Matt 'Jiffy' Carroll was a first-year coach. But he had enough experience to know a bad idea when he heard one.
"We were coming into finals and I said to Jiffy, 'How about we get off the p*** midweek?" says former midfielder James Millikan.
"He looked me in the eye, and said, 'I don't know about that Mill. I don't know about that. We won't change a winning formula.'
"So we kept going."
Train Tuesday. Uni night Wednesday. Train Thursday. Party again Saturday.
The Bushpigs did have reason to celebrate: a fairytale season was unfolding as the wooden spooners of 2000 surged towards a Farrer League flag.
And the coach was right. It was a winning formula. It was a happy club and it was the time of their lives.
"The time for me was really special. I look back and it's the best part of your life. You're going to uni and all you had to worry about was getting a kick, and where you'd get your next beer," Millikan says.
From Ballarat, the 21-year-old was in his first year of a pharmacy degree at Charles Sturt University and joined Rivcoll in O Week.
Good fortune would have it that a star-in-the-making, Nathan McDonald, was on board too, adding to a Bushpigs' team under a new coach.
Matt Carroll had been best-on-ground in The Rock-Yerong Creek's 1998 grand final win, and was coming off a second flag with the Pies in 2000, when he'd kicked 109 goals.
"I'd been an assistant coach at The Rock for two years. I loved where I was and we'd just bloody won a premiership but I'd wanted to coach since I was 18," he says.
He almost went to Ardlethan but Rivcoll's timing proved perfect.
"Michael Irons came and seen me one night, after a raceday. We had a good yarn and it just sounded like there were a few boys hanging around... it caught my attention anyway and it went from that."
There was also a new assistant, Anthony 'George' Carroll. He'd won a Riverina League premiership with Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong (as a full-back) in 1996, and would win four more with the Lions before his career was out.
But 'special' comes to mind for him too when he thinks of the first of his three years at Rivcoll.
"It was like me going to university," says George.
"I never went to uni but that was pretty much how it felt. She was good. We had some good times.. and we had a lot of young blokes who really wanted to play football.
"You give 'em a chance and they stepped up to the plate actually. I was pretty impressed. You get them full of confidence and they'll do anything for you."
On the field, George and Jiffy played side by side up forward. Off it, he enjoyed the leadership role under his cousin. The 'Pigs might have partied but the coaches made them earn it.
"Training was hard. Physical. And mentally, too, we tried to prepare them in different ways," George says.
"A couple of times there we said to them, Well, once someone starts bleeding, we'll finish training. That's how we trained. She was full-on when we done it."
George was the league's leading goalkicker with 69 goals during the home and away season. Jiffy wasn't far behind him, and by the time the finals rolled around, the big forward was confident.
"I don't think the club expected what we were going to do. But I knew we'd go alright," George says.
Collingullie-Ashmont-Kapooka were minor premiers while the Dallas McKelvie-coached Ariah Park-Mirrool had been Rivcoll's nemesis all year.
But a 10-point loss to the Brown Bombers in the qualifying final was no disaster.
It was better than they'd done during the season and, after dispatching Ardlethan the next week, the Bushpigs booked a rematch with APM by belting Shane Lenon's Demons by six goals in the prelim.
"They had our measure all year," McDonald says.
"The first time we played them rolled us by 10 goals and we weren't in the hunt but we got closer and closer by the first final."
Grand final day was tough, contested footy.
Underdogs, the Bushpigs led by four points at quarter time. By half-time, the two Carrolls had a goal each but Liam Fleming was emerging as a grand final star. He'd kicked three and Rivcoll were 17 points up.
Ariah Park-Mirrool star Rob Harper (27 touches and 12 marks) and forward Terry Greenham (five goals) launched a response and they closed to within seven points.
But Fleming had five for Rivcoll by the last break and when Jiffy made it a 20-point margin early in the fourth, the 'Pigs were headed for the prize.
In front of a record crowd ($15,056 gate) they protected their lead for a 10.10 (70) to 9.10 (64) win.
For the coach, it remains among his most memorable achievements.
"It's a massive highlight, it's right up there. With the lads that were involved, they were young and raw, and the football was bloody good," Jiffy says.
"Liam Fleming was just a string bean and he kicked five and had a blinder. And he gave the young crew a good vibe too - he was one of the lads so it was a bit of 'if he can do it, why can't I' scenario."
Millikan (24 possessions) was best-on-ground, ahead of McDonald, who edged him out for Rivcoll's club best-and-fairest in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
""I was runner-up every time. One was pretty close. But he was that little bit special - when you needed someone to do something, he could do it," Millikan says.
"When the going was good, I'd be salivating and trying to break possession records. But Nathan wouldn't be really interested. When Nathan got interested was in the hard stuff, when there was a kick in it."
George Carroll loved playing with the pair of them, sort of.
"James Millikan, he was unbelievable. Nathan McDonald, he just got better and better. He was like an antelope. Blokes would get close to him and he'd just skip away. But he couldn't kick. That was the worst thing about him. You'd come leading out towards him from full-forward and you'd go, gee, I don't know where this is going to go," George says.
McDonald, who would go on to win two Gerald Clear medals in the Farrer League (2003 at Rivcoll and 2008 at TRYC) returns the favour:
"We reckon George kicked about 60 goals and 80 behinds that year. His accuracy was a bit off."
The number that says the most though is 19. Nineteen years later, they remain bonded by an unforgettable year.
"We're all still really close. A lot of us still catch up, a couple are my closest mates so it was the start of some really good friendships," McDonald says.
And they had the right coach.
"Without Matt being the person he is, it probably wouldn't have worked out as well as it did... he's quite a character and brought everyone together."
Millikan agrees. He finished his career with four premierships - one at Wagga Tigers and two late in his career back in Victoria, with Springbank. But 2001 was hard to top.
"I don't think it should be underestimated just how influential 'Jif' was on all of us. He had more experience, an older guy, and the way he taps into younger guys - he was always positive, and that was the vibe you needed at that age," Millikan says.
"I think as you get older and more hardened, in the footy sense, you can probably cop a few sprays more. He still sprayed us but he'd always pat you on the bum after."
Carroll says both the midfielders were huge for Rivcoll in 2001, as was the experienced Wayne Podmore "who was in his prime" and, in a team of younger and smaller bodies, helped his teammates learn to walk tall.
Winning a few games early built confidence and created a buzz. But there was a chemistry that took them all the way.
"There were some great players and it just built over the year," Carroll says.
"They wanted to train, they wanted to get back in the holidays, they wanted to be around, and a big part of that was social.
"But we always looked sharp. We give them a uniform early. They had to wear a tie all year. And I don't know if they responded to that but it panned out okay.
"We enjoyed each other's company. After games, win, lose or draw, we hung around and had a beer together and that was from day dot. That built over the year."
McDonald's only other senior premiership came a decade later at TRYC when his grand final ended after five minutes, hospitalised with a dislocated shoulder and torn hamstring. But 2001 was a joy from start to finish.
"We weren't probably the best side but we didn't have any weaknesses. We were strong across the board. We probably spent more time in the pub than we should have... but I think we won four games at the start of the year so when uni holidays came around, because we'd won and were all getting on, a lot of the kids didn't go home for holidays, they hung around or came back early... it worked in our favour."
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