be viewed as a commendable season, netting 8 wins from 18 matches to finish eighth in the twelve team competition.
John Kelly succeeded Limbon as coach in 1982, and, with longer to prepare, both seniors and reserves flexed their muscles to mount legitimate premiership challenges. The seniors ultimately floundered only at the very last hurdle, going down to St Patrick’s Mentone in the grand final by 35 points after defeating the same opponent by 23 points in the second semi final. It was thus left to the reserves to enjoy the honour of providing the club with its first ever flag, which they won thanks to a gutsy, come from behind defeat of Springvale.
The seniors may have lost their grand final, but the mere fact of their having reached it was sufficient to entitle them to promotion to D Grade, where they did not spend long admiring the scenery. Indeed, both seniors and reserves scythed their way through their respective match programmes with barely a blip en route to dual straight sets premiership victories.
In 1984, both Aquinas grades treated the C Section opposition with similar apparent disdain, although the seniors had to overcome the setback of a shock second semi final loss to St Paul’s before clinching their second successive flag. This they did on the strength of consecutive 3 goal wins over Noble Park in the preliminary final and St Paul’s in the grand final. The reserves meanwhile experienced no such hiccups, with their 50 point grand final demolition of St Paul’s emphatically crowning an unbeaten season.
B Section proved a somewhat tougher nut to crack, although in both their seasons in the competition the seniors did at least manage to qualify for the finals. Off the field, the club was going strong, with sound administration, healthy coffers, and one of the largest and most enthusiastic bands of supporters in the ESCFA. It was time to move on. An implicit target for the club almost from day one had been to progress at some stage to the more demanding, prestigious, and in an organisational sense more professional environs of the Victorian Amateur Football Association. After completing the necessary negotiations, and meeting the stipulated entry requirements, it was in F Section of this august body that Aquinas found itself in 1987.
Now officially known as ‘Old Collegians’ rather than ‘Old Boys’, the club wasted no time in flinging the gauntlet down by means of hefty opening round defeats of St Andrew’s, and thereafter the seniors in particular just kept on winning. Only once, against a Williamstown CYMS side whose players seemed to enjoy unusually cordial relations with the umpire (he was, in fact, one of their own club officials) was defeat experienced during the 18 match home and away series.
Comfortably top of the ladder heading into the finals, and opposed in the second semi final by a Whitefriars Old Collegians team that had posed no threat during the minor round, Aquinas must have been at virtually unbackable odds to cruise straight into the grand final. There is no such thing as a certainty in football, however, and at the end of the match the scoreboard showed the Collegians not only beaten, but beaten out of sight, Whitefriars winning by 50 points, 20.24 (144) to 14.10 (94).
Aquinas’s recovery, comprising a solid 31 point win over St Andrew’s in the preliminary final followed by a nail-biting victory over Whitefriars in the grand final re-match, was the stuff of club legend. Seemingly home and dry when they led by more than 5 goals midway through the last quarter of the grand final, Aquinas had to withstand a rousing finale from the men in navy and gold that saw them get to within a point with just a minute left to play. With the clock running down, Whitefriars mounted one final, frantic attack that brought them to within 20 metres of goal, only for Aquinas back pocket Terry Jones to take a courageous mark and relieve the pressure with a thumping kick that travelled well past centre. Moments later, the siren sounded, and the Aquinas players and supporters could celebrate.
As the dawn of a new phase in the club’s existence, it would be hard to imagine anything more memorably dramatic, and it was perhaps inevitable that the ensuing few years proved something of an anti-climax. However, as the 1990s progressed, so the club - now nicknamed the Bloods - began to flex its muscles. The seniors were particularly strong around the turn of the century, contesting the finals in D1 Section in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Subsequently demoted to D2 Section, the side came close to ‘escape’ in 2006, but lost a tightly fought preliminary final against Peninsula Old Boys. A year later, they went one better, earning promotion back to D1 Grade as runners-up to South Melbourne Districts. Inevitably, they found things somewhat tougher at the higher level, but 5 wins from 18 matches proved good enough for them to avoid relegation, albeit only on percentage ahead of Prahran.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications