This story was going to begin on the road from Marrar to Temora where grand final buzz hung as heavily in the air as the humidity this week, and the sweat and tension built as quickly as the talk about whether it was going to lead to something.
This story – about premiership dreams, droughts and dynasties – was going to begin on the Marrar South Road. Take the dog-leg through Marrar to the North Road. Head out through Winchendon Vale and across to near-neighbours and premiership rivals, Temora.
But sometimes you just have to cut to the chase. Sometimes it’s the last person you speak to who tells what needs to come first. Like, what it feels like to be a footballer in grand final week.
“It's bloody awesome. The phone calls and text messages and that you get leading up – she really hits the spot when they start ringing,” says Temora’s Damien Ponting with the wild-eyed look of a six-year old waiting for Christmas.
“You're trying not to bloody think about it then all of a sudden you'll get a phone call or a text message saying, ‘All the best for the weekend, mate.’
“You're just like, 'shit' and you start thinking about it and you start getting all bloody nervous! But yeah, it's going to hit home Thursday and Friday when you start reading a bit more about it in the papers and I start getting myself pumped up. And on the way to the footy. Yeah it's… I'm enjoying it. Haha!”
Ponting has lived in Temora for 15 years. Played 240-odd games for the club. And won three premierships, all in this decade.
This is a town that knows how to wind up for grand final day.
It wasn’t always that way. Not until 2012. Then 2013. And 2014. Three games. Three flags. A culture of success. And a knack for getting behind their Kangaroos, with signs and streamers in shopfront windows.
Marrar can’t match Temora’s population. Nor it’s recent record. But for passion and desire? Welcome to first grade, son.
Club president Terry Langtry is, literally, up the ladder, hanging balloons and jumpers in the local Landmark when The Daily Advertiser visits.
“It’s a community thing,” Langtry says.
“Football and netball is such a big part – it’s the hub of your community really. So it’s exciting (to be in a grand final). It's something we haven't done since 2011. It's exciting for the whole town, especially when you've had three grades in the finals, and B grade netball.”
The Bombers twos have also progressed to the grand final, and could kick off a big day for the club.
“It’s one small step. The next step’s the big one,” Langtry said.
“We have been the bridesmaids a few time. It's not as much fun as winning.”
Langtry’s referring to the ‘lost years’. Before Temora claimed their hat-trick, Dean Howard took Marrar to three straight grand finals, from 2009-11.
“It's been a long while since they've had a premiership but I think the thing people forget about Dean's era was that probably the first two years, it was an amazing effort to even make the grand final,” says former coach Danny Malone.
“The third year, there's no doubt that we probably thought we were going to be good enough to win it. But we didn't perform on the day.
“Certainly over a three year period, that does knock the stuffing out of people. There's no doubt about that. After those unsuccessful attempts, we had a big player exodus.
“That's why (in 2012) I was amazed that, even with the players we lost, that we were able to get to a preliminary final even then, which was a good effort… they were amazing. And that sort of typifies the whole club I think.
“But Saturday is a celebration of a lot of hard work. And just a great opportunity for the players involved to create their own bit of history.”
The publican at Marrar’s Royal Hotel is veteran Bomber, Daniel Burkinshaw, who, with his staff, is decking the place out for the big week.
Burkinshaw has been at the club for 17 years and, since taking over the pub, has only heard more about 1995 and 1996 when Tony Hughes took the club to their last first grade flags.
“We do get a lot of the old boys in here – the likes of your Buster Langtrys and Horse Carrolls and all that that were involved in it and they’ll always tell you how hard they are to get,” Burkinshaw says.
“They’ll always tell you how much they put in. The effort and everything else. It’s great… it’s a real, real, real buzz.”
Burkinshaw is in awe of the small town’s ability to continue to support its own stand-alone Farrer League club. Grand finals are one way footballers can repay a club’s supporters. But (just quietly in grand final week) just turning up and training all year can be enough.
“One thing that is very pertinent in small country towns is the ‘gathering of the clan’ at Thursday night training sessions,” Malone says.
“(It’s) amazing the number of supporters that gather around the fire to review last week, preview the upcoming week and generally solve the problems of the world. Besides being a great sense of community, it also creates a great atmosphere for the players.”
But don’t for minute think Marrar has a mortgage on atmosphere.
Temora forward Matt Wallis came to the Kangaroos in 2014, left after two seasons, but then couldn’t find his way back quickly enough.
“It's a great town and I suppose it's the old cliche - you don't know what you've got til it's gone,” Wallis said.
“Good mates. Good job. Good area… you don't realise how good it was until it's taken away.”
Wallis was fortunate to be able to return to work with Temora’s major sponsor, BFB, where Roos captain Charlie Vallance also plies his trade.
Former president Darryl Harpley says the club wouldn’t be where it is without the support of a big local business.
“It’s a hard game to be in and we wouldn’t have any premierships without them,” Harpley says. “They've been a major, major sponsor.”
Livewire Marrar forward, Rory Block, is also an employee. And his mum is quick to tell The Daily Advertiser that it’s talking to the wrong people when interviews start with Wallis and Vallance.
Wallis points out bragging rights are clearly up for grabs given the rich vein of familiarity between the two clubs, with former Temora premiership players Jackson Moye and Josh Hagar also lining up for the Bombers.
Separated only by rolling hills of flowering canola and the forgotten village of Winchedon Vale, there’s a lot at stake.
Terry Langtry says the teams have been playing for the ‘Winchy Cup’ for the last 15 or 20 years – an ‘old tin cup that’s been belted around but holds a bit of local esteem’ –named in honour of the district that divides them.
But suddenly, there’s a flag to win. And it’s hard not to dream of success.
“I suppose you do,” Langtry says. “Crosses your mind. It'd be a great thrill for all of the community. Twenty-one years is a long time to wait. Good things come to those who wait.”
Temora can attest to that. Their premiership drought lasted more than five decades. Damien Ponting well remembers the days when success seemed out of reach. But he says they never lost heart.
“It's always been a bloody good club. We used to have a hell of a good time,” he says.
“Getting flogged by Collingullie, you come home and just forgot about it. Everyone still kept turning up, Tuesdays and Thursdays. And you never went into any game thinking, ‘We're going to get a whoppin'.”
Temora have three teams in on grand final day, with the Under 17 footy and C Grade netball teams also playing deciders.
And the man they call Rambo believes the club has positioned itself for continued success.
“It’s real good. With the junior program they’ve got set up, I think it's going to be handy for years now,” Ponting says.
“Where I come from (in Tasmania)… you never really learnt much about how to play until you got up to senior football. Whereas here, now, the kids are learning it as soon as they can kick a footy and they know there's a game plan all the way through.”