Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tragedy on the road to Victory

IT was the personal tragedy that cast a dark shadow over a great team triumph.

Campbelltown Eagles five- eighth Michael Stevens produced the game of his career last Sunday in his side’s Group 6 grand final win over Thirlmere only hours after finding his younger brother Ben had taken his own life.

In an incredible show of courage, Stevens 24, somehow found the inner strength to play in the decider despite being grief-stricken from his 20-year-old brother’s suicide.

Stevens phoned his coach Richard Barnes last Sunday morning to tell him of the family tragedy before adding:
‘‘I still want to play. Ben would want me to play.’’

Barnes claimed the phone call instantly put the grand final into perspective.

‘‘It suddenly didn’t mean as much,’’Barnes said.

‘‘Michael was the one who found Ben. For him to ring me up and break the news — it was absolutely shattering.

‘‘It really put the game into perspective.

‘‘I certainly didn’t expect him to play. But Michael said he had spoken to his family and still wanted to because his brother would have wanted him to. You just knew there was no way he wasn’t going to be there.’’

While a couple of other players in the team who were close mates with Ben knew of the tragedy, the news was kept from the rest of the players until after the game.

‘‘Our captain (John De Silva) knew as well because I wanted him to make sure he looked after Michael during the game,’’Barnes said.

‘‘But I didn’t need to worry. Michael’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached. He left everyone in his wake. He scored two tries, set up another and kicked two 40-20s. He was in everything.’’

Eagles development and coaching coordinator Daniel Draper said the news filtered around the club quickly after the game.

‘‘There was a lot of hugging and plenty of tears among the boys,’’Draper said.
‘‘Ben played the past couple of seasons with the Kangaroos here in Campbelltown but prior to that he was at this club. If he wasn’t playing, he was always at our games watching and being Michael’s younger brother — everyone knew him.

‘‘Winning the grand final was great but it certainly cast a real shadow over things.’’

■WHILE the official an-nouncement may take several weeks, the Eagles undefeated season will win them the coveted Clayton Cup for the most successful club in country footy. No other team in the bush has a comparable record.

They dominated the decider like they dominated most games during the season, leading Thirlmere 26-0 at halftime before cruising to a 44-10 win.

Draper said leaving the Wests A-Grade competition and playing in Group 6 had re-invigorated rugby league in the Campbelltown region.

‘‘It’s been great for the game in this area,’’he said.

‘‘It’s been a bit of a battle to get here (in Group 6) but it’s been the best thing that ever happened. It’s made a huge difference to our crowds and the interest in rugby league in the area.’’

It was only last season the Eagles were refused per-mission to play or train on their own home ground after breaking away completely from the Wests A-Grade competition.

‘‘We played our home games at Camden but thankfully, we were allowed back in Campbelltown this season,’’
Draper said.

Coach Richard Barnes said a Clayton Cup win would top off a wonderful season.
‘‘Yeah, the possibility of winning it has been spoken about but we don’t know anything at this stage. It would be a fabulous honour if we were to win it,’’he said.

Article from Sunday Telegraph by BARRY TOOHEY

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