The name ‘Echuca’ is an anglicisation of a native Australian word allegedly meaning ‘junction of the rivers’. The town bearing the name was founded in 1859, and by the early 1880s boasted a population of roughly 5,000. It already had a football team, and matches against combinations from nearby towns like Rushworth, Rochester and Shepparton were regularly played. However, it was not until 1909 that the Echuca Football Club first embarked on the serious business of chasing premierships. Admitted to the Goulburn Valley District Football Association that year, it wasted little time in asserting itself, reaching a grand final in only its second full season. However, when the big day arrived, the Echuca players seemingly suffered from ‘stage fright’, and went down to Murchison by the sizeable margin for the time of 62 points.
Echuca remained in the Goulburn Valley competition until 1925 when the decision was taken to cross to the Bendigo Football League. The club spent the next fifty years in the BFL, but it would probably be fair to suggest that its involvement never sat entirely comfortably with the Echuca community, whose support for the team was seldom better than lukewarm. A major reason for this was the distance of travel entailed in following the team, with most away fixtures requiring a round trip of at least 150 kilometres.
Despite the lack of support, Echuca achieved a modicum of success in the BdFL, winning a premiership in only their fourth season, and two more after world war two. However, when the club finally returned ‘home’ to the GVFL in 1974 there was a widespread feeling that it could now realistically begin to flex its muscles.
Echuca’s return was not entirely straightforward, however. The BdFL opposed the move, and it was not until the end of February, just two months before the start of the season, that the matter was resolved - in Echuca’s favour - by the VCFL Appeals Board.
The Murray Bombers were coached in 1974 by former Hawthorn champion Graham Arthur, who had been with them in that capacity since 1969, guiding them to a flag in his second season. Arthur laid the foundations of a strong Echuca combination which went on to become a dominant force in the GVFL during the second half of the 1970s, reaching three grand finals for two wins. The club’s supremacy extended to other grades as well, with the reserves going top in 1975-6-7-8, and the thirds in 1976. Among Echuca’s key players during this era were John Haw, a tenacious and inspirational rover who captained the side to its 1977 and 1979 premierships, ruckman Brian Kennaugh, a local farmer who, in 1986, would become the club’s first ever Morrison Medallist, and forward Glen Fawcett, whose finest moment came towards the end of the 1979 grand final clash with Seymour, when he kicked the goal that capped a fighting last quarter come back and gave the Bombers a memorable 6 point victory.
Echuca next returned to the fore during the 1990s under former Melbourne and Richmond utility Simon Eishold. After losing the 1994 and 1995 grand finals, the Bombers broke through for their third GVFL flag in 1997, before going on to enjoy further success early in the new century with premierships in 2001 and 2002. This most recent pair of flags were noteworthy in that, on both occasions, Echuca overcame the disappointment of losing a second semi final against arch rival Rochester to turn the tables in ‘the big one’.
The Murray Bombers next contested the finals in 2004, bowing out at the first hurdle against Tatura (despite having 32 scoring shots to 24). In 2006, the side won 8 of its 18 home and away matches to finish ninth in the twelve team competition. The highlight of the season was on-baller Colin Durie’s unexpected but thoroughly deserved Morrison Medal win.
In 2007 Echuca, coached by Steve Orr, a member of the club’s three most recent premiership teams, showed a fair amount of improvement to record 11 wins for the year, which was good enough to secure a finals berth. However, the side’s involvement in those finals was immediately and emphatically brought to an end by Shepparton Swans, who surged to victory in the elimination final by 99 points. It was a similar tale a year later, with Rochester proving the Bombers’ elimination final nemesis on this occasion.
Performances over recent seasons have been of mixed quality. In 2010 the Bombers qualified for the finals in second place and ultimately finished third, a result that was repeated in 2011. Following that, however, fortunes dipped appreciably, with the side finishing seventh (of twelve) in 2012, eleventh in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and seventh again in both 2016 and 2017. The 2018 season brought significant improvement as the Bombers got as far as a losing preliminary final against eventual premiers Shepparton. A year later the Murray Bombers again qualified for the grand final only for opponents Kyabram to have their measure this time round.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications