A flag, a fall, rise again.
The Illawarra League as a stand-alone identity was no more from 1989, now merged with the South Coast League to become “Leisure Coast”. Our Junior League started to disintegrate and it became difficult to maintain the momentum from ’88. The teams from around Nowra with their strong Junior bases held the advantage.
Sponsorship money was tight and the Tigers did not have the right people in Administration in 1989. The strong South Coast presence which ran the new League determined that Norths were not good enough to play 1 st Grade, therefore we fielded Reserves only. The result was an undefeated Premiership for the Tigers captained by former 1 st grade premiership player Greg Carey & coached by Don Gray. There were very few anxious moments during the season save for a draw at Bomaderry which was largely the creation of some inventive umpiring. Apart from other players who have been mentioned in previous issues, the team included Mark Haigh, Spider, John Smith, Skull and Fred Lloyd. Greg Carey won the B&F award in 1989.
The Reserve premiership, although enjoyable, was a bit hollow without a 1 st Grade team. In 1990 the League deemed that Norths should go back to 1sts and it was a big step up playing against teams which consisted of many armed forces players drawn from Victoria & South Australia. Sully coached for most of the year excepting for a coupla months sojourn to Europe and the US.
Although we were competitive there was not a lot of joy, we missed the finals by a good way. Noel Burton and Andrew Osadczuk tied for the Best & Fairest award that year.
It got even tougher in 1991. Although we had picked up some quality players in Ken Milligan, John Tomlin, Eoin (Pigeon) O’Sullivan, Col (Human) Hewitt & Mark (Dingo) Carey there had again been an evacuation in the off-season. Often we struggled to get a starting side but the spirit was very good. On the day that Jeff Fenech was denied a title against Azumah Nelson, the Tigers, who watched the fight prior to the game, used the emotion to take it up to a strong Dapto team who had 18 players to 15. To a man they clapped us off the field.
A few weeks later, Norths broke through with a victory over Nowra. The team included Bill Byrnes, his brother John who was not yet 17 and their father Steve who played his first ever game as a 40-something year old! Captain-coach Snake won his second 1 st Grade B&F, 11 years after the first.
In 1992 Norths picked up a sensational player, Paul Phyland. Chris Foster again coached, he was also coaching St George 1sts who played on Sundays. It was a big ask – Chris was at training 4 nights a week and at games on 2 days. After an initial bold showing, the Tigers faded to just miss the finals. Phyland duly won the 1 st Grade B&F while that man Sully won his third Reserve Grade B&F.
Thus, we had managed to field 2 teams again and following the usual pattern, we were on an upward swing after a brace of lean years.