After two years of COVID-19 interruptions, a sense of normality returned in 2022 with most south-west sporting events proceeding as scheduled.
There was no shortage of incredible individual and team performances this year, across a plethora of sports in the region.
The Standard has undertaken the near-impossible task of narrowing these achievements into a top-10 south-west sporting moments of 2022 list.
1. Mermaids’ Big V championship
It’s hard to go past Warrnambool Mermaids’ championship in Big V division one as the number one south-west sporting moment in 2022.
Led by Lee Primmer, a Mermaids’ roster with the perfect blend of youth and experience, time-and-time-again overcame injury and illness before sweeping Sherbrooke 2-0 in the grand-final series.
Star veteran Katie O’Keefe led the way for the side, named the grand final MVP and competition’s defensive player of the year, as the Mermaids secured another championship, their third since 2016.
2. Ciaron Maher wins sixth Grand Annual Steeplechase
In a year where he won the Melbourne Cup, Winslow-raised trainer Ciaron Maher claimed his sixth Grand Annual Steeplechase victory thanks to Heberite.
The win saw Maher, who trains in partnership with David Eustace, become the most successful trainer in the Warrnambool race’s 150-year history.
“It feels the same every time – it’s the best feeling in the world,” he said.
3. South Warrnambool’s drought-breaking flag
A five-goal win over Cobden in the Hampden league grand final saw South Warrnambool clinch its first open grade netball trophy in 32 years.
The flag capped off a stellar year for the Roosters, who also finished minor premiers under first-year coach Will Jamison.
Roosters midcourter Isabelle Rea was adjudged best-on-court in the decider.
4. Finn O’Sullivan awarded Kevin Sheehan Medal
Koroit teenager Finn O’Sullivan had his talents recognised on the national stage when he was awarded the Kevin Sheehan Medal while playing for Vic Country in July.
The medal honours the best player in the AFL under 16 division one national championships, during which O’Sullivan averaged 27.3 disposals and 5.3 clearances across three games.
The Saints midfielder, who attends Xavier College in Melbourne, was also named captain of the All-Australian under 16 football team.
5. Koroit wins seventh-straight premiership
The most dominant team in Hampden league history was once again a class above, as Koroit claimed a remarkable seventh-straight senior football premiership.
The Saints defeated North Warrnambool Eagles 45-29 in the decider at Reid Oval, with league leading goal-kicker Sam Dobson and Dylan McCutcheon awarded best-on-ground medals.
What made the win even more impressive was that it was a first premiership for nine of Koroit’s grand-final 21.
The flag was coach Chris McLaren’s fourth as Koroit coach.
6. Nirranda netball, football flag double
There’s something in the water at Nirranda because the farming community along the Great Ocean Road continues to punch well above its weight.
This year, the Blues claimed both the A grade netball and senior football premierships in imperious fashion.
The netballers went the entire year undefeated, culminating in a 45-39 win over Merrivale in the decider.
Jo Couch was unstoppable all campaign, claiming her second Wilma Wallace Medal, with 43 of a possible 54 votes.
The footballers lost just one game for the year and saved their best performance for last, trouncing Panmure 118-31.
Coach Brayden Harkness and midfielder Danny Craven were awarded the best-on-ground medals.
7. Milly Illingworth picked in World Cup squad
Port Campbell’s Milly Illingworth took major strides in her journey to professional cricket, earning selection in Australia’s under 19 World Cup squad to play in South Africa early next year.
The Emmanuel College student was picked off the back of a strong national championships campaign in December where the quick bowler snared nine wickets from seven matches, at an average of 9.33, for Vic Country.
8. Grace Kelly’s pair of national silver medals
A haul of two silver medals at the Australian Athletics championships in April was a sure sign of things to come for Warrnambool sprinter Grace Kelly.
The teenager, aged 15 at the time, finished runner-up in the under 17 100-metre and 200m finals, after just missing out on a medal in the 200m distance the previous year.
9. Russells Creek wins fourth flag in five years
Russells Creek cemented its spot as one of the Warrnambool and District Cricket Association’s greatest teams when it won its fourth premiership in five years.
The Creekers accounted for North Warrnambool Eels by 79 runs, with Cam Williams (45 runs), James Elford (3-15) and Craig Britten (3-26) the standouts for the victors.
10. Layla Watson back-to-back Warrnambool Gifts
Grassmere teenager Layla Watson surprised herself when she claimed her second consecutive Warrnambool Gift 120-metre sprint win in December.
The Warrnambool College student started from the front-marker of 8.5 metres at Reid Oval and was in a photo-finish with runner-up, Canberra’s Nicole Berridge.
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Matt is a sports journalist at The Standard.
Matt is a sports journalist at The Standard.