By: Jessie Hare
ANDREW Ainger set Bayswater Oval alight on Saturday, producing a five-goal best-on-ground performance to be awarded the Cliff Tomkins Blue Ribbon Medal as Vermont stormed to the 2018 Division 1 premiership.
Ainger returned home to Victoria this season after time in the South Australian National Football League, playing 105 games and booting 203 goals for Woodville-West Torrens, finishing his time in South Australia playing in the Adelaide Football League for Flinders Park in 2017, kicking 77 goals.
Ainger booted five goals on Saturday to claim the Cliff Tomkins Blue Ribbon Medal. PICTURE: Davis Harrigan Photography.
The spearhead had been all too familiar with the contrasting feelings and emotions grand final day brings leading into Saturday afternoon’s decider.
“I’ve lost a lot of grand finals, I lost two over in the SANFL and I felt relaxed today – I haven’t felt like that in a long time,” Ainger said.
“The first (mark) stuck and the second one stuck and I thought geez, I feel like I’m on here, so it was just one of those days early on. I kind of stopped a bit in the second half but luckily we were enough in front.
When Ainger joined Vermont this season, the club was on the back of yet another grand final loss as South Croydon caused an upset in 2017.
He found himself on the sidelines mid-season due to a hamstring injury but was able to find form on return come the pointy-end of the season, booting 25 goals in the final six matches of the season, including nine across two finals.
“I’ve actually had a bit of an unlucky run (this season), a broken nose and a torn hammy – I kind of did it all,” Ainger said.
“The body is feeling good which is nice, this time of year you’re normally sore and tired but I guess those injuries like that you get a bit of time to rest the body.
“The last month for me, I feel like I’ve been able to get my spring back and play some alright footy.”
He isn’t wrong about playing some alright football; Ainger managed to kick four of his five goals in the opening term today which was the energy that Vermont needed to begin its quest for premiership glory as it led by 32 points at quarter time.
Four goals to Ainger in the first term set the tone for Vermont. PICTURE: Davis Harrigan Photography.
“It’s nice (best on ground) but I think the other one (premiership medal) means a lot more to me absolutely and you don’t celebrate the blue one by yourself,” he said.
“You want to celebrate with your mates but yeah, it’s a nice recognition.
“But at the end of the day, I’m just pumped that we won, so pumped.”
In the last month of football, Ainger has found himself with a bag of goals each game, including a seven-goal haul in the last round of the home and away season.
In football, it can go either way, but it was Ainger and his Vermont teammates who held the momentum throughout the course of Saturday’s game.
“The standard of the football has been really good (in the EFL), obviously today you saw it again, that on any day any team can win, and I guess we were lucky today that was us,” he said.
“I know last year it was South Croydon, so I think a few of these guys, they’ve had heart ache for the last two years.
“It’s a great reward for the guys that have stuck it out.”
For the Vermont Football Club, it has been a long nine-year drought without a senior flag and Ainger has felt the pain through his teammates.
“Nine years? Well that’s great, some of these guys have lost grand finals and had real heart ache and it was a key focus for Harmit going into this season,” he said.
“We had a really tough camp down at Portsea which was a bit of a ‘find ourselves’ and the boys responded really well from that.
“I think some of their individual efforts today, the McCombs (Luke and Robbie), Liam Buxton and even Eddy to come back out with I don’t even know what he did to his shoulder, it was massive.
“I’m just over the moon, absolutely over the moon.”