28 years on, Wests gain grand final inspiration
TWENTY-eight long years after Wests last won its only men's A Grade hockey grand final, two of the club's most loyal supporters will be in the epicentre of Saturday's drama.
One is assistant coach for the Magpies' side tackling Hancock Brothers in the 6pm season decider.
The other will be cheering on the Wests' men after coaching the club's A Grade women's side in the curtainraiser grand final at 4.15pm.
Stephen Johnson and Brent Nicholls are among the players who shared in Wests' 1989 grand final glory.
They are still playing key roles helping the next generation of exciting Ipswich players.
Johnson was left half when Nicholls scored the winning goal in Wests' 1-0 victory over Easts the last time the club celebrated an A Grade men's success.
However, Johnson has a good feeling about Saturday night's highly anticipated showdown with Hancocks at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
"I believe we have the team to win it,'' Johnson said, praising the efforts of another club stalwart - player/coach Greg Walker who lined up in his 600th game last weekend.
"All year we've shown signs that we're definitely a good team.
"It's finally come together over the last month and a lot of credit is to Greg. He's gone back to basics.
"He's done a terrific job.''
"It would be fantastic,'' Nicholls said.
"Someone like Greg really deserves a premiership. He's bled black and white for his whole career.''
However, as in all successful sides, it takes a team effort to secure the major silverware.
Johnson said this year's Wests side had followed Walker's lead with senior players like Todd Watson providing a steadying influence and control.
"He's just got experience - he's composed under pressure,'' Johnson said of Watson.
"Guys feel comfortable around him because he doesn't panic.''
North Tivoli-based Johnson said Wests were benefiting from focusing on three P's - possession, patience and performance.
As the victorious 1989 side did nearly three decades ago, this year's Wests current team have applied a similar approach.
"I think composure in any game, in any sport, is a key to how you prepare,'' Johnson said.
"Don't overthink things.
"I'm from the simple world. You keep it simple and things happen.''
Wests' previous attempt to replicate the 1989 success was seven years ago under the main direction of Jaden Ekert.
"We went that close that day,'' Johnson said, remembering the feeling of anticipation.
With Wests since he was seven, 45-year-old Johnson dreams of sharing in another grand final celebration.
His best memory of the 1989 Wests triumph was "the players he had around him''.
They included a young Nicholls who attributed that success to a variety of factors, including the leadership of coach Les Dull and on-field maestro Ken McCoombes.
"My biggest memory is Les, the coach,'' Nicholls said.
"There was a lot of good players and a lot of good effort but Kennie was exceptionally talented.
"Out of all the people I've played with, Kennie would have to be one of the most talented guys you've ever seen play hockey.''
Wests' manager and trainer at the time was the late Murray Johnson - Steve's dad - who also did fantastic work for the Ipswich Jets, Ipswich Musketeers and Brisbane Lions AFL team.
Nicholls said Murray was a man who everyone had the utmost respect for.
"Murray was our conditioner that year and he worked us to the bone,'' Nicholls said.
Other players in the 1989 Wests' side (pictured) included captain Darryl Dull, life member Rod Lewis, Neil Cross, Andrew MacPherson, Daniel Cadman, Shane Margetts, Ross Smith, Darryl Ellison, Rod Doherty, Craig Cardell, Gordon Brown and goalkeeper Kevin Cutts.
"It was just a combination of a few things that year,'' Nicholls said.
"Les was the passionate coach and Murray was a passionate trainer and all the stars aligned.''
Steve said having his father share the moment was "the most rewarding part''.
In 1989, the Wests women's side also won the premiership. That team included Steve's mother Cathrine, who was "manageress", and his sisters Christine and Debbie.