by Scott Sawyer
ON THE darkest days, as he dug ever deeper into his own pockets, high-profile Coast lawyer Peter Boyce considered hurling the towel in and walking away.
The former Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles president was helping prop the club up out of his own purse.
His, and the efforts of a playing group who knew full well they were in for another beating, but turned up anyway, laid the foundations for a return to the Intrust Super Cup's pinnacle for the Sunshine Coast's top rugby league team.
Mr Boyce tossed in a role with Wide Bay rugby league to try and return the Coast to the state league.
In 2009, as a Manly Sea Eagles feeder club, the unthinkable became reality, as our local side won the premiership, winning a grand final in front of a home crowd at the old Quad Park precinct.
Mr Boyce recalled hosting Queensland Rugby League heavyweights at the grand final in the 'corporate area'.
"We had this lean-to,” he said.
It was a platform with a roof over it, alongside the temporary grandstands and dilapidated scoreboard.
These were the humblest of beginnings.
After the affiliation with Manly ended, tough years were to follow.
"We had no money,” Mr Boyce recalled.
"We were just trying to make sure that we stayed afloat and stayed competitive.”
Afloat they stayed, barely, competitive, not so much.
A 36-game losing streak illustrated how far the team had fallen.
Mr Boyce says the fact the club remained alive was a tribute to the courage of coaches and a playing group who turned up each week, knowing they were in for a thrashing, because they believed they were a part of something so much greater.
"Year-in, year-out these guys who knew it was going to be tough. they kept turning up and playing for us,” Mr Boyce said.
He knew of players who turned down opportunities to go elsewhere, preferring to hang tough and see the hard times through.
"The Kleins (brothers Callum and Rowan, Sea Eagles juniors and long-time State League players), they could've gone elsewhere,” Mr Boyce said.
He praised the work of former coach Dave Cordwell, who somehow kept the group motivated enough to pull on their jerseys and run out each week.
In 2013 Mr Boyce sounded out Chris Flannery to come aboard as the new CEO.
Flannery, a Sydney Roosters and Queensland Origin star, had recently returned from his stint in the UK with St Helens.
He was selling real estate at the time.
"Everywhere I went people told me not to take the job,” Flannery said, taking up the story.
He said there was a lot of friction between the Coast's top team and the local league at the time, with local clubs angry at the inclusion of a Sea Eagles side in the Coast's A-Grade competition.
"I was probably more on the local league side at that stage,” Flannery admits.
He wrestled with the job offer for weeks before deciding to take on the challenge of healing the wounds that had been inflicted on rugby league in the region.
Bridges were rebuilt quickly at the start of the 2014 season.
A "huge change” admitted Flannery, but a necessary one.
The Sea Eagles moniker was ditched and the Sunshine Coast Falcons were reborn.
A return to the region's traditional colours followed and the local league side was ditched, reverting to a system where excess Falcons players would be injected back into the local competition each week with different teams.
"I think that was a big part of it (mending the relationship),” Flannery said.
He brought Coast icon Ashley Robinson in as chairman at the start of the 2014 season, his profile, love of the Sunshine Coast and rugby league making him a perfect fit.
Within months Mr Robinson's appointment paid dividends, as his connections with the Melbourne Storm, particularly coach Craig Bellamy and football director Frank Ponissi, played a crucial part in securing a feeder club deal between the Falcons and the Storm.
This would prove to be the catalyst for the resurrection of the club, which has led the Falcons to a grand final berth at the hallowed Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
"If it wasn't for Ashley Robinson I don't think the Melbourne Storm would be here,” Flannery said.
"The Sunshine Coast has a lot to thank him for.”
But it would take time before momentum gathered.
The last dozen or so games of the 36-game losing streak were still to play out and the club was still struggling financially.
Rejections from a number of businesses were tough to take as Flannery sought out major sponsors.
"We couldn't ask Peter Boyce or sponsors to keep putting money into a sinking ship,” he said.
"We only had 2014 to get it right or I have no doubt we wouldn't be here.”
As well as the Storm deal and QRL assistance, salvation came in large part thanks to a deal struck with Vantage Homes for the start of the 2015 season. They've just re-signed for another two years.
Flannery admits the owners took a punt when signing on as major sponsors, and without their help and that of other sponsors, the club may not have survived.
He praised the work of Mr Boyce, Mr Cordwell and past players for their dedication.
"They could've quite easily walked away,” he said.
"They were getting smashed in the media, social media, the crowds were low.
"We've got a lot to thank the Melbourne Storm for. We were in that losing streak when they signed for us.”
Talks are under way at present to extend the feeder club arrangement and Flannery said the Storm were extremely happy with how the relationship was working.
It was a far cry from what he said were multiple rejections by the Brisbane Broncos when trying to get them to affiliate with the Falcons.
To see the likes of locals Marty Cordwell and Jye Ballinger enjoy the long-awaited success this year with the Falcons and Lachie Timm sign for the Storm gives Flannery and Mr Boyce immense satisfaction.
"The Sunshine Coast deserves a strong team and the local juniors deserve a pathway,” Flannery said.
"Lachie Timm is a great story,” Mr Boyce said.
"That's the measure of success. That's always been our motto from the start.
"Absolutely my pocket would be much better financially if I didn't put as much into keeping them afloat, but that was my choice and I don't regret it one bit.
"You've got to crawl before you can walk.”
And those sentiments bring the Falcons to this Sunday afternoon.
Eighty minutes stands between the team and glory, with two 'Ts' to play an integral part in the game against the PNG Hunters.
Tragedy and Trigger.
Mr Boyce said there was no doubt the death of popular front-rower James Ackerman in June 2015 as a result of injuries sustained in a game for the Falcons, while devastatingly tragic, had united the club.
That unity, and the tactical nous of head coach Craig 'Trigger' Ingebrigtsen, a man Flannery hopes will one day coach in the NRL, can deliver the Falcons the sweetest of victories.
"Everyone thinks you get all these NRL players and success is just a given,” Flannery said, praising Ingebrigtsen's dedication and attention to detail.
"He took us from 12th to 3rd in his first year, grand final in his second year.
"I'd love for Trig to win it too, it's eluded him to this stage, he's lost a couple.”
Mr Boyce added the new Sunshine Coast Stadium precinct was a constant reminder of the club's progress.