K rock Football

Raids rollercoaster ride to 100

Ben Raidme in action during Torquay’s win over Barwon Heads last week. (Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

THE highs and lows of the decorated football career of Torquay great Ben Raidme will hit another peak in Saturday’s clash with Ocean Grove at McCartney Oval.

Eighteen years after making his debut for the Tigers as a fresh-faced 16-year-old, Raidme will bring up a century of senior games.

A football journey, including more than 80 VFL games with Geelong, VFL Team of the Year selection, and premierships with Torquay and South Barwon, started on May 15, 2004, when Tigers coach Cam Loftus handed Raidme his senior debut.

“My mates and I had grown up idolising the senior players, and to be able to play in the seniors at Torquay at 16, was just such an honour,” he said.

“It was, in my eyes, a bit of a pinnacle once those AFL dreams are put to the side.

“Some of the players I remember watching when I was growing up, and even training alongside; Wayne Tyquin, Aldo Pettina, who I got the pleasure of playing alongside, Simon Geljon; we used to look at these players in awe.”

Raidme managed three games in that first year before helping a talented Tigers under-18 team to the premiership.

Over the next two years, Raidme stamped himself as one of the club’s greatest ever with consecutive senior best-and-fairests.

In 2005, he claimed the award despite playing just 11 of a possible 22 games due to Geelong Falcons commitments as Torquay fell short in the grand final to Newcomb.

A full-time Tiger in 2006, Raidme was a standout as the club overcame dropping from third to fifth with a final-round loss to the Power to become the first and only club in BFL history to win the flag from an elimination final.

Raidme in action for Geelong’s VFL team in 2015. (Geelong Cats Image/Arj Giese)

“In hindsight, I didn’t quite understand how precarious our position was on the ladder,” Raidme said.

“My naive mindset was that “we turn up and we beat anyone”. That’s the theme we took into the finals that year when we came from fifth.

“We just played on the edge, and we had this momentum going right from our elimination final against Ocean Grove, where we came from four or five goals behind from one point in the game to win.”

Torquay then saw off qualifying finalists Barwon Heads and Geelong Amateur to earn a re-match with Newcomb in the decider at Drysdale.

The Tigers outlasted the Power by 10 points to snap an eight-year premiership drought.

“We never considered ourselves the underdogs or spoke about Newcomb,” Raidme said.

“It was all about ourselves, and just riding this momentum built off really amazing relationships that Adam Skrobalak was able to develop and promote and coach.”

Not surprisingly, higher honours were about to come Raidme’s way.

Gone from McCartney Oval for a decade, he played GFL at Grovedale and South Barwon, winning a flag with the Swans in 2012.

But it was at VFL level that Raidme made a name for himself. He made more than 80 appearances for the Cats.

However, the one game he didn’t play still hurts the 34-year-old to this day.

Less than three weeks after being named on a wing in the 2013 VFL Team of the Year, Raidme was squeezed out of the Geelong team for that year’s grand final.

After winning the flag the previous year, the Cats fell to underdogs Box Hill.

“Matthew Knights gave me a real crack at it right up until the grand final,” Raidme said.

“I was pushed out despite being in the Team of the Year, which really hurt; I’m not going to lie.

“It still hurts to a degree because we had a strong, special team, and we could really trounce teams.

“But, I think it made me a better player and person in the long run if I look at the silver lining out of it all.

“It probably made me a more empathetic teammate or captain or coach to know that no matter what standard you’re playing, there are still people that are hurting or that are giving their all or dealing with challenging times.”

Raidme never got another chance to taste premiership success with the Cats.

His 2014 season was ruined by a severe knee injury suffered in a pre-season match. Geelong missed the finals in 2015 and lost an elimination final to Essendon the following year in what proved to be Raidme’s final appearance in the Hoops.

Torquay coach Dom Gleeson, injured captain Ben Raidme and acting captain James Darke with the 2017 premiership cup. Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

He returned to Torquay as an assistant coach heading into the 2017 season, with the Tigers assembling a talented team keen to improve on an elimination final exit of their own.

However, a month into the season, Raidme ruptured the ACL on his ‘good’ knee and missed out on Torquay tipping over Geelong Amateur to win its most recent premiership.

“That was a special year, 2017, apart from me not being able to play after Round 5 or 6 after doing the other knee,” he said.

“The belief, and the education, and the growth throughout the year was special.”

Beaten in an elimination final in a year clouded by the announcement of salary cap breach penalties in 2018, Torquay bounced back the following year to make the grand final before succumbing to Barwon Heads.

After 2020 was lost due to COVID-19, Torquay hit 2021 as the team to beat after some handy recruiting additions, including St Joseph’s duo Ben McNamara and Lucas Anderson.

However, Covid would again play a role.

With the Tigers unbeaten through the 12-round home-and-away season and preparing to play Modewarre in a second semi-final, the season was halted and never resumed.

Raidme admits if Torquay had been able to secure the premiership, he admits he would have seriously considered retirement.

And while there’s no certainty he will give it away at the end of this year, by which time he will be 35, Raidme said the chance to bookend his career with a premiership with some talented youngsters is providing plenty of motivation.

“That’s really energising for us older players,” he said.

“The new cohort of players are driving standards that are getting us over the line in games now, which I get a lot of excitement out of.

“We’ve got a team that is strong and capable of going deep.

“Playing Drysdale earlier in the year, they’re a very powerful team this year, and one we’ve got a really healthy respect for.

“Barwon Heads, Modda (Modewarre); anyone, on their day, could run deep in the finals, which is exciting.”

Twitter: @tom_king79