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THE ALL-ROUNDER, THE IMPORT, AND THE COACH WHO STAYED

The Wangaratta Football Club has existed, in some shape or form, for more than 128 years.

Its history reveals stunning highs, cataclysmic lows, and the usual dramas and controversies that beset all sporting organisations.

A handful of the game’s greats have worn the Black and White……There have been characters, rascals and undesirables – and people of great devotion and unswerving loyalty.

In short, there has been a smorgasbord of personalities.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of three such ‘characters’, who turned out for the Pies in the early days of the 20th century……..

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  THE ALL-ROUNDER

Charles Bernard Meadway was 20 when he made his way into Wangaratta’s O & M side during the 1899 season. For most of the next 16 years he would prove to be one of the team’s stars – when he was available.

He was born in Dunedin (N.Z) and his family moved to Australia six years later. The Meadways resided in Bendigo, before eventually settling in Wangaratta.

His sporting career ran parallel, in some respects, to that of the legendary Bill Hickey, who is regarded as possibly the town’s finest all-round sportsman.

But Bernie wasn’t far behind. A brilliant cricketer, he was the WDCA’s leading wicket-taker on four occasions, and hit four WDCA centuries. His ‘hands’ of 130, 150* and 143 indicated that he was partial to a decent stint at the crease.

But his stand-out knock came in 1907/08 when he hammered 210* for Wangaratta against Oxley. It remains the fourth-highest individual WDCA score. For good measure, in the same match, he took 11 wickets.

Later that season, he was selected in a Victorian Country Cricket team, which played a match against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the M.C.G.

Years earlier, on the eve of the 1902 footy season, Bernie appeared set for a lengthy absence from the sporting arena when he enlisted to fight in the Boer War. Fortunately, a month later, peace prevailed and he returned to the playing ranks.

During the early 1900’s Wangaratta alternated between the O & M.F.A and the Ovens and King District Association. After playing his part in an O & K flag in 1905, it was announced that Meadway had made his last appearance, as he would soon be playing with Carlton.IMG_4046

But, after just one game with the Blues, he was back with Wangaratta, and helped them to another flag.

Collingwood lured Bernie down for a run the following season. Reports filtered back that he had been constantly mentioned for his brilliant play in his VFL games. But inevitably, the boy from the bush returned home after three games.

It was the sport of Trap-Shooting that captured his attention and prompted lengthy absences from the Wangaratta side.

His effort of ‘grassing 23 sparrows in a row, and 108 birds without a miss, gave Meadway a world-record in 1907.

‘He used ballistic powder and a beautiful Clarborough and Johnstone gun,’ stated the Chronicle. But in a sombre message, which would have caused some heart-ache to Wangaratta fans, they reported that he intended to retire from football to concentrate on Sparrow-Shooting.

This, however, proved a fallacy. Bernie continued to combine his shooting excellence with regular cricket and football appearances.

After one exciting victory in 1912, a supporter rushed into verse to laud the performance of the Wangaratta side:

“Come let us join together, boys, and sing to all a song.

Of how we play at football and roll the ball along,

Of how we beat Moyhu, who thought they were too strong –

When we’re playing to be Premiers.

“Gil Ebbott is our rover, boys, for ever on the ball.

He can travel with the best of them- the daddy of them all.

When Meddy runs at a man, then someone’s sure to fall.

When we’re playing to be Premiers………….”

Bernie Meadway was 36 years old, and still single, when he played his last game for Wangaratta, during the 1915 season. He enlisted with the AIF and joined the Remount Unit in the deserts of the Middle East.

He returned from the Great War in 1919, to become a successful businessman and continue his shooting career. He won the first of his six Australian Championships in 1920, and competed on three occasions against the world’s best at Monte Carlo……….

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THE ‘FLY-BY-NIGHTER

Bernie Meadway, in his handful of games in 1915, would have no doubt made the acquaintance of Albert Hezikiah (Vernon) Bradbury, who was one of the most ‘colourful’ identities ever to be lured to the Wangaratta Football Club.

Bradbury was a flamboyant midfielder/forward, who made three appearances with St.Kilda before being lured to Footscray in 1910, aged 20.IMG_4047

The Footscray  Advertiser reported in 1914 that: ‘The football Oval was the stage from which Banbury kept crowds entranced with his wizardry.’ . ‘He marked, feinted and twisted with a nonchalance that often left his opponents flat-footed and humiliated. There are few footballing dodges of which he is not the master……’

The champion, whose favoured position was centre half forward, once hit the post seven times in a match against Port Melbourne in 1912 – a record which still stands.

He was a star in Footscray’s 1913 premiership victory, but was one of 5 players sacked by the Club when they played abysmally in the 1914 Grand Final. It had been alleged that more money changed hands in that game than any other in the VFA’s history.

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Footscray’s 1913 VFA Premiership team. Vernon Banbury is far right, middle row.

So, when Wangaratta were looking to bolster their ranks upon being re-admitted to the O & M, they sought the services of the mercurial star, who had become available – and reportedly amenable to the lure of a ‘quid’.

The spectre of War hung over the O & M in 1915. There was some conjecture as to whether matches should continue whilst fighting raged overseas, but nevertheless,  the season rolled on.

The Magpies chalked up a handful of wins – and a draw against the all-powerful Rutherglen. But their most exciting victory came in a heart-stopper against contenders Albury.

With minutes remaining, Edwards kicked a goal to bring Wang within a point. The sides drew level, then Banbury, displaying his great skills, evaded several opponents to snap the winning behind.

He had been a more than handy player with Wangaratta, but, upon the abandonment of the O & M at season’s end, because of the War, he returned to the city.

Vernon found his way back to Footscray, and featured in their successive VFA flags of 1919 and ‘20. He resigned briefly during the latter season when supporters accused him of playing ‘dead’.

By now his life was in disarray, and his reputation as a playboy had cast him as a controversial figure. Overlooked for the 1922 Grand Final, which Footscray lost to Port Melbourne, he was subsequently disqualified for life by the VFA, for the attempted bribery of Port players.

The erratic career of Vernon Banbury took another turn when, in a defiant gesture towards the VFA, the Footscray Football Club bestowed Life Membership upon him at their next Annual Meeting.

Eighty-two years later, in 2010, he was admitted to the Western Bulldogs’ Hall of Fame………

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THE COACH WHO STAYED……

Matt O’Donohue was Banbury’s team-mate, and another of the Footscray players who had become embroiled in the bribery scandal that emanated from their 1922 Grand Final loss.

It was alleged that the lightly-built rover and Bulldog vice-captain had offered an on-field bribe to a Port Melbourne opponent, George Ogilvie. It came as a shock to Footscray fans, who had come to love and respect the local lad. Thankfully, the charge was not sustained.IMG_3836

But O’Donohue had already decided to move on. He accepted a coaching appointment with Wangaratta, and was introduced to a welcoming crowd at the club’s March 1923 Annual Meeting.

He proved an inspiring leader, and introduced a slick, systematic, running game, with an emphasis on handball, which troubled all sides.

His own form was quite outstanding, although he was to come in for his share of rough treatment during the season.

Unfortunately, for O’Donohue’s coaching aspirations, he ran slap-bang into the fabled St.Patrick’s line-up.  ‘The Green Machine’, in the midst of a Golden Era, proved too strong for Wang in the 1923 Grand Final and triumphed by 17 points.

After the Pies  finished runners-up again the following season, he handed over the coaching reins to Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe in 1925, but continued to be one of the ‘big guns’ in a team which boasted stars on every line.

He and big ‘Oily’ proved a lethal ruck/rover combination and played a major part in Wangaratta snaring their first O & M flag. Fighting back from a sizeable quarter-time deficit, they out-pointed Hume Weir by 21 points .IMG_4043

O’Donohue’s class at the fall of the ball was recognised the following season, when he was selected to rove to Rowe in the O & M’s representative clash against the VFL at the Albury Sportsground.

His swansong game with the ‘Pies came in their resounding 14-goal defeat at the hands of St.Pat’s. It was his fourth successive O & M Grand Final, and  a sad farewell for the veteran.

He sated his sporting urges by playing cricket and golf, but continued to follow the fortunes of the footy club with a keen interest.

Arthur Callender, the respected administrator who had engineered Matt’s move to Wangaratta, had become a close confidant, and coaxed him into becoming his off-sider in some of the sporting organisations with which he was involved.

At one stage Matt was concurrently Secretary of the Athletic, Turf and Speed-Coursing Clubs, whilst Callender held the role of President.

When the outbreak of World War II forced the disbandment of the Carnival in 1940, it terminated O’Donohue’s reign as Secretary. He had held the position for 17 years, and had become renowned for his contribution to sport in Wangaratta……….

 

*With assistance from ‘UNLEASHED’, the Western Bulldogs’ History”

“PRESSURE BROUGHT OUT THE BEST IN THIS SPORTING STAR OF THE SEVENTIES……..”

Paul O’Brien savours life as a part-time farmer these days……Domiciled at Reserve Road, Greta, he makes the occasional foray into town ……It’s a far cry from the heights of his professional career, when he was a globe-trotting financial controller with technology giant I.B.M.

Even when things were at their most hectic, Paul ensured that he found time for sport……He was a star of the seventies……. A robust footballer who could be thrust into multiple roles…..and a brutal left-hand batsman capable of savaging an attack…….

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The legacy of the O’Brien’s, Tanner’s and Delaney’s of Greta can be likened to that of the Lappin’s and Peake’s of Chiltern, the Johnstone’s of Moyhu and the Allan’s of Milawa…….large sporting clans who served their villages with distinction…..

Yet the O’Brien name first came under notice at Moyhu, when four of their members ( Maurie, Larry, Bill and Jack) , along with seven Johnstone’s ( Terry, Jim, ‘Spot’, ‘Poss’, ‘Skin’, Jack and Eric ) helped an all-conquering side take out the 1929 O & K premiership, then defeat O & M side Benalla in a post-season Challenge Match.

“There were 14 in Dad’s family and 11 on mum’s side, so they were good breeders…. It was inevitable, I suppose, that I’d have seven siblings,” Paul says.

Bill (Snr) and Rita had settled on a farm which was just 500m from the Greta Recreation Reserve……Sport was an integral part of the kids’ growing-up years….

“We’d all head over to training most nights during footy season…….In summer we’d mow a cricket pitch in the front paddock and play ding-dong games……Crikey, they’d get serious; it was full-on….”

“Tennis was also a big deal…….I think there were 12 teams in the Glenrowan & District comp at that stage, which included 2 from Hansonville, 2 from Greta, 2 from Greta South and 2 from Greta West……Those courts are rarely used now…..”

When the boys were old enough they fulfilled their dream of wearing the Purple and Gold Greta guernsey ……Bill finished with 317 senior games, Greg (‘Ab’) chalked up 98, Paul 143, Francis 209 and Gerard, who was only a lad when he copped a split kidney, which cut short his career, tallied 45.

“Carmel and Patricia played in some of those good Greta Netball sides, whilst Mary was the exception…..She wasn’t really sports-minded……became a Nurse and travelled the world……”

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But education was a priority in old Bill O’Brien’s eyes. He reckoned the boys would knuckle down to their studies if they went into town to board at Champagnat College.

It suited Paul okay……One of the side benefits was that he played in three successive Junior League flags with College………But the regimented boarding life wasn’t down ‘Ab’s’ alley…..He finished his schooling at the Wang.Tech…..

His older brother Billy had already played in two flags for Greta ( during the ‘Bumper’ Farrell era) by the time Paul saddled up alongside him. He was doing a Bachelor of Business Studies/ Accounting at Uni, and travelled home to play in 1973……

The following year he walked straight into a strong Wangaratta Rovers side, starting off in a back pocket before migrating to the back flank, the mid-field, and playing on-ball.

“I was dead-lucky to be at the Rovers at that time” he says…….”We didn’t have many superstars, but a good, even team….A few of the blokes playing alongside me in the backline – Holmes, Porter, Rosser, Gardner and Pollard were as tough as old boots…..”

The Rovers finals chances appeared to have nose-dived at three-quarter time of the Second Semi-Final that year, when they trailed Yarrawonga by eight goals…..

“I can remember going into the huddle at the break,” Paul recalls. “Normie Bussell got around us : ‘You just never know, fellahs, the bastards might get struck by lightning’…..”

Well, almost…….

The Hawks came home with a rush to finish just eight points short…..Then, a fortnight later they blitzed the Pigeons in the Grand Final, to lead by 45 points at quarter-time before going on to record a 10-goal win.

By now his brothers had also joined him in O & M ranks…….Bill played initially with Wangaratta, then moved on to Myrtleford, as did Francis…….’Ab’ played in the Rovers 1975 flag, then enjoyed a break-out season in 1976, when he was adjudged a joint winner of the Morris Medal.

“ ‘Ab’ really stood out with his black, bushy beard…..He was flashy and skilful….. could take a screaming mark and kick a 70-metre goal……He wasn’t the most consistent player, but the umpies loved him.”

“He went to Myrtleford the next year; did a knee early on and hardly played…….then married Jenny Sherwill, a Benalla girl, and enjoyed a few good seasons with the Demons……..”

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Paul earned a reputation as a big-occasion player in his 90 games with the Rovers.

He was voted their Best Finals Player in 1976 and ‘77, and was, what you’d term in the modern-day footy vernacular, a ‘mid-field bull’…..

“My take on it was, if you get into the finals, that’s when you get fair dinkum…..you may as well win ‘em,” he says.

After playing in that ‘74 flag, he was also part of the Hawks’ hat-trick, from 1977-1979, but holds a special place in his heart for the victory over Benalla in 1978.

“They’d won 15 straight going into the Grand Final, and were hot-favourites…..The rumour got around that they felt we were a bit soft……For some reason they came out fighting….”

“I remember Chris Porter copping an elbow to the head early in the game……’Clang’ was one bloke who could absorb that sort of stuff..….He just got up, shook his head and kept going in harder….Glenn James, who was umpiring, kept on paying free kicks against them……the game was over by half-time…”

If there was a Did Simpson Medal for BOG that day, Paul would have been a contender……The Border Morning Mail reported that: ‘ O’Brien, taking advantage of his vast finals experience, was a clear winner in the centre……He added lustre to his performance by taking many strong marks around the ground…..’

By 1980 he was living and working in Sydney, and flying home to play footy. Half-way through the season he decided it would be more practical to return to Greta.

After a 13-year premiership drought, they stormed home in the last half to defeat Whorouly by 27 points in the Grand Final…..It was his fourth flag in succession.

“Besides the thrill of being involved in a flag with your home club, it was terrific to share it with Bill and ‘Franny’,” he says.

Six years later he played in another decider, this time against Bright, who took the honours by five points in a real nail-biter.

“I was flying around a bit at that stage, and wanted to get home by Friday morning……I finally arrived from Japan on the day of the game and performed like a turkey……If you think you can get on and off a plane, then play….You can’t…

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Paul reckons he’d have been no more than 15 when he made his debut with Greta Cricket Club.

“All the local kids loved the chance to be able to fill in alongside the old fellahs, like John Tanner, George Hillas, Max Newth, Maxie Corker, Richie Shanley and Jimmy Fisher….”

“They enjoyed each other’s company and Bill, ‘Ab’, myself, Greg and Barry Tanner, Rusty Harris, James Corker and Tony Fisher, would make up the numbers……It was great fun……Social cricket was pretty strong in those days, too.”

Those dinky-di battles on the pitch in the front paddock paid dividends for the O’Brien’ boys, as they all developed into more than useful cricketers.

Francis, a stylish, prolific left-hand bat, represented Vic.Country against two West Indies touring teams – captaining one of them. ‘Ab’ was one of the area’s most fearsome bowlers.

“He was erratic, but quick,” Paul says……”It was a bit daunting to face him when he had a full head of steam…..and when neither he, nor the poor batsman, knew where the ball was gonna go….But, like his footy, when he was on his day he could do a lot of damage….”

Paul first appeared in the WDCA with Magpies, then Moyhu, and made four trips to Melbourne Country Week with Wangaratta.

One of my favourite CW memories concerns a Provincial Group match at Punt Road in 1975, when he and Greg Rosser shared a blistering 245-run fourth-wicket partnership against Dunmunkle/Grampians.

After Wang had lost three early wickets the pair went blow for blow on a greenish strip, in amassing the second-highest CW stand in WDCA history.

Paul later transferred to Benalla club Diggers; scored 6 centuries, and was a regular BDCA Country Week rep.

He unwittingly became the central figure in a controversy which rocked Benalla cricket in 1983.

“It’s crazy when you think of it now,” he recalls. “I made a ‘ton’ against Swanpool in the semi-final, which entitled us to meet Footballers in the Grand Final.”

“But someone protested about the legality of me playing with Greta at the same time I was at Diggers….. The BDCA executive, who’d been quite happy for me to be playing rep cricket with them, and were aware I was involved in dual competitions, disqualified us.”

“So three teams, Swanpool, Diggers and Footballers rocked up for the Grand Final……’Franny’ who was our captain, and a few of the other Diggers blokes, staged a ‘sit-in’ protest on the pitch before the game…..”

“It was a bit embarrassing, particularly for Swanpool captain Robert Sherwill, who didn’t agree with the protest, and initially refused to lead his team onto the ground…..He said: ‘No, Paul’s been playing all year…..we were beaten fair and square.’ “

“But eventually, the Diggers players abandoned their sit-in and the Swanpool-Footballers game went ahead….”

That brought the curtain down on Paul’s career with Diggers….He continued with Greta until the Sunday competition folded in the late nineties…..

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Paul spent more than 30 years with global technology company IBM, initially as a cost accountant and, ultimately, a financial controller.

“When the plant shut down in Wangaratta I worked from home for 4-5 years, then spent 3 years consulting in China and the Czech Republic….I was really lucky work-wise….” he says.

In an ill-fated move, he was elected to the Wangaratta Rural City Council in 2012……….

“I thought I could make a contribution to the community,” he says…..”But in the end I felt I was belting my head against a brick wall…..”

“I was surprised at the lack of integrity, and independence in local government…….Actually, I did mention at one meeting that I thought the ‘Yes Minister’ show on television was a comedy until I sat on Council….”

The Rural City Council was sacked – almost a year after being elected – in September 2013…….

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Several of the succeeding generation of O’Brien’s continued to make a sporting impact…..

* Zac started his footy with Wang.Rovers, and went on to play 13 AFL games with Brisbane Lions, before continuing with West Adelaide.

* Simon, a left-arm fast bowler has played 16-years of Premier cricket with St.Kilda and Camberwell-Magpies, which includes two premierships with the Saints.

* Mark Dwyer ( son of Carmel ) played 53 Premier cricket First XI games with Camberwell-Magpies over a 16 year period

* Jeremy, totalled 209 O & M games with Yarrawonga and Wang.Rovers, shared in two Pigeon flags, and later coached Tungamah

* Paul (Jnr) played in the 1999 Murray Bushrangers premiership, went on to coach St.Kevin’s in Melbourne school football, and is now Head Sports coach at St.Ignatius’ College in Sydney.

* Matt figured in a Glenrowan premiership side, a Yarrawonga Grand Final team and A-Grade Amateurs finals teams.

It’s a dynasty which served a tiny township faithfully…….As the years roll on, the family has also moved on……The days of the Greta footy line-up containing numerous O’Brien’s – or Delaney’s and Tanner’s for that matter – have long gone…………

“ANOTHER RIVETING DAY’S PLAY AT STAN HARGREAVES OVAL…..”

I look forward to the annual pilgrimage to Yarrawonga’s Stan Hargreaves Oval……….

Situated on the eastern fringe of the town, a white picket fence surrounds a beautifully-thatched green sward, and a typically hard, true centre strip…

The balcony, which is situated on boundary’s edge, provides an excellent, sometimes rowdy viewing area……and leads into the Pavilion, which is, as usual, a hive of activity on match-day……

The Bar has been fully operational from the start of proceedings today , and there are more than a few of the locals sampling the amber fluid…….A giant TV on one wall screens the races from Caulfield and Rosehill…….On another, the uninterrupted vision of the current game is available to those who can’t be bothered craning their necks around to glimpse the action in the middle…..

They look after you a treat, the Lakers…….There’s always ample tucker on hand……….But someone offered the finest piece de resistance I’ve ever had as a scorer – a large plate of piping-hot fresh fish….

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You know you’re always going to be in for a hell of a contest against the Yarra-Mul Lakers, who exude confidence and have become a traditional WDCA powerhouse.

They keep rolling out talented youngsters to complement the array of stars who’ve kept them at the top for more than a decade.

But today’s game, I sense, has a bit of extra meaning for them…….Their opponents, reigning premiers Rovers-United-Bruck, knocked them over in last season’s semi-final and they’re keen to exact revenge.

The Hawks, on the other hand, haven’t tasted success over here for six years……There’s a hint of summer finally in the air….. two top sides are in action……you couldn’t wish to be in a better place than Hargreaves Oval.

I’m not disappointed………it proves to be a fantastic, high-standard game……….

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For the Lakers’ experienced openers Reed Clarke and Matt Casey, it’s ‘steady as she goes’ in the opening overs….

Left-handed Clarke, in particular, has decided to knuckle down, and provide support to his more adventurous team-mate. But they must have wondered what demons the wicket had in store for them when speedster Paddy McNamara incited a couple of venomous early deliveries to jump and spit.

You could see the Hawk skipper licking his chops, but that proved to be the only sign of mischief that the pitch displayed .

Tall and imposing Casey, whose only other knock this season had been an undefeated century against Delatite, looked completely at ease and again emphasised his standing as one of the competition’s top batsmen.

A solid, stylish defence is his keynote, but he dealt severely with the occasional overpitched delivery and he and Clarke guided their side to 0/ 51 at the 20-over mark.

There was really no cause for concern at the slow run-rate as the Lakers, with a lengthy batting list, reasoned that they could apply the pressure later in the innings…..The RUB bowlers, however, deserved credit for their accuracy and discipline.

The first twist in the game came after the drinks break, when Hawk speedster Brady Bartlett ended Clarke’s 76-minute stay at the crease…..He enticed him to nick one…..Keeper Perera did the rest….

Then youngster Zac Fraser swung wildly at a Bartlett delivery and middle stump was uprooted……A few balls later Corey McIntosh fended at a spinning delivery from South African leggie Koot Pienaar, who dived to take a brilliant catch mid-pitch…..

Suddenly the Lakers had slumped to 3/67.

But there was no more joy for the Hawks for some time, as veteran Matt Knight helped Casey to take charge of the game.

They added 40 in just 32 minutes……There have been few more aggressive stroke-makers than the solidly-built left-handed Knight in the last decade ……His innings of 28, which included 5 fours, ended when he skied one and was caught in the deep off McNamara.

Casey’s adventurous attempt at a second run brought his fine knock of 68 to a close, but he had piloted his side to a total of 6/137 at time; a target which, to my mind, would take some catching……..

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The RUB innings could hardly provided a starker contrast to the solid foundation provided by Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

They were in immediate trouble……

Lakers speedsters Corey McIntosh and Angus McMillan cut a swathe through their upper order to have them reeling at 3/19.

A solid response was required……It was up to young skipper Paddy McNamara and a contributor to many such rear-guard actions – Jacob Schonafinger – to right the ship.

The runs came, firstly at a trickle…… then, as ‘Schona’ produced some deft cover drives and began pushing the ball behind square, the total began to mount…

Alas, he played all over one from Jacob Bartlett and was gone for 19. Five balls later, Matthew Whitten departed and the Hawks had tumbled to a disastrous 5/42.

Their prospects looked precarious, but McNamara found a capable ally in his new partner, Lucky Perera – a renowned cool-head in a crisis. .

They added 46 runs in close to even-time to resuscitate the innings. ‘Lucky’ was the dominant partner, but McNamara played an anchor-role, as he set about crafting his finest – and highest – WDCA innings.

Again disaster struck….Perera pulled a full toss from Ben Kennedy and was caught for 28…..the Hawks were 6/88 – still 50 runs away from victory..

Brady Bartlett and Matt Winter both produced valuable cameos, as the target began to inch closer.

There were 15 runs required, with eight wickets down, when irrepressible Blake Nixon, freshly promoted from A-Reserve, marched purposefully to the crease.

Not content to be cast in a subsidiary role, Nixon proceeded to carve 13 runs off nine deliveries to help steer the Hawks to an unlikely victory.

At the other end McNamara, who had played the perfect foil during his 143-minute stay at the crease, for his unbeaten 46, stood in the background, as Nixon began his victory lap of Stan Hargreaves Oval…..

“SUPERSTAR STAN – A BORDER SPORTING LEGEND…….”

“…..More than 15,000 fans have flocked to the Wangaratta Showgrounds to witness this much-touted 1973 Ovens and Murray Grand Final…….

“Benalla earned their spot when they clinched a nail-biting nine-point victory over a wayward North Albury in the Second Semi-Final……The Hoppers had to defend grimly to hold off fast-finishing Wangaratta Rovers in the Prelim…….. Their 16.15 (111) to 15.10 (100) win, in an absolute classic, was highlighted by the performances of the League’s two crackerjack full forwards – Steve Norman ( Rovers) and Stan Sargeant ( North)…….

“So the stage is set for a re-match between the season’s two outstanding teams….

“There’s action aplenty early-on, as North use their physical strength in an attempt to curtail Benalla’s pace and teamwork…….The resultant flare-ups see Hopper mid-fielder and newly-minted Morris Medallist Johnny Smith reported, and umpire Lance Coates repeatedly penalise North, as Benalla ride the bumps…..

“A former Medallist, ruckman Joe Ambrose, also has his number taken, after another bruising incident in the second quarter…….

“It’s an enthralling struggle throughout, and there are thrills and spills galore…..Benalla creep out to an 18-point lead in the dying stages…..North refuse to submit, and their irrepressible forward Stan Sargeant, marks 70 metres from goal, lines them up, and sends a booming torpedo punt through the middle……It’s his fourth for the day, and a typically inspirational piece of play.. ….

“The Hoppers rally again, and small-man Dave Fulford snaps another major….

“But the siren sounds seconds later….Benalla have taken out a memorable encounter – 12.12 (84) to 11.11 (77)…

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49 years have now elapsed since that fateful day, yet Stan Sargeant still remembers it vividly….After all, it’s the closest he ever came to achieving the ultimate in Senior football……..

Premierships are the only thing in short supply in the CV of this sporting superstar.

In fact, Stan has only two flags to his name; one from junior footy in 1957, and one with New City, the Albury & Border cricket club he faithfully served for 30 years.

But there’s no regrets, says the 83 year-old; the friendships he made, and the adventures he enjoyed, more than adequately compensate for that…..

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He was the proverbial ‘Bush Footy Legend’……

In the early sixties, when he was booting goals by the bagful for North Albury, he fielded regular enquiries from VFL clubs, urging him to consider venturing down to the ‘big smoke’.

“ St.Kilda and South Melbourne were two who were pretty persistent ……..But after they’d been on my hammer for eighteen months or so I told ‘em: ‘Look, thanks all the same, but I’m pretty tied up in business here……..I don’t want to waste any more of your time.’….”

Stan had been raised on the family farm at Table Top, on the northern outskirts of Albury, and began his working life with hardware firm Permewan-Wright’s. But a couple of years later, an old footy stalwart, Arthur Pickett, who’d become good mates with him at North Albury, extended an invitation to become partners in business…..Thus, ‘Pickett & Sargeant Tyre Service’ was born……….

And that’s where he propped…..finally retiring, after 40-odd years in the tyre trade, on Christmas Eve, 1999…..

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The skills of a budding cricket all-rounder were honed on the concrete ‘strip’ at Table Top but as a young tacker he’d had hardly any exposure to competitive footy.

That came in his only season in junior ranks, when he helped North Albury to a flag.

Naturally, the senior Hoppers, who’d been eyeing him off, snavelled the well-proportioned 18 year-old and named him at full forward for the season-opener in 1958.

After several seasons as a power in the mid-fifties under coaching guru Timmy Robb, the bottom had fallen out of North, and they were regarded as likely wooden-spooners.

Little wonder that they chaired their new teen-age sensation off the Albury Sportsground after his eight-goal debut on Corowa’s experienced full back Len Fitzgerald.

Alas, it was to be one of only two Hopper victories for the season………

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But there was good reason for the fans to become excited…….

For the next seventeen years the 6’2”, 13 stone Number 15 was to remain a fixture in attack for the Green and Gold…..

“Occasionally they’d swing me out to centre half forward if they needed to change things up a bit, but I pretty much spent the majority of my career at full forward,” Stan says.

Did he ever got itchy feet, considering that North contested just three finals series in the first 15 years of his career ?…………

“Not really, I was happy there……A district club approached me once about coaching, but I said, nah, I’m not really interested…..”

He set about re-writing the record books, taking out North’s goal-kicking on 15 occasions, and being awarded the O & M’s goal-kicking award, the Doug Strang Medal six times…..

You only had to see Sargeant in action in his 13 appearances in an O & M guernsey ( he also represented New South Wales once ), to gain a real appreciation of his class.

In talent-laden sides he lapped up the slick delivery which came his way and rarely failed to boot a handful.

The O & M’s 35-point Country championship victory over Wimmera League at Horsham in 1968 was one case in point:

“In a hard, gruelling battle the champions struggled against Wimmera’s early pace and teamwork, but Mick Bone gave his players such a ferocious tongue-lashing at half-time that they bolted onto the ground and didn’t stop running until the final siren……Wimmera, totally unprepared for O & M’s dramatic change of pace, spent the remainder of the game clawing at Black and Gold guernseys.”

“Stan Sargeant, who had been the only forward capable of doing anything constructive, went on to kick six magnificent, long-range goals in a superb performance which won the grudging admiration of the pro-Wimmera crowd……”

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After having served under seven coaches – Kevin Wyllie, Don Ross, Graeme McKenzie, Ian Aston, Ralph Rogerson, John Sharrock and Tim Robb – Stan inherited the job at Bunton Park in 1972.

“We’d been lurking around the middle of the ladder for some time,” he says……”I enjoyed the opportunity to coach, but it kept me on the go, put it that way.…trying to fit it in with running a business……….”

“I was getting on a bit at this stage, too, and my back was starting to play up……. probably all those years of lifting Truck and Tractor tyres…….”

“I thought, ah well, business comes first……”

So he handed over the reins to Hawthorn forward Mike Porter in 1973……The Hoppers recruited heavily, and automatically entered premiership calculations.

Ironically, freed from the shackles of coaching and, despite nursing his dicey back, his last two seasons were among his finest.

He followed a haul of 87 goals in 1973 with 110 in ‘74, which included ‘bags’ of 15 and 13.

Even then, there are occasions when the radar of the sharpest of sharpshooters can go awry……..like the day he finished with 2.11 from 13 shots in the ‘73 Semi-Final………

After North bowed out in the 1974 Preliminary Final, he drew the curtain on his stellar career……He’d played 289 games and booted 1096 goals; an O & M record which will, in all likelihood, never be surpassed……

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A right-arm quickie and middle-order bat, Sargeant was 19 when he debuted for New City, which had been promoted to Albury & Border Cricket’s A-Grade division in 1959/60.

The following season, aged 20, with bowling figures of 8/33 in the Semi-Final and 3/32 and 4/27 in the Grand Final against North Albury, he helped them to their first premiership….

The first of his six Williamson Medals, as the ABCA Cricketer of the Year, came in 1961/62. He took 53 wickets and scored 307 runs…….

His 9/37 in the Semi-Final that year, guided New City into another Grand Final but, in what was to become a familiar scenario, they fell at the final hurdle…

Over the next three decades they were to finish runners-up eight times without adding to their maiden title.

It wasn’t that their gun all-rounder didn’t play his part……For instance, he chipped in with 3/71, 4/98 and 39 runs in the 67/68 decider, and snared 7/94, 2/35 and scored 48 in the 73/74 Final.

His 30-year ABCA career, to which he called a halt in 1987/88, included 10 centuries…..He took 9 wickets in an innings twice, 8 wickets in an innings twice, and 7 wickets in an innings four times.

In his finest all-round season, 1967/68, he took 70 wickets and scored 398 runs

Stan was a regular member of Albury’s representative sides during the sixties, and once snared 8/8 ( including a hat-trick) in a Matheson Shield match….. But the highlights were undoubtedly the two matches he played against touring English sides…….

“I was lucky enough to play against Ted Dexter’s side at Griffith in 1963, and two years later, we met the Poms at the Albury Sportsground.”

“It was a terrific experience to test yourself against the likes of Boycott, Mike Smith, Edrich and Barrington,” he says.

He shone with the bat that day, making a brisk 35 in a 41-run seventh-wicket stand.

“I liked both sports equally, but always found a day’s cricket to be far more mentally-challenging than a game of footy…….that’s one reason why I just concentrated on club cricket in the finish…..besides, the kids were growing up and it was time to devote more time to the family……..”

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Stan and his wife Val lapped up their retirement years by hitting the road……..

“We travelled around Australia a couple of times and headed up north quite a bit during the 2000’s……After that we used to spend three months a year on the Sunshine Coast……..But Val passed away just on two years ago…..”

His three kids and their families are now the focus of his attention. Two of the grandkids, Joel and Tyler Roberson have had a run with North Albury, but Stan’s not too sure where their footy focus is headed in the future.

“As long as they enjoy their sport I’m happy,” he says.

With a list of gongs as long as your arm, which include membership of the North Albury, Ovens and Murray and Cricket Albury-Wodonga Halls of Fame….as well as being an O & M Legend, Stan Sargeant sits comfortably among the area’s greatest sporting achievers……….

“CONSISTENT PERFORMER AGAIN DOMINATES W.D.C.A……….”

The all-rounder, Jupiter Pluvius, who has had a remarkably consistent 2022/23 season, again played an important role in yesterday’s WDCA matches.

Old ‘Jup’ lurked in the background as the central figure……just as the players began tuning up for the keenly-awaited A-Grade Grand Final re-play between Rovers-United-Bruck and Wangaratta-Magpies…..

The Findlay Oval was in A1 condition, although murky skies overhead sent a few players diving for their mobiles………The prognosis was ominous…….a belt of dark green was heading our way…….’Jup’ was set to influence the game, yet again…..

Almost on cue came the misty rain……enough to delay the start and become decidedly irritating…….the covers protecting the sacrosanct centre strip would remain intact for quite some time……

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So the lengthy waiting-game began…….Players gathered in clumps to discuss the subjects of the moment…

Not terribly high-brow stuff, mind you…….like, who were the star-performers on the recent Footy Trip…..what a ‘prick’ this weather is…….some random recollections of games gone by……..the latest salacious rumours……

One old fellah joked that, in his day they’d already have knocked the top off the first stubbie……which would more often than not have led to many more, and stretched deep into the night……

But such is their thirst for cricket that these lads were prepared to leave it to the umpie, Michael Hurley, to arbitrate when the covers might be able to be lifted, surplus residue mopped up, and get the delayed start under way…..

Finally, after a couple of inspections, the weather cleared and it was mutually agreed upon…….a 3pm start….a 25-over game…..

In my humble opinion the ump handled the situation perfectly…….

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The Pies drew first blood when Koot Pienaar, who had started his innings off with a flourish – was caught short – attempting a hazardous run.

He’s a ‘goer’ is the blond, stocky South African import, who is no doubt going to turn a couple of games the Hawks’ way with the bat this season…….Despite his intent, and eagerness to make an impression, he has thus far been light-on in the luck department.

The Pies opening attack, as usual, looked solid……Big left-armer Chris Clement rarely gives much away and his new-ball partner Matt Gathercole is a perfect foil.

But new-arrival Jacob Beattie, recently back in the country from a Bali vacation, relished his lift up the batting order, and began to hit his straps from the get-go.

He lost Luke Whitten, who was trapped in front by Zac Guilfoyle for 8, but found a solid ally in the Sri Lankan dasher, Lucky Perera.

The pair added 58 in brisk time, which included a couple of delightful sixes from the blade of Perera, who looks as composed as most players in the competition when he’s on song…

The steady Gathercole had him caught in the deep, for 31 off 34 balls, but his replacement, Jacob Schonafinger continued the entertainment with a brisk, undefeated, 23 off 22 balls.

Beattie timed the ball perfectly – as if he’d spent a solid month in the nets, rather than a few weeks basking on the sun-drenched islands…..

He and ‘Schona’ took the total into the 130’s before the re-introduction of Clement saw the ‘big fellah’ claim Beattie for 58, and snare a swinging Jeremy Wilson, who lost his ‘castle’……

Rovers-United’s total of 5/134 was patently gettable, but at 5.3 runs per over, the Pies would need things to go their way to snatch victory….

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What they certainly didn’t need was the clatter of early wickets.

Ryan Malcolm, promoted after an enterprising knock in A-Reserve, played all over a well-pitched delivery from Brady Bartlett and was on his way for 1.

Bartlett was working up a deal of pace with the breeze at his back from the Gum-Tree end…..

Soon after Jarrod Wallace had been run out, the energetic speedster rattled the stumps of Nick Bonwick…….The Pies were 3/16, and in a deal of bother……

But the arrival of Pranav Menon at the crease, is enough to gladden the heart of the most pessimistic Wang-Magpies fan.

Over the last season and a bit the right-hander has produced evidence that he’s one of the classiest players to perform in the WDCA for many a long day .

He learned his craft on the parkland pitches of Mumbai, and showed enough in Premier ranks with Prahran, to prove that he’s no slouch….

If ever there was a man for the occasion it was the redoubtable ‘Prav’……

He began cautiously enough, turning several singles into superbly-run two’s…….But whilst he was being deprived of the strike, wickets were consistently falling around him.

Firstly, Nick Pell, a brilliant performer with the ball in last season’s decider, was bowled by Jeremy Wilson…..Pell had looked completely comfortable and had begun to push the run-rate along at a handy rate with Menon.

His was an untimely departure….Shortly after, skipper Jack Davies was snapped up in the covers off Jacob Schonafinger.

‘Prav’ survived a diving caught and bowled attempt by spinner Koot Pienaar….One would have thought that the result of the game may have hinged on that fortunate escape for the Indian, as he and Fraser Dent had pushed the score into the nineties.

Their target was within striking distance, and ‘Prav’ would soon be able to rein in a flagging run-rate, as he seemed on the verge of taking charge of the game.

Alas, within minutes Dent had fallen to Pienaar for 7 and Menon was another ‘Koot’ victim, snapped up by Schonafinger after a rare rash shot.

He had scored 46 off 48 balls….Wang-Magpies were now 7/94…..The pendulum had swung completely in the favour of the Hawks.

Some hefty blows from tail-ender Matt Gathercole lifted the total into three figures but, just as the sounds of thunder began to rattle ominously in the west, the Pies had run out of time……..they were 9/114 – 21 runs shy of victory…..

“THE RED BULL………”

Barry McArthur is of my vintage – a mad-keen sporting fan who can cast his mind back to the fifties and early sixties, when a host of colourful personalities abounded in Ovens and Murray football…..

Lionel Ryan, who passed away recently, aged 87, was one of them……

Barry recalls in a recent email: “If you google ‘White Line Fever’ you may find a photo of Lionel….a great bloke off the field; the ‘devil incarnate’ once he crossed the boundary line.”

“I well remember a game at the Benalla Showgrounds Oval, where Lionel, playing for Yarrawonga, flattened the Demon’s mild-mannered rover Kevin ‘Cheeky’ Morrison……..Women invaded the ground, menacingly armed with umbrellas, giving a pounding to the rusty-haired aggressor.”

“He was as tough as nails, built like Napoleon’s tomb, and put the fear of God in opposition players and spectators alike……..”

“Years later, after a VFL game at North Melbourne’s Arden Street, a mate Barry Bourke and myself were passing a pub in Flemington Road when Barry said: ‘That’s Lionel Ryan’s pub…..He’s a friend of my dad’s…..Let’s go in for a beer….’

“I still held memories of Ryan from the old days, and asked apprehensively: ‘Is it safe ?’ “

“The bar was packed and, as the bar-maid pulled us a beer, Barry observed: ‘That’s Lionel over there…’ “

“The bar-maid enquired: ‘Do you know Lionel ?’……Barry explained that he was a mate of his father’s……they had worked together at the P.M.G in Wangaratta…..The bar-lady replied: ‘When it slows down a bit I’ll ask him to come over……Lionel’s my husband’.”

“You could not wish to meet a more friendly gentleman……He shouted us a few beers and a counter-tea…..He even sent his charming wife upstairs to bring his six teen-age kids down to meet us…..What a lovely, polite family…..I had expected him to have horns growing out of his head….”

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Lionel Ryan hailed from Woomelang in the southern Mallee. His love affair with the game began, he once said, when he woke up on his fourth birthday to find a leather footy beside his bed:

“It was never out of my hands, and I loved the smell and feel of it……I became an expert at mending and patching the leather and the bladder until I’d completely worn it out by the age of fourteen…..I could kick it through the back gate – either foot – at any angle, from 30 feet away……”

He was first rover for Woomelang’s senior side at 14, before transferring to Melbourne to join the P.M.G.

Invited to play with Footscray Fourths he went through the Thirds and Seconds and, after a stint of National Service, the inevitable Senior call-up came – in Round 13, 1954.

He reflected on one of his early games at the Junction Oval, St.Kilda:

“Our coach Charlie Sutton got flattened right in front of the St.Kilda race, and the Grandstand, which was full of their supporters, roared……After making sure he’d got the free kick Charlie picked up the ball about 70 yards out, on the boundary…..”

“The Saints fans started booing and throwing bottles, cans and anything they could lay their hands on…..One of the missiles was a full 26 ounce bottle of beer. Seeing we all enjoyed a beer Charlie stopped in his run-up, picked the bottle up and gave it to ‘Owey’ Gibson, one of our trainers, saying : ‘Here Owey, put this on ice ‘til after the game.’”

“Charlie then waddled back in his arrogant style, and sent the best torpedo you have ever seen, straight through the middle, three-quarter post high…..He then bowed to the stand and got on with the game…Gee, that beer tasted good later on….”

Unfortunately, it was the legendary Sutton who cost Lionel his cherished dream – of playing in the Bulldogs’ 1954 premiership.

Since his debut he’d played seven successive senior games, including an excellent performance against Geelong in the Second Semi-Final victory.

Sutton, who had missed the Semi with a leg injury, had to come back into a side which was at the peak of its form…..There had to be one unlucky player, and it was the 19 year-old, who happened to be carrying a jarred knee and was named first emergency…….

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Lionel departed Footscray after 32 senior games and, aged 23, was recruited to Yarrawonga.

The Pigeons had contested three Grand Finals, but had never won a flag since joining the Ovens and Murray League in 1929. In a concerted effort to take the next step they lured Fitzroy captain-coach Billy Stephen to coach the Club.

“They made an offer I simply couldn’t refuse,” said Stephen……If that was the first step towards achieving the ultimate the second was the arrival of the barrel-chested, 5’10”, 14 and a half stone ‘ Red Bull’, who sent ripples through the League with his vigorous play.

After being in the ‘Four’ for the entire season,Yarra dropped their last game in 1958, to miss the finals by a slender 7.8%. But it became obvious early the following season that their moment in the sun was close at hand.

They finished the home and away rounds in second position, equal on points with the reigning premier, Wang Rovers, then scored an 11-point win over them in a cracking Second Semi…..

When they met again a fortnight later, O & M fans were salivating at the prospect of another nail-biter.

Rovers’ coach Bob Rose swung tall utility player, Ray Burns, a policeman and noted hard-nut, onto Lionel Ryan in the early stages of the Grand Final. The pair waged a two-man war – an added spectacle to a rip-roaring encounter.

The tactic worked to an extent, but Burns was later assigned to a role up forward and Ryan was moved into the centre, where he began to provide great drive.

The Pigeons led by 14 points at the long break; the Hawks hit back to lead by three points at lemon-time.

Ryan gave Yarra the lead when he stormed through the centre and landed a 75-yard ‘bomb’ in the dying stages of the game……But Burns responded when he accepted a hand-pass from team-mate Max Newth a minute or so later, ran on and goaled.

To the horror of Rovers fans, who claimed he was half an acre behind the play, umpire Harry Beitzel blew his whistle and adjudged Newth’s flick-pass to be a throw……Adding to their devestation, the resultant free kick landed deep in the Pigeons’ forward line, where lumbering ruckman Alf O’Connor snapped a major.

The siren blew…….Yarra had taken out one of the O & M’s classic Grand Finals by eight points…….

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Lionel Ryan continued to be a tower of strength for Yarrawonga the following year, but was poached by rival club Wodonga, who were searching for a successor to Des Healy as captain-coach, in 1961.

He led the ‘Dogs for three seasons and was part of a star-studded O & M rep team, before moving on to coach Hampden League club Terang. The colourful Ryan career concluded after another coaching stint, at Lilydale. He was 36………..

Lionel’s venture into the Hospitality game saw he and his family run a handful of Pubs in the city and suburban Melbourne over more than twenty years……… But he always revelled in the opportunity to renew acquaintances with team-mates of his old country footy Clubs.

One of his 18 grandkids, Ryan O’Keefe, played in two Sydney Swans premiership teams, and was awarded the Norm Smith Medal in the 2012 Grand final…….Another, Jake Ryan, was a member of Australia’s Taekwondo team for eight years……..

With help from Barry McArthur