Mulrooney Medal winner Belconnen Magpies player James Bennett with the F.J Dorman Premiership Cup. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Belconnen onballer James Bennett could literally taste the excitement of Sunday's NEAFL eastern conference final against the Sydney Swans at Kippax - a taste made all the sweeter with his crowning as the 2013 Mulrooney Medallist on Friday.
While players from other teams enjoyed a beer or two around him, every glass of water Bennett drank during the medal count at the Woden Tradies reminded him of what lay ahead.
The ball magnet went in as a massive Mulrooney favourite - averaging 36.6 disposals per game, including six tackles and 9.3 clearances, as well as kicking more than one goal per game.
His medal win capped off a dominant homecoming for Bennett, who spent the previous three seasons with North Adelaide, where he won the SANFL club's best and fairest last year.
He polled 21 votes to win by five from runner-up Kaine Stevens, Queanbeyan's explosive midfielder, with Ainslie's Ash Harris third with 13 votes.
But his main focus was on continuing Sydney's two-year run of grand final defeats.
''It really is a great feeling when you look around and see the other teams, and I've been on the receiving end of it a few times, coming here and having a few beers, but when you come here and can't it's one of the best feelings in footy,'' Bennett said.
''You know making a grand final is really special and how hard it is to get there.''
Study and a desire to be closer to family lured Bennett back to Canberra and the footy club he grew up at.
When told the legendary Alex Jesaulenko could only manage second in the 1966 Mulrooney, Bennett joked he'd gone ''one better than Jezza''.
The Mulrooney also gave him bragging rights over his father David, who was inducted into the AFL Canberra Hall of Fame last week.
''We've both won three best and fairests at Belconnen, so now I've got one thing over him, which is good,'' Bennett said of his father.
''He's got about 200 more games, though, so I've got to catch up there.''
Bennett will need to play a big role if the Magpies are going to turn around the two heavy defeats they've suffered to the Swans this season.
Belconnen coach Matthew Lokan knows Bennett's work around the stoppages has played a big part in the club's climb into the decider.
''His stoppage work is first class, obviously that's where it starts and that's what the Swans are good at as well, so if we can get on top in the midfield that will go a long way for us to win on the weekend,'' said Lokan, who like most wasn't surprised by Bennett's Mulrooney win.