Nagle the hero
A super-human effort from legend Darren Nagle was the cornerstone of a sensational victory for the mighty Moonee Valley.
This premiership completed an unprecedented hat-trick of flags for our First Eleven.
When Greg Peters lost the toss, Moonee Valley found itself, for the first time in 10 seasons, without the luxury of batting first in a Luscombe Shield Grand Final. The game started with the usual caution and commitment needed to win these sorts of games, and the Valleys had to wait for 10 overs before they tasted their first success. Against the run of play, Gordon swung lustily at an Ian Denny outswinger and spooned a simple catch to the grateful Michael Harvey.
In contrast to Gordon's lack of application, Haigh and McMullin served Taylors Lakes with surety and batted until well beyond the tea interval. At 86, and with only the one breakthrough, the Valley bowlers seemed to be up against it. But, as often happens in cricket and especially in finals, a game can turn very quickly.
Firstly, the stubborn Haigh presented Michael Harvey with his second catch, courtesy of a Paul Nicol leg cutter which induced a simple edge. Next, our opposition's most prolific run-scorer, Thorley, came and went in the twinkling of an eye. After an unconvincing mishit to get off the mark first ball, he followed that with a rather ambitious second ball back foot drive off the wily leg spin of Ian Denny. The result was a thin edge and a third Mick Harvey catch. In the next over, the classy McMullin was dismissed by Paul Nicol, via the safe hands of Greg Peters. Taylors Lakes was suddenly in trouble at 4 for 87.
Neuwett and Collins took the initiative and scored freely in a partnership of 50, made in good time. But just as they had arrived at the crease together, they departed together, in quick succession. First Neuwett, caught by Craig Brown off Darren Nagle and then Collins in the next over, predictably lofting Denny to deep mid wicket where a very reliable Paul Nicol, having a great day, took a crucial catch.
Hojnik and Just batted well and began to restore the situation for the Lakers. Their initial caution was replaced by assertion until near stumps, and the score had escalated to 186. Enter Moonee Valley's equivalent to a young Doug Walters, Matt Gauci. He didn't disappoint either, bowling Hojnik in the final over. At stumps, Taylors Lakes was 7 for 186.
The next day was quite warm and the Valleys were optimistic of quick successes and the chase of a small target.
This seemed a real possibility when Darren Nagle picked up two cheap wickets: Initially snaring the wicket of Just caught behind by Harvey, and following up with a caught and bowled to get rid of the dangerous Campbell. At 203 and only one wicket to get, the Valleys were looking good!
However, Long was joined by his captain Irving and the pair batted sensibly and carefully in a manner that just gave the Moonee Valley bowlers no opportunity. Both players valued their wicket and gave nothing away. Initially they were cautious and runs were hard to get, but soon both players were looking very comfortable.
They picked their shots and placed the ball so well, that the Valleys were starting to get worried. This partnership was causing serious concern for the Valley skipper Greg Peters, and the anxiety of the increasing target threatened to sap the morale of the Valley boys.
Without warning or reason, Long lashed out at Nagle and skied a simple catch to Jim Polonidis at mid on.
Thankfully the innings was over but not before Taylors Lakes had advanced their score to 257. After an early tea, the Valley reply began. Darren Nagle, fresh from an invigorating 32-over spell was called upon to open the innings with Sandro Capocchi. The pair withstood an aggressive start from the Lakes' bowlers and added 23 before Sandro was caught at second slip attempting to drive Campbell through the covers.
The hard-working Craig Brown joined Nagle but lasted only one over before being adjudged LBW to Gordon. Moonee Valley was in trouble, at 2 for 24. With two hours of the day remaining, it was clear that this was now the most critical time of the match. If Taylors Lakes could claim two or three more wickets tonight, it would probably be able to set itself up into an unbeatable position. Enter veteran Warwick Nolan to join Nagle. The pair applied themselves in the way that we have become accustomed to.
Not only did the pair survive the evening, they wrested control of the match away from the opposition. With clever placement and solid defence, the pair worked together superbly, taking the score to 73 overnight.
Taylors Lakes was clearly rattled by the time stumps were drawn.
On the third day the trend continued. Nolan took the attack to the Lakers, scoring 22 of the 25 runs scored in the first hour. When he was dismissed by the consistent Irving and his replacement Michael Harvey lost his wicket to an LBW decision, the Valleys had slipped to 4 for 98. The game was at the crossroads again.
A masterful innings came from Ian Denny in the next hour. He and Nagle added a further 56 runs, with the courageous Denny contributing 39 of those. He attacked at every opportunity and caused much anguish for the Taylors Lakes leadership. His departure, via an excellent outfield catch by McMullin, triggered jubilant celebrations from all the opposition players - who could sense victory. The new bat was skipper Greg Peters.
As in previous partnerships, Darren Nagle was able to immediately blend with his team-mate and together the pair controlled the match for Moonee Valley. Always confident and always positive, they took the score to 170 at tea. Beyond the interval, the determination continued until Peters was yorked with the score exactly at 200.
The consistent Mark Wakeling joined Nagle and was unlucky to be caught in the gully after getting a very healthy piece of a square cut.
At 7 for 210, all eyes turned to Nagle to carry us through, but there was still some serious work to be done. He was joined by first year player Matt Gauci, who had begun the season in the Fourth XI. Here he was now, in a Luscombe Shield grand final. Young Matt is a free-flowing striker of the ball and there was some anxiety about how he should be encouraged to play in this situation.
The pre-game team plan was that Matt should get out there and go after the bowling. If he should succeed, it could win the game for us. However, at this stage of the match the cost of failure would be enormous and there was immense tension.
Now, a young player could be forgiven for thinking that he was under some sort of pressure here - it being a Grand Final and all! However, The Gauch and Spud conferred at the wicket and then knuckled down to the task of gathering these last 48 runs like it was as simple as walking down to the milk bar to buy a newspaper.
When individuals have their best-ever day playing cricket, it is likely that they probably don't even realise it at the time. After all, playing for Moonee Valley is nothing more than a mere social pastime with a bat and a ball played on a suburban oval. It is not until years later that we realise that a particular performance on a particular day was absolutely remarkable and that a specific performance was, in fact, destined to be the highlight of a player's career. That is to say, your best-ever day.
It is folklore now how Matt Gauci carved up that Taylors Lakes attack on that sunny March afternoon and was left unbeaten on 39 when the flag was won with a lofted drive into a vacant cover boundary fence. Forty-five minutes of champagne batting and the Valleys were premiers again - three in a row.
Matt Gauci had had his best-ever day. He just doesn't know it yet. Ask him in 10 years time and chances are he will have allowed himself the luxury of acknowledging how special this day, and his part in it, was. In the meantime, the more experienced fraternity of Peters, Nolan, Denny and Harvey will smile knowingly when recalling that afternoon.
Disguised behind the euphoria of it all, victory is hard-earned. There were many heroes.
The Gauch's brilliant innings, Ian Denny's influence over team-mates and opposition alike, ‘Viv’ Nolan's cool approach to crisis management, Paul Nicol's crucial contribution after being under some pressure after the semi-final and Michael Harvey's continued application and dedication behind the stumps, broken finger and all.
But all the accolades for this triumph belong to the Big Fella! The only word suitable to describe Darren Nagle's performance is mighty. A mighty performance!
For the record, Spud's contribution began with a leisurely seven hours in the field. While he was doing that, he bowled a lazy 31 overs, took the most wickets and surrendered the 10 minute break between innings to pad up so that he could open the Moonee Valley innings. As if this was not already enough, the big bloke batted through the next two days for six and a half hours, cobbled partnerships together with eight team-mates, top scored and was still there at the finish! What a guy! For a champion with many highlights in his career, this must surely rank way up there.
Less conspicuously however, the victory revealed our other Moonee Valley hero. The win brought success to yet another Greg Peters-led team. Another feather in an already feather-infested hat for the Cockroach.
A shrewd tactician, a brave leader and a fiercely loyal team-mate, Greg's legacy is now the benchmark. His retirement as captain of a team that never missed the finals in his nine seasons at the helm, and returned him five premierships, sets a yardstick for the man courageous enough to accept the challenge of being his successor.
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