By Paul Amy, Inside Football
Time erodes the memory but a number sticks out in Ray Shaw's mind: 52.
That is, the Preston teams he coached from 1982-84 won 52 of their 57 games, at a time when Port Melbourne, Coburg and Geelong West put up fierce opposition.
Back then, he said, the VFA was an excellent competition, attracting good players from the VFL. With league fixtures only just starting to take in Sundays, the association could draw crowds of 10 to 15,000.
"It was a really good, strong, tough competition, just fantastic," Shaw said. "You'd get a great atmosphere. Totally different to what it is today."
Thirty years after it defeated Geelong West by seven points, 14.10 (94) to 12.15 (87), in a tense grand final at the Junction Oval, Shaw's 1983 Preston premiership team is coming together for a reunion at Cramer St this Saturday.
Preston is now known as the Northern Blues. Shaw wishes it wasn't so, but he says he understands the reason for the name change, remembering the club struggled for money when he was there.
Still, it put out a formidable side, Shaw rattling off the names of key players: Geoff Austen, Russell Olsen, John Bourke, Shane Halas and David Brine.
"We had a very good team that year, '83," he said. "Matter of fact we had a very good team in the three years I coached. We recruited very well."
The Bullants lost the 1982 Grand Final narrowly to Port, giving Borough coach Gary Brice a hat-trick of Premierships.
But they won the next two flags. It was a golden period for the club: the firsts, seconds and thirds all took the Premiership in 1983 and repeated the three-feat in 1984.
Shaw broke his leg in the second semi-final in 1983 and was unable to play in the Grand Final. Brine led the Ants out.
Shaw said before the match that he expected his team to beat Geelong West "easily". But at three-quarter time he staked his future on the result, telling his players he'd step down if Preston lost.
"Well I had to pull something out of the back pocket," he said with a chuckle when reminded of the threat.
The Norm Goss Medal was presented for the first time, going to ruckman Austen. Bourke kicked six goals and Halas three.
VFA president Alan Wickes handed the Cup to Shaw in packed Preston rooms. Victorian Premier John Cain, a Bullants supporter, was among the throng as cans of Fosters were passed around.
Recruited from Macleod-Rosanna, Shaw joined Preston in 1973 and in his first year won the JJ Liston Trophy, despite the Bullants finishing down the ladder.
"We had a relegation game with Coburg in the last game of the year,'' he said. "I'll always remember it. I think the score was 26.9 to 22.22.''
The following year he went to Collingwood, going on to a Copeland Trophy and the captaincy.
The Northern Blues will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of Preston's 1963 Division 2 Premiership.
The 1983 Premiership Team:
B: Graeme Bux Andy Plowman John Bourke
HB: Craig Dyson Dale McCann Mark McKeon
C: David Brine
HF: Robbie McEwan Shane Halas Mick Warren
F: Graeme Osborne Gordon Towan Adrian Marcon
Foll: Geoff Austen Russell Olsen Rod Dunbar
Int: Ian Boden Paul Bolger
Follow Paul Amy on Twitter: @PaulAmy375