9 June 2018

How being president of Easts taught me to never give up - The Sporting Capital featuring Greg Dennis

| Lachlan Roberts
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Greg Dennis said the club hit rock bottom while he was in charge. Photo: Lachlan Roberts.

The Sporting Capital is a sports series by Lachlan Roberts, who sits down and has intimate conversations with Canberra’s sports stars. For the eighth part of the series, Lachlan grabbed coffee with former president, coach, and player for Easts Rugby Club Canberra, Greg Dennis. Lachlan sat down and chatted with Greg about his highs and lows in his time with Easts, the lessons he has learned while guiding his club through its darkest years, and what it means to be an Old Boy of Canberra’s oldest rugby club.

Jumping ship from Royals to Easts

“Keith Hawke, who recently passed away, got me involved in rugby as a little kid. My school, Yarralumla Primary, had a rugby team called Guls and we played against all the other junior Royals teams. As a junior, I played for the Royals, then played all my senior football at Easts. Growing up, I didn’t even know Easts existed.

“As I got older, I knew I could not break into the first-grade side with the Royals. I heard about Easts and began training with them at 18. I’ve been there ever since. Keith, God love him, didn’t speak to me for 20 years because he felt that it was a betrayal heading to a rival club. He felt pretty strongly that you stick by your club through thick and thin.

“When I rocked up to Easts in 1977, I was the only teenager at the club. The team was full of blokes in their mid to late 20s and they were all mates who had grown up together through school so it was like a big family and I was looked after like a younger brother. They really welcomed me and taught me a lot.”

Dark times as the man in charge

“The club had been on a decline for a number of years before I became the president in 2014. John Ross and I started our roles in the club at the same time and I took over the presidency because no one else would. I knew that I would never forgive myself if the club had folded and I had not done something to prevent it. My mindset was that if the club folds while I am in charge, at least I knew I’d tried my best.

“We won my second game in charge, against Gungahlin out at Burgman College. Then we didn’t win another first-grade game for three and a half years. It was a dark time at the club. The club hit rock bottom over the next four years. Things got so bad that we were close to begging the other clubs not to beat us by 100 points. We knew they were going to win, and we hoped they would blood some of their young blokes and not rub our noses in it. It was humiliating.

“Because Easts weren’t competitive, the boys were looking at other clubs. We just couldn’t compete. Kids were looking at our club and thinking: “Do I want to head over there and get flogged, or do I want to go elsewhere and have a chance at winning a premiership?” It was a very easy decision.

“My time as president taught me to never give up. It was really hard to get up each week and be positive while your backside is handed to you yet again. It got to the stage where people weren’t making snide remarks but were actually pitying us. That was humiliating, but that’s human nature. But we got through it and this season is the start of something new.

“To be honest, if it hadn’t of been for Rossy’s coaching and the things that he did on and off the field, I don’t think the club would be here.”

Greg’s three goals while president

“During my time as president, my goal was threefold:

  1. to keep first grade as competitive as possible for as long as possible
  2. to start a Colts side
  3. to improve the culture of the club.

“When I started in 2014, there was no Colts team but the second year in, we had a Colts team up and running. It has been going strong for the past three years and some of the original boys are now playing in first grade which is very rewarding.

“We deliberately set about fixing the culture of the club and succeeded. Our aim was to turn it into a family orientated club with the message that everyone is welcome, especially the wives and the girlfriends. That was important to me because that was the culture when I was playing and that had fallen away a little bit.

“The club is now an extended family. People want to belong to something and we now have that at Easts. The last couple of years, our Colts have had a lot of fun and word spreads we are now an option for the young ones. They are now considering our club.

“My only regrets were that, mainly due to finances, I didn’t manage to set up a women’s team. I have been told that next year it might happen, which is fantastic. I am also very disappointed the club was unable to give John Ross the results and success he deserved.”

Shining light at the end of the tunnel

“At the end of last season, Johnny and I stood down because we felt it was time. Johnny was instrumental in bringing Tim Cornforth to the club. Tim brought with him a strong coaching core and some key players that weren’t getting opportunities at other clubs. Easts now have two kids, who were playing in third grade last year for Tuggeranong, who have successfully slotted into our first grade.

“We are now in a position to poach and entice players to come to our club. We are sitting one point behind the second spot and we are in front of Queanbeyan on the ladder.

“For me, it is gratifying being able to sit back and see the club actually start to do the things that you wanted them to. It is similar to throwing seed on the ground, watering, and nothing is coming up and you think that nothing is going to happen. You turn your back for a second and suddenly there are shoots coming through and from there, good things will happen.

“Even if we go on to lose every game for the rest of the season, God forbid, this season would still be a bloody successful season. To be able to say that after eight games is enormous.”

Old Boys Day

“We have an Old Boys Day every year and there are a number of Old Boys that work around the club because like any club, if you don’t have the old fellas and old ladies involved, it is really hard for new people to get a sense of the history that a club has and its sense of purpose.

“The Old Boys provide that sense of history, so now it’s our turn to stand on the sideline and bloody yell and carry on. I remember when I was playing and the Old Boys from years gone by were there on the sideline, it was an honour. I don’t want to let them down.”

Tomorrow (9 June) is Old Boys Day for Easts Rugby Club. This is a day where all players and supporters have an opportunity to thank the men and women who have played for or administered at Easts over an extended period of time and created the environment for the club to continue to enjoy this great game.

The club will honour the Old Boys (Men and Women) prior to the commencement of the 1st Grade game and then treat them to some spectacular rugby! All Old Boys and supporters are invited to come along to the Harmonie German Club post game to celebrate and swap stories of years gone by!

John I Dent Cup – Round 10: Easts vs Uni-Norths, Saturday 9 June, 3:05 pm, Griffith Oval

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