If the recurring pattern continues accordingly, Subiaco’s Ben Sokol is set for a seven goal grand final haul.
The 2019 Simpson Medallist – awarded to the best on ground in the WAFL grand final – kicked six goals in Subiaco’s crushing victory over Saturday’s opponents, South Fremantle. This came after five the year before, and four prior.
There was no love lost for the team with whom Sokol began his state league football career. He admits it was hard watching his former teammates suffer the devastation of a loss at the final hurdle; lifting the cup made it a whole lot easier.
At just 23-years-old at the time, he’d already experienced the highs and the lows of grand final day.
Missing with a broken finger in 2016, he watched from the sidelines as the Lions went down to Peel Thunder. Coming back into the side for 2017, the rematch ended in the same result.
Building to greatness in the next two seasons, Sokol would play a major role in delivering back-to-back flags. Suddenly, Subiaco had won four premierships across six grand finals straight. It had become the powerhouse of the competition.
Though he’s now experienced the week nearly more times than he can count on one hand, the build up has stayed the same.
“I’m actually massively nervous now talking about it, but I think it’s more excitement than nerves,” Sokol told The Inner Sanctum.
“It’s been a little bit different, just trying to keep myself busy. I’ve been training as normal.
“[Got] to train at Optus, have a run around there and get the feel of the ground.
“The reserves are in [the grand final] as well, they had a good win on the weekend against the Claremont side who only lost one game the whole year.
“We’ve got 50 blokes on the training track all prepping for the grand final. The vibe around the club has been awesome, and the best it’s been all year.”
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The return to the grand final seems like one that was almost a natural step back to normalcy for the club.
Subiaco only missed three grand finals over the past decade, also appearing in six across the 2000s. It doesn’t take away from the losses though, Sokol explains.
“Losing that one in 17 against Peel and then winning 18 and 19… it doesn’t make it any easier, but you almost know what to expect with the lead up,” he said.
“You can get around those younger boys coming up, and try to keep the week as normal as you can.
“Early on, I used to overthink it a lot, leading up to games. Over the past couple of years as I’ve gotten a bit older, you tend to relax a little bit more and enjoy the week and go out and give everything on the weekend.”
Playing in those big games is now something that the dangerous forward thrives on.
Winning the 2018 premiership seemed to shift his game up another gear. In 2019, Sokol finished atop the league goalkicking, winning the Bernie Naylor Medal.
Following that was a remarkable finals run, eerily similar to this year’s. He kicked three goals in a comfortable defeat of South Fremantle, before going on to double that effort in the ultimate decider.
It capped off a fantastic year for Sokol, and put him on the radar of media and recruiters alike, which saw him attend the state combine.
“On the day [of the grand final], we had so many great performers,” he said.
“I think I was pretty lucky to win [the Simpson Medal] off Kyal Horsley. When I finish my playing career, I’ll look back on and be really proud of that year.
“Winning the premiership, I was lucky enough to win the Bernie Naylor and the Simpson. Winning those three in the same year, at the time it’s more important to win the premiership, which we got.”
Playing on the big stage
A unique opportunity that doesn’t roll around too often, even for the WAFL’s best, is the chance to play on Optus Stadium.
The home ground of the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers has played host to the 2018 and 2019 premiership deciders, and will do so again this year.
It was more recently the venue of choice for the AFL Grand Final with a mammoth 61,118 attendance. While the WAFL isn’t looking likely to pull those numbers, a push to 30,000 for the first time since 2002 looms as tickets continue to sell fast.
Having played on the biggest deck in WA twice already, Sokol is already looking ahead to running out to the overpowering noise of the biggest crowd of the competition’s calendar.
“We relish the opportunity to play there,” he said.
“The stadium and the atmosphere, even with 30,000 people, half full, it’s still a really good atmosphere. The deck’s unreal, we’re all really excited to play on there.
“A few of the young boys have been speaking about being a little bit nervy… they probably haven’t played in front of a crowd more than a couple of thousand people in the twos, and even in league.
“Me personally, the crowd doesn’t really bother me. Even in the semi against South, it would have been four or five thousand people and it was quite loud. I’ve become accustomed to blocking it out.
“I quite enjoy the large crowd, and I tend to enjoy the big games. I tend to play quite well at Optus, and I hope I can keep that tradition up on the weekend.”
Sokol and the Subiaco Lions take on South Fremantle on Saturday, October 2 at 3:20pm (AWST) in the WAFL Grand Final. Interstate viewers can watch the game on 7plus.
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