Lilydale has had a varied history combining reasonable amounts of success with some prolonged spells of hardship. The club currently competes in the Eastern Football League’s Division One, but a couple of decades ago it was in Division Four, and struggling for its very survival. Had it actually gone to the wall at that time it would have been nothing short of a football tragedy in that the club is one of the oldest in Victoria, dating back to 1872.
Lilydale’s early years were comparatively undistinguished, but after joining the Yarra Valley Football Association in the mid-1920s the club gradually emerged as a force. The teams it fielded on either side of (and partly during) world war two were among the strongest in its history, claiming premierships in 1936, 1938, 1940 and 1946. After transferring to the Croydon Mail Football League in 1947 Lilydale suffered the agony of finishing second on three consecutive occasions, and as if in reaction to this, the ensuing decade, throughout which it competed in the Croydon Ferntree Gully Football League, saw the club consigned, for the most part, to mid-table mediocrity.
The 1963 season saw Lilydale lining up in Division Two of the Eastern District Football League and over the course of the next decade it was a regular finalist. However, after losing to Bayswater in the 1973 Division Two grand final the club went into a slow but steady decline and the early 1980s saw it competing in Division Four, which was, and remains, the EDFL’s bottom tier of competition. In 1983 it seemed as though the Lilydale was on its last legs, but with everyone at the club rallying around it not only survived but went on to enjoy its most noteworthy era for half a century.
The 1986 season saw Lilydale contesting its second senior grade EDFL grand final, this time in Division Four, but just as thirteen years earlier it ended in defeat, this time at the hands of Mount Evelyn. In 1987 Lilydale again lost the grand final before making it third time lucky in 1988 and securing promotion to Division Three by means of a 13.12 (90) to 5.4 (34) grand final defeat of Nunawading.
The club’s next three seasons in Division Three followed an identical pattern to the previous three years in Division Four as Lilydale lost the grand finals of 1989 and 1990 to Norwood and Coldstream respectively before seeing off the grand final challenge of Fairpark in 1991.
Escaping from Division Two proved more problematical, but only slightly so. Lilydale qualified for a grand final in 1995, only to lose by 9 goals to Bayswater. The following year the side made amends with a 13.18 (96) to 11.13 (79) grand final triumph over Montrose, thereby procuring promotion to Division One.
Lilydale’s initial stint in Division One lasted just a single season, as did the club’s second such stint which was secured on the strength of a 10.6 (66) to 9.5 (59) Division Two grand final conquest of Boronia in 1998. However, after claiming their third Division Two premiership in 2003 the Falcons remained a Division One club for the next seven seasons, with their stay highlighted by consecutive finals appearances in 2006 and 2007. They also contested the finals in 2009 but the following season saw them slump to the wooden spoon which meant relegation back to Division Two. Their time at that level was brief as they sustained just 1 loss during the entire 2011 season en route to a fourth Division Two flag. Opposed in the grand final by Montrose theFalcons led all day before ultimately triumphing by 13 points, 15.9 (99) to 13.8 (86). Back in Division One they performed solidly in both 2012 and 2013 but thereafter struggled. At the end of the 2015 season they were relegated back to Division Two which is where they have continued to compete since finishing sixth in 2016 and fourth in 2017 after losing the first semi final to Mooroolbark by a couple of points. Then, in 2018 they got as far as the grand final only to lose by 60 points to Doncaster East.
CLUB GAMES RECORD HOLDER - STEPHEN McDONALD
On Saturday 6th July 2013, Stephen McDonald played his 282nd senior game for the Lilydale Football and Netball Club and is so doing, broke the club record for the most senior games played. The previous holder of the record was Warren Cruse who played his 281st game in the 2009 season.
Steve has played his whole football career with the Lilydale Football and Netball Club. He commenced playing in the midgets or Under 10s at age 9 way back in 1988 and finished his junior career in 1994 in the Under 16s when the team were runners up under the coaching of Gerry Toohey. He has played throughout his career with great mates including Sean Toohey, Lucas Skelton, Chris Goodlet, Garret Dobson and Jamie Cruickshank. Jamie will play in the same side with Steve this week as he breaks the club record. He played in the Under 18s in 1995-96 finishing fourth in the best and fairest in 1996 with 28 votes winning the most determined award. He then graduated to the seniors in 1997 playing 17 games. At that time the club record was held by Bill Harrop with 271 games.
Except for a break during 2001 when he travelled overseas, Steve has not missed a season playing with the Falcons. He has since clocked up another 264 senior games to put him on the threshold of the record which he will establish with his 282nd game against South Croydon in front of his home crowd. Steve has won many accolades and achieved many milestones along the way. When he was in the Under 16s he played with the Carlton Football Club along with Sean Toohey. He completed the Kokoda Trail trek with 14 other Lilydale Football Club stalwarts in October 2007 again including Sean. He has earned such prestigious awards such as the best team man and most disciplined on several occasions throughout his illustrious playing career.
Steve played his 150th game in 2006 when great mates Jamie Cruickshank and Lucas Skelton also played their 150th senior games with the club and the current club record holder Warren Cruse played his 250th game. Warren at the time joined Billy Harrop, Hector Cruickshank, Graeme Ellis and Brett Toohey as the only players to have reached that milestone. Steve then went on to play his 200th game in 2008 and his 250th game in Round 15 of the 2011 season during which he also celebrated one of three premierships he has achieved with the Dales the others being in 1998 and 2003. In 2008 he was also awarded life membership for playing his 200th senior game. He played his 300th game on July 19th 2014. At the end of this season, Stephen was also granted Life Membership of the Eastern Football League. On August 19th 2017, played his 350th game for the club. This is an amazing achievement as Stephen has only played at one club!
From a personal perspective Steve reckons the person who has influenced his career the most is his mother who took him to the football all through those junior years and still comes to watch me play now. The best footballer he has played with is Peter Skewes for the courage he displayed on the football field. He has stayed with Lilydale because you get to play footy with genuine great blokes and the majority of Lilydale recruits are mates of current players who come to play for the right reasons not just for money.
The President, Committee, sponsors and supporters of the Lilydale Football and Netball Club salute Stephen McDonald and congratulate him on setting a new club record for the most senior games played with the Falcons. Stephen has been a real monument to the game and a true blue and gold player who epitomises what loyalty and sportsmanship are all about. This is a most deserving and popular milestone set by one the true gentlemen of the game. The game record is now 357 games and we feel this will be around for a very long time.
The Bowman Medal is presented to the player voted best as per the club's best and fairest voting on the day of the Presidents Luncheon.
The medal was struck in honour of former player, President and life member, Michael Bowman. An excellent player and brilliant clubman Michael was an inspiration to all who came into contact with him. Michael took over the Presidency of the club during its difficult period during the 1980s. Always with a smile and positive attitude, Michael Bowman was the epitome of local sport with his "lets get the job done and enjoy life to the fullest" attitude.
Michael's term was cut short upon the outset of cancer. He courageously fought and beat the disease but tragically died at the age of 42 following a heart attack.
It has been often said that Michael Bowman packed more life into his forty two years than most pack into a life time. Those who knew him would agree.
The Bowman Medal holds a very special place in the history of Lilydale Football and Netball Club. Winners are listed under Club Awards.