Despite boasting a population that barely makes it into three figures the town of Colbinabbin, which lies 120 kilometres north of Melbourne, midway between Bendigo and Shepparton, has a long and proud tradition of competing with the best of them when it comes to sport. The success of the town’s football club is a case in point: over the course of a history stretching back at least as far as the early 1920s Colbinabbin Football Club - the Grasshoppers - has amassed no fewer than sixteen senior premierships. This is an impressive haul by any standards, but, judged against the size of the club’s immediate catchment area, is little short of astounding.
After the Great War Colbinabbin initially fielded a team in the Goornong Football Association. In both 1921, against Goornong, and 1922 against Mount Pleasant, it contested the year’s premiership deciding fixture, winning on the latter occasion by 17 points. The result of the 1921 match, however, can not be traced - so it is at least possible that Colbinabbin has seventeen flags to its credit rather than sixteen.
In 1923 the club crossed to the Campaspe Football Association were its success continued. During its twelve season stint in the competition it succeeded in reaching the premiership deciding match at least six times, for premierships in 1924 at the expense of Mount Pleasant, 1933 against Elmore Juniors, and 1934 versus Elmore Imperials.
Since 1935, the Grasshoppers have competed in the Heathcote District Football League (or the Heathcote District Football Association as it was originally known). They reached their first grand final in 1936, losing to Tooboorac, and broke through for their first flag three years later at the expense of Mount Pleasant. After the war they claimed back to back premierships in 1949-50 before enduring a lean spell of unprecedented duration, which was finally broken by five successive grand final appearances, for two flags, between 1975 and 1979.
The 1980s proved somewhat disappointing, although the club’s honour was enhanced to some extent by the reserves breaking through to claim their first ever premiership in 1982. Nine years later it was the seniors' turn once more as the grand final challenge of Heathcote was swept aside to the tune of 26 points, 15.11 (101) to 11.9 (75).
Impressive as the club’s achievements up to that point had been, they did not really hint at what the future had in store. In the seven seasons from 1998 to 2004 the Grasshoppers qualified for every grand final bar one, and won five of them. For good measure, the reserves also won a flag - their second - in 1999. All five senior grade flags were won emphatically, leaving no-one in any doubt that these were some of the finest teams in HDFL history.
After plummeting down the ladder to eighth (of nine) in 2005, Colbinabbin recovered somewhat in 2006 to qualify for the finals, and ultimately finish fourth. A year later, the Grasshoppers fought their way through to the grand final, only to fail to do themselves justice on the day and succumb heavily to Elmore. However, overall it was clear that the team was moving in the right direction, and few people would have been surprised to witness their triumphant 2008 season which culminated in a 16.9 (111) to 12.11 (83) grand final victory over Heathcote. The win gave them their twelfth senior grade HDFL flag, a record only surpassed by Mount Pleasant’s tally of 17. Icing on the cake came in the form of Ben Johnston’s Cheatly Medal triumph. Colbinabbin’s reserves also reached their second successive grand final in 2008, but lost to Mount Pleasant, having succumbed to Broadford the previous year.
There have been no further flags over the past decade and a bit and indeed, for the first part, of that decade the club tended to struggle. However, the last five seasons (2015-16-17-18-19) have seen the 'Hoppers contesting the finals suggesting that more good times might be just around the corner. This was emphasised during a highly promising 2019 campaign which culminated in a first grand final appearance for 12 years. Opponents North Bendigo proved too strong, however, and won a low scoring encounter by six goals straight.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications