Penno Still Flying the Flag after 50 years

Club supporter Judy Jack hoists the Penno flag
at the 2018 Reserves grand final

by Rod Gillett

“Pennant Hills is one of the best suburban footy clubs in Australia” proclaimed Channel 7 AFL commentator Luke Darcy in a video tribute featuring him and co-commentators Wayne Carey and Hamish McLaughlin and inimitable Penno stalwart, Mathew Gray, shown at the club’s 50th year celebrations last Saturday (23 July 2022) at the Epping Club.

Luke Darcy had done his research and reeled off some of the names of the great players produced by Penno that had an impact in the VFL/AFL foremost of whom are St Kilda champion Lenny Hayes, Sydney Swans 2021 premiership stars Kieran Jack and Jarrad McVeigh, and current GWS Giants coach and former Essendon star Mark McVeigh as well as current players Braeden Campbell (Swans), and Kieran Briggs and James Peatling (Giants).

The Pennants Hills Australian Football Club was formed in 1971 and entered the newly created third division made up of teams from Western Suburbs, East Sydney, and Balmain along with other fledgling clubs namely St Ives, Penshurst and Blacktown.

A junior club had been formed in the district in 1966 and provided the platform for players for the senior club which it continues to do along with the Westbook and Hornsby junior clubs.

The following year Pennant Hills moved into second division and finished fourth. In 1975, after finishing runner-up to Combined Services, Penno won its first flag – and again in 1976.

For the 1977 season Pennant Hills took the place of the disbanded South Sydney, in first division.

In its first game in the senior division, the club recorded an historic 29-point victory over foundation club, North Shore, at North Sydney Oval.

The rapid rise of Pennant Hills continued when it won its way into the grand final in 1983 under former Essendon player Pat “Boots” Wellington, but were overwhelmed by an East Sydney outfit, going down on a soggy Sydney Showground, 5-8 (38) to Easts 8-8 (56).

Following a series of unsuccessful grand final appearances in 1995, 1996 and 1998, Penno finally broke through for its maiden premiership in first division in 2000 over arch northside rival, North Shore, 15-10 (100) to 10-7 (67).

Pennant Hills have subsequently won senior premierships in 2006, 2008 and 2015 – ironically, all ‘Hills’ derbies against East Coast Eagles – and then again in 2017 over Sydney University.

The 2015 premiership was a major triumph according to immediate past club president Phil Hare (2014-2021). “It was unbelievably unexpected”, Phil told me in an interview for this article. “East Coast had come back into the Sydney competition from the NEAFL and had only lost one game (prior to the grand final) for the year and had a very talented list. However, things just went our way”.

“2017 was a very special day. We came from fifth to make the grand final and faced red-hot favourites, Sydney Uni; we had a young team including current Giants Kieran Briggs and James Peatling, and we just never gave in. It was made special by the league having club stalwart (the late) Gus McKernan, who was terminally ill at the time, to present the premiership medallions”, said Phil.

When asked what’s in the secret sauce that has made Pennant Hills a successful club, Phil Hare tells me that the club thinks about every team equally and all players, both men and women, are valued regardless of what grade they play in and what their level of ability.

“Most of our players are from the district or are their friends. They stick with us, and continue to play with us even if they no longer live in the hills, “ Phil told me. “Our club has become inter-generational, and we now have the sons and daughters of former players playing with us.”

This season Pennant Hills is fielding eleven teams in men’s and women’s grades. In 2012 the club only fielded three teams – seniors, reserves and Under 19s.

Pennant Hills have made their home at Cherrybrook (which has a two full-sized ovals) since 2011 after beginning at the charming Ern Holmes Oval, which is still used for junior football.

These recently constructed club rooms at Mike Kenny Oval have provided a good vantage point to watch games of football on either oval and to meet and enjoy conviviality post-match. Funding has recently been secured to add female dressing rooms underneath.

The club’s 50th anniversary attracted over 200 former players, coaches, officials, and supporters to the function last weekend. A highlight was the attendance of the club’s first senior captain-coach Kerry James, and former player and president, local pharmacist Ken MacRae, who up until his retirement provided the club with first-aid and medical supplies – at no cost!

The three original players from the 1971 team – Kerry James, Glen Saunders and Danny Cater – cut the cake to mark the celebratory occasion.

The club also announced the selection of the Team of the Second 25 years 1996-2001, after having previously announced the team of the first 25 years back in 1995.

The team is as follows:

Full back line: Sebastian Parker, Lloyd Shepherd, Jason Clarke

Half back line: Barnaby Howarth, Kieran Wright, Alastair Richardson

Centre line: Matthew Carey (capt), Charlie Richardson, Peter Carey

Half forward line: Anthony Brawn (vice capt), Peter Bennett, Theo Moraitis

Full forward line: Tim Nunan, Laine Spencer, Justin Barratt

Ruck: Chris Yard, Ranga Ediriwickrama, Alex Goodall

I/change: Tom Angel, Damian Dell’Aquila, Matt Thomas, Shaun Jones,

Emerg: Aaron Crisfield, Sam Widmer, Stephen Wray, Nick Hey, Chris Mahar, Greg Byrne, Nick Campbell

Coach: Michael Cousens

Manager: Ian Parker

(Acknowledgement to Ian Parker and John Acheson with information and photos)