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Sharing their stories: Old Collegian sporting stars return to inspire students

Posted May 1, 2019.

Sharing their stories: Old Collegian sporting stars return to inspire students

On the evening of Wednesday 24 April 2019, the school was blessed to have four Old Collegians, who have ascended to high levels of their sports, return to be involved in a ‘sport intensive’, a first-time initiative, which involved the school’s senior footballers, both female and male, the senior netballers, and the teams’ respective coaches. The session was the brainchild of Head of Sport, Tom Nash, Senior Boys Football coach, Brad Macgowan, and Senior Girls Netball coach, Kirsty Walsh. It is with great satisfaction that one can say it was an unqualified success.

After an introduction by Tom Nash in the Sewell Pavilion, the three distinct groups broke away for different sessions with their coaching panels. The netballers headed straight for the wonderfully refurbished gym and the outside netball courts to be overseen by Kirsty Walsh, Jess Macgowan, Ruby Parry, Tessa Armstrong, Ali Bilney, Melanie Allen and Kate McMahon; the male footballers went to a practical session with Shaune Moloney and the aforementioned Tom Nash on the oval, still one of the best sporting grounds in Ballarat and beyond; and the female footballers experienced a strategy session hosted by Brad Macgowan, a man of extensive experience and qualification, with an emphasis on ball movement and defending. Later, the boys would undertake the strategy session and the girls would put the theory into practice, training until darkness had descended across the oval, with coaches Andrew Stewart, Paul Stephens, Chiara Stebbing, and Wynona Goldsworthy in toe.

The special guests in the form of the four Old Collegians joined the players for dinner and there was undoubtedly an air of excitement in the dining hall as College royalty was present.

One guest was Patrick Barber. Patrick left school in 2010, having entered Ballarat Clarendon College in 2009 from Pimpinio, north of Horsham. Tom Nash was enormously keen to get Pat back, rating him very highly as a school sportsperson. Indeed, there remains substantial evidence to support that mighty claim. Pat won the North Ballarat Rebels Best-and-Fairest in 2010; he was on the North Ballarat Roosters VFL list once he had left school; and he also played for St Albans in the Geelong Football League. Patrick applied himself to the academic side when at school and subsequently studied architecture and construction management at Deakin University. He is now working for Lyons Construction, a company, established in 1929 and based in Geelong.

Another guest was Matthew Dea, originally from Mildura, who arrived at Ballarat Clarendon College in 2008 with a significant reputation as a basketballer. Matthew was drafted to the AFL’s Richmond Football Club with Pick #44 in 2009 and then became a top-up player at Essendon in 2016 as a result of the infamous difficulties involving performance-enhancing drugs faced at that club. Matthew remains at Essendon where he is highly regarded as a defender, leader, and person.

Always embraced at the school is Tony Lockyer, a Ballarat local, who arrived at Ballarat Clarendon College, a year later than Dea. Tony went on to play just short of 90 games for VFL side North Ballarat Roosters, co-captaining the team in its final year. Tony is currently assistant coach at Sebastopol Football Club in the Ballarat Football League and there is no doubt that his influence has been part of that side’s resurgence over the last two years. Tony is well-known in the Ballarat community and immensely respected in numerous quarters.

Finally, Sophie Alexander joined the evening. Also entering Clarendon in 2009, Sophie, originally from Horsham, played senior women’s basketball for the Ballarat Rush in the SEABL. She then returned to football, playing for Redan in the BFL, the Eastern Devils in Melbourne, and for Collingwood in the VFLW. Substantial recognition also came with selection in the 2018 VFLW Team of the Year. Sophie was recruited by Collingwood’s AFLW side in 2018 becoming the first BCC player to ascend to that level. In the first AFLW game for 2019, Alexander immediately stamped her authority on the competition, swinging onto her penetrating right boot to kick the opening goal from 50 metres out.

After dinner, for a period of fifty minutes, the revered Old Collegians spoke to the current senior sportswomen and sportsmen, addressing their time at school and beyond. They spoke about sport and, more importantly, they spoke about life.

Patrick had attended school in Horsham before coming to Clarendon. He described his former self as being a ‘class clown’ and initially, when he arrived, he experienced challenges being away from home and adapting to the intensity in the classroom. Through application, Patrick gradually came to terms with what was required. Much self-belief stemmed from his sporting pursuits. Patrick was a very good cricketer for the school. He famously made a century for the 2nd XI in a T20 game at Victoria Park. He laughed at the belief that he might have been a tad fortunate in that he was dropped four times on the way to the feat, but it should also be said that one makes one’s own luck. Of greater note was the fact that Patrick made 23*, and had bowling figures of 6- 0- 26- 1, in the Lord’s Taverners Grand Final, a now-defunct competition to determine the best school cricket team in the state, against Shepparton’s Notre Dame in December 2009. Patrick also had exceptionally fond recollections of playing football for the school, the 2009 and 2010 BAS Grand Finals, both classic clashes, being notable memories. His mother and father, Leeann and Robin, would regularly travel from home to Ballarat to watch their son play, cherishing his on-field exploits and achievements.

Matthew Dea would never have predicted that he would be returning to the school having become a professional footballer. He had not played much football as a youngster at all, although he had been involved in the BCC 1st XVIII towards the end of the 2008 season. It was Matthew’s performance in the 2009 final against St Patrick’s College which arguably changed his life. The Richmond Football Club, interested in possibly selecting a good friend of Matthew’s, who was also at Clarendon, had a presence at the game. Matthew was swung from defence to attack in the second half and had a huge influence on the contest, his marking being particularly of note. Since leaving Richmond, Matthew has been a revelation at Essendon, although he described the club as being like a ‘morgue’ when he first arrived, a result of the supplements scandal. Matthew was so positive when reflecting on his time playing sport for the school, reminiscing about the anticipation prior to the 2009 final, with students, some of whom he had never met, approaching him and wishing him all the best. In fact, Matthew categorically said that these were his most valued sporting memories. He spoke of the ‘innocence’ of school sport, something which the highest level lacks. Powerful messages were also sent when Matthew rated singing with the Boys Boarding House Choir, a unique experience indeed, as one of his great memories.

Tony Lockyer was initially reluctant to play cricket for the school, yet he became a central member of a successful team which won a famous BAS 1st XI Grand Final against a seemingly invincible and start-studded St Patrick’s College in 2009. He was also herculean in his football pursuits for the school. Tony had not had any extensive experience with school sport prior to his arrival and his passions rested with his local clubs. Now, two of his most treasured possessions remain his BCC 1st XI Cricket cap and his BCC 1st XVIII Football jumper. This rare character, now 26 years of age, could not hide his positive sentiments when discussing the school and he was effusive in his praise for the place. Tony provided fascinating insights into his time North Ballarat Roosters; he was a semi-professional in that he had his work outside football as well his football commitments. A Roosters teammate of his, Orren Stephenson, who also played at AFL level, was categorical in asserting that the life of a semi-professional footballer was more demanding than that of a professional footballer. Tony agreed as there was rarely any respite from obligations. It is no surprise that Tony has had a gargantuan impact upon returning to Sebastopol Football Club, the club of his youth. The club is kicking goals on field and off. The emphasis on getting people of quality, as opposed to footballers of quality, has paid massive dividends.

Sophie Alexander still remembers her very first football training at the school. It was at the end of Term I in 2009; she had entered Cairns House at year’s start, but she had been such a quiet person. When her marking and kicking were witnessed, observers almost went into a catatonic state. Sophie had also been very good netballer and basketballer, playing both sports for the school, but it had been her football prowess which had set her apart from the rest. Sophie was urged to relate the story of the glorious 2009 Senior Girls Football Grand Final, played on the SPC Hill Oval against the favourite, Loreto College, and her stunning role in the victory, a kick from 50m out which sealed the result in Clarendon’s favour in the dying seconds. In a media photo of a Collingwood session of recent times, players were asked to wear a jumper from their past, the jumper which meant the most to them. Sophie chose to wear her #17 College jumper; how telling this was. The support given to the Clarendon sport teams by the community stood strong in Soph’s mind.

The presentation took an even more dramatic turn when Sophie honestly and openly addressed her mental health battles. She vividly described what her life was like for a number of years and the depths to which she had sunk. No one had been aware of the challenges Sophie had been facing, not even her parents. Yet, it was thoughts of Sophie’s family which pulled her back from the edge. She proceeded to engage with her family, assistance was sought and she now manages her condition well.

It was inspiring then when Matthew Dea, without prompting, openly praised Sophie for the courage she has shown in speaking about her battles. Matthew was kind, supportive, and genuine; one footballer supporting another; one Old Collegian supporting another. Matthew added that the AFL was becoming increasingly aware of matters relating to mental health and clubs, including Essendon, were working on dealing with these issues. Patrick, for whom sport has been such a significant part of his life, was then candid about his own struggles as injuries had taken a toll and had prevented him from doing what he loved. Patrick was indebted to his partner, who is a psychologist, for assisting him when required. Tony also was adamant that talking with people was essential when facing mental hardship.

The willingness of the Old Collegians to return and, in some cases, travel extensive distances to attend the ‘sport intensive’ session must be acknowledged.

The presence of the Old Collegians at dinner and their desire to engage with people, old and new, were illustrative of their decency and warmth.

Their honesty, wisdom, openness, humility, selflessness, articulate natures, and sense of appreciation were clear features of their presentations.

What fine people these four were and still are!

The evening led to such a sense of satisfaction, achievement, and pride for those present.

The staff in attendance were enormously impressed with the guests and there was much talk in both boarding houses after the evening.

To have had such an impact on younger people and older people alike, whom the Old Collegians had never met, was a great feat.

Sometimes we do need to stop, consider, and realise that we are blessed to be involved with amongst the best humanity has to offer.

Written by James Couzens.