By: Darren Lewis
Heathcote endured a very tough 2000’s after the heady 1990’s, tumbling down the ladder and being on the end of some terrible hidings. For ten years the Saints struggled but the appointment of Danny O’Bree in 2004 saw the club arrest its slump. There would be a number of finals appearances but the Saints faithful craved another flag. The appointment of Alistair Meldrum in 2007 would see the Saints progress to the semi final and then broke through for a grand final appearance the next year. Colbinabbin would prove too strong but the Saints were back in contention. Meldrum was joined by John Harley and these two coaches would oversee a powerful Saints combination.
Back From the Abyss
The HDFL would return to an eight team competition with the withdrawal of Broadford, a club that had With the disappointment of losing the grand final still with the Saints they embarked on an extensive pre-season program and were raring to go when the first round finally arrived.
An opening round 86-point demolition of Huntly was the perfect start to the season but the club was forced to forfeit its Thirds match in a major concern. Except for a mistake-ridden loss to Elmore the Saints enjoyed a strong start to the season with Alistair Meldrum proving dangerous in front of goals. In the round four match against LBU he booted nine goals to ensure victory.
Round seven saw the Saints take on reigning premiers Colbinabbin who had enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season. It was a match that saw the two ladder leaders slug it out in the first half with both teams throwing everything into the contest. Luke Bell was outstanding in defence for the whole match, repelling countless Colbo forward thrusts. At half time Heathcote led by twenty points but then a tremendous 6.7 third term effort ensured the Saints of victory. The victory was enjoyed by the 1989 premiership players who were back to celebrate twenty years of their flag success.
Finishing the first round of matches with only the one defeat, an imposing performance against Huntly in round eight showed the Saints were on the march. Brent Jacques (10 goals) and Lech Featherstone (8 goals) had a day out as the Saints thrashed the Hawks by 116 points. However, just as they looked invincible the Saints lowered their colours in a surprise loss to Elmore for the second time in the season.
Putting that hiccup behind them the Saints powered to the finals with confidence, including an impressive victory over finals hopeful North Bendigo. The Bulldogs had big forward Aaron James on fire, but with the play of Marc Millard a feature the Saints kept their winning run intact. The top of the table clash with Colbinabbin saw the two power teams slog it out in a tight and thrilling contest, but on this occasion it would be the reigning premiers that triumphed. From that point the Saints won their way to the finals and finished in second place behind the dominant Colbinabbin combination.
Windy conditions made for a challenging 2nd semi-final clash at Elmore between Heathcote and Colbinabbin, but these two champion teams gave the large crowd a fantastic contest. Neither team could establish a clear advantage, but with Marc Millard dominating around the packs and Chad Neilson a rock in defence, the Saints began to inch ahead. Taking a fourteen point lead into the final term the Saints withstood countless Colbinabbin attacks, and held on to win by twelve points, 14.13-97 to 13.7-85.
A huge crowd piled into the Huntly ground to watch the two best sides all year play for the premiership cup. It appeared to be the Saints day when the two teams walked into the rooms at half time, holding a 32-point lead. Colbinabbin had other ideas and came out in the third term with a mission, slamming on nine goals in an unbelievable quarter of football. Coach Alistair Meldrum was taken off the field late in the term with a knee injury and the Saints now faced a great challenge. With his knee bandaged Meldrum delivered an inspirational speech to his players, and his players responded.
It was a thrilling last quarter with regular lead changes, but it would be the Saints that were in front when the final siren blew. The ground erupted as the Saints faithful ran out onto the ground as the players celebrated their drought-breaking victory. After the euphoria had settled down the club readied itself to find a coach to replace Meldrum who had indicated he would be unable to commit to the job in 2010.