Millicent’s Clint Gallio and East Gambier’s Tenille Gray are the toast of the Western Border football and netball world after a joyful presentations ceremony at McDonald Park on Sunday.
The star performers rose to the top of a pair of thrilling medal counts for the biggest individual prizes in the respective competitions.
Gallio is no stranger to receiving special awards, but it was the first time he wore the prestigious Brian Hennessy Medal around his neck.
The playing coach was one of three Saints in the race with captain Jacob Carger and star forward Gene Robinson, while West Gambier’s Lawry Bradley-Brown and South Gambier’s Brett O’Neil were also in the thick of the action.
Demons’ midfielder O’Neil raced out of the blocks to compile almost double the amount of points of his nearest rival after the first five rounds.
However, he only received one more vote for the rest of the count due to injury which allowed the chasing pack to close in with six players separated by just two votes at one stage. O’Neil held the lead until round 12 when Gallio made his move.
However, fellow Saints’ Robinson and Carger also enjoyed stints at the top of the leaderboard as the climax approached. In the end a maximum haul of votes in the final-round win against East Gambier was enough for Gallio to be crowned the 2021 Brian Hennessy Medalist.
He finished with a tally of 17 votes, two more than runner-up Carger, while Robinson and Bradley-Brown shared the final step of the podium with 14.
Gallio said it was a lovely feeling to be named the winner after a taxing year guiding the Saints to a grand final berth.
“You play team sport to get team success, but it was nice to be recognised and rewarded like that. The Hennessy Medal is special so it is a bit of a reward for the hard work I put in I guess,” he said.
Having been an unlucky player injury wise, Gallio said his ability to stay on the park and play consistent footy each week pushed him towards the top.
“It is the first time in the Western Border I have put a full season together and it is probably one of my most consistent years,” he said.
“The body is feeling very good and it is off the back of a lot of hard work in my rehab from my knee injury which has paid off.”
For Gray it was the continuation of her dominant stranglehold of the WBNA best and fairest award.
The skillful star has been unstoppable underneath the Bulldogs’ goal ring for many years, but had to overcome friendly competition from within to score the hat-trick.
After the opening rounds East trio Gray, Lisa Fyfe and Emily Hunter had already gapped the field and were only separated by a maximum of two votes as they jostled for the lead throughout the medal count. With one round to go all three were in the mix with Fyfe and Gray tied on 17 votes, while Hunter was one big game away on 15.
A solid performance against Millicent in the final round was enough for Gray to leapfrog Fyfe and snatch the medal by one vote with a total of 19.
Gray admitted she did not expect to complete a threepeat of best and fairest wins after the entire East side compiled such a strong season to finish on top of the ladder.
“I was surprised because we had such a good team, so I thought a few of us might steal a few votes off of each other. I did not expect to win at all, so it was a nice surprise,” she said.
The 2021 season has been a big one for the shooter, who has travelled up and down from Adelaide countless times to keep training and playing for the Bulldogs.
In addition to the relentless commitment amidst the COVID chaos, Gray said she also had to lift her game to keep up with her talented team mates in her “trickiest” best and fairest season yet.
“It took me a while to adapt with travelling down (from Adelaide) and I did not train with the girls until halfway through the season,” she said.
“It took a while to settle in and then with COVID to play consistency was difficult for everyone.
“When you play with good players you want to naturally improve your game and do everything you can to play your spot. I think this has definitely been the trickiest of the three.”
Despite achieving almost every individual WBNA award possible, one trophy remains incomplete and Gray believes 2021 could be the year she and her East team mates get their hands on the premiership cup.
“It is always a privilege (to be named best and fairest) but I am really focused on the game this weekend. Every year we have gone in not expecting to win and our goal is to challenge Millicent focussing too much on them,” she said.
“But we have beaten them and go into the final with favourites which gives us a lot of confidence and we are not worried like in previous years.
“Hopefully we can win and it will be a nice little cherry on top.”