In 2023 St Bernard’s Old Collegians Football Club will recognise 60 years of existence. Entering the VAFA in 1963 the boys of Essendon have had a storied history.
St Bernard’s remains the only VAFA club to win both the senior and reserve premiership in their inaugural year in the VAFA; a feat they accomplished in their first season in E Section in 1963.
They would go back-to-back in 1964 claiming the D-Section pennant to advance another grade in these formative years. Come 1968 they played off for the C Section Grand Final, only to fall short and in 1970 would be the runners up in B Section but advanced to the VAFA’s top flight in 1971.
Eight seasons it took the Snowdogs to climb the grades. Between 1971 and today, despite being known as ‘the great yo-yo side’ the club hasn’t fallen below Premier B.
Wayne Carey is regarded as the first choice ruckman when the club celebrated the team of the half-century in 2013. A position he made his own at the snakepit between 1983 – 1997.
Speaking on the VAFA Legends podcast, Carey was asked about the honour to be named not only in that particular team, but in consecutive teams of the decades in 1983-1992 and 1993-2002.
“Very proud of that, there’s a lot more cache in getting into that team (50 year side) certainly” said.
“The decade teams, it sort of hit me a little bit later on, you don’t quite realise what such a high standard of amateur football is, especially at A-Grade level. It’s a pretty special thing.”
“Thank God I didn’t think that at the time, I would’ve been full of myself” he joked.
Carey joined the Snowdogs straight out of graduating from the College, player number #233, the first player of the club’s third decade. His debut season of 1983 was ravaged late in the year by an ACL injury which saw him miss the 1984 B-Grade premiership.
The attraction to play footy in the country saw Carey leave the club and in turn would miss the 1987 Premiership. A discussion followed that success with the inaugural captain and club legend Michael Perrett saw him return in 1988 and be part of the 1991 B-Grade title.
The success of the club in the formative years, throughout the 1970’s, and 1980’s could be attributed to the ‘fear’ struck in opposition clubs, and the ‘disdain’ they felt driving out to Essendon.
A ground half-flooded from the creek that runs alongside it, down the bottom of a hill, with a cold wind blowing through, and change rooms that (until recently) were untouched for the opposition.
Carey recalls the tribal nature of the club, and what confronted opponents when they came to the Snakepit.
“The visitors rooms for about 30 years hadn’t been upgraded at all, they were awful, no lighting. Nothing… They were appalling. Not by design. Through neglect.”
“I’ve lived through three sets of club rooms at St Bernard’s, for two of those changes, the visitors rooms were untouched.”
“Now you’ve got a beautiful facility, wonderful showers with instantaneous hot waters, some people say St Bernard’s isn’t as successful because they make opposition feel welcome.”
As the club prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Carey is likely to hold the mantle as the number one ruckman for many more years to come. A club he has time, admiration and love for in giving him the opportunity to enjoy the game of Australian rules football the way that he does.
“It’s great to go back there, proud of the fact that I’m known, proud of the fact that I’m still welcome.”