THE Holy Family School girls Australian rules team, medals hanging around their necks, were given a rock star reception from their fellow students when they arrived at school yesterday morning – a fitting welcome for a group who had just become state champions.
Holy Family won the state final of the annual Paul Kelly Cup, an Australian rules competition for primary students, on Monday afternoon on the hallowed turf of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
They beat Cherrybrook Public School 16-7 in the decider as a group of supporters not only from Bathurst, but consisting of their defeated rivals, cheered them on.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s been absolutely fantastic and just a great way to finish the competition,” Holy Family coach Joe Pucci said.
“It was very intense and they played with a great level of spirit.
“To see the girls at school this morning [Tuesday] and have Kindergarten kids come up and shake their hands – that is something special.”
After Holy Family made it all the way to last year’s decider at the SCG only to miss out on the final win they needed to clinch the crown, Pucci and his 2015 playing group were keen to go one step further.
Six members of last year’s side returned for another shot at the title. Holy Family won at both the Western Region and Sydney West Region tournaments to earn them-selves a place in Monday’s state final, but they still had plenty of work to do once there.
They played three pool games in a 10-minute halves with no interchange format and won all of them.
Holy Family started with a dominant 45-0 win over Radford College, then defeated Bega Valley Public School 34-6 and Hay Public School 16-7.
“The game against Hay was especially tough – Hay is a big catchment area for AFL,” Pucci said.
“I still can’t believe the size and athletic qualities of some of the girls we played against. Our girls are more slight, but heart and determination is something that you can’t coach, and that was the main thing with our side – their heart.
“These are girls that mainly play other sports together of a weekend; none of them play AFL. They play tennis and hockey and netball.”
Finishing first in their pool, Holy Family advanced to the semi-finals where they were drawn to play Yamba Public School.
They won that game 38-0 to book a place alongside the strong Cherrybrook Public School in the grand final.
“It was very exciting. The girls warmed up in front of a huge crowd of Bathurst supporters, but they had other schools cheering them on as well. They were just so impressed with the way the girls played,” Pucci said.
“We missed a lot of chances [in the grand final], but a majority of the game was played in our forward line.
“It was a tough game with high level skills, and it was great to see the two best teams playing in the grand final.
“The girls played to their game plan – you couldn’t have asked for a better final.”
When the final whistle sounded, Holy Family were 16-7 victors and declared the 2015 Paul Kelly Cup winners.