‘DIAMOND DES………’

It was the famous American humorist Mark Twain who once pronounced that : ‘Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated……’.

Des Griffin relates to this line. He was flicking through the national newspapers one Monday morning in 1974, when he read that he’d been killed in a car accident two nights earlier.

“I felt pretty crook,” he jokes. “But I wasn’t that bloody crook……..”

I’ll let ‘Diamond’ take up the story.

“ We’d been down to watch Hawthorn play their first game at their new ‘home’ – Princes Park – and it’d been a pretty solid day….and night. I don’t remember much about what happened, but from all reports I went through the windscreen of a car on the corner of Reid and Murphy Streets around about midnight, and ended up in hospital.”

“Apparently, when the journos rang the nurses to receive an update on my health the next day, they were told I’d suffered facial injuries. They misinterpreted that to be fatal injuries.”

He spent 4-5 days in hospital, and the docs patched up his dilapidated dial with 173 stitches. All he was interested in at the end, was ‘going home to see Mum’. Long-suffering Pat Griffin, who had enough on her plate keeping tabs on eight kids, gave him a good dressing-down – and a lecture on the perils of the demon drink…………
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That’s just one of the many adventures of ‘Diamond Des’, who enlivened local sport for more than three decades…. He was solid – and unspectacular – on the field, but a gem off it….. Someone who could brighten the darkest moments and find a way to bring the shyest of kids out of their shell.

The Griffins were raised on a Boorhaman farm, but when Des’s dad became ill they moved into town. That’s when he ran into Norm Minns, a rep for Dickens and Carey (a homewares firm), who occasionally visited the family home in Greta Road.IMG_3946

Norm, a football disciple, if ever there was one, invited 15 year-old Des to have a run with Junior Magpies. A year or so later, he gave his recruit – and his mates – the imposing task of finding a new Junior League coach, to fill a vacancy on the eve of the season.
“I’ll give you a week to find one,” said Norm.

“We started hunting around, and got a few knock-backs. Finally, we went to see Ron Wales and told him how desperate we were. He said he’d try it for a year. Nearly two decades later, he was still coaching………….”
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But Des didn’t hang around long enough to soak up much of his new coach’s footy wisdom, as he joined the Rovers five weeks into the season. At the time, he was the ‘baby’ of the all-conquering United WDCA cricket side, and several of his team-mates were Hawk stars. So that’s where he headed.

He loved his four years at the Rovers, but when his cricket captain John Welch, who had taken the footy coaching job at Tarrawingee, put the hard word on him to play, he couldn’t resist.

“I signed up for two dozen Long-Necks, and it was the best decision I ever made,” says ‘Diamond’, who was to spend 16 years with the Tricolors.

He was occasionally tempted to leave. He had a cousin playing with Hopefield-Buraja, and was talked into signing Clearance Forms to go there a couple of times. But, when it came to the crunch he stayed – particularly when, on each occasion, a box of Long-Necks was dangled in front of him.

In fact, Des timed his arrival perfectly at Tarra. They hadn’t won a flag for eleven years, but coach Welch, who was a master-recruiter, had assembled a quality line-up.

“We lost the first two games, though, and, as a result, Welchy, who hadn’t played for some time, surprisingly selected himself in a forward pocket. He just wanted to set the example of how to attack the ball ferociously, even though he had a bung leg.”IMG_3951

“We soon got the message, and turned the corner…..Then he hung up his boots again,” Des recalls.

Beechworth were the form side in ‘75, but Tarra overcame them in the Second Semi – thanks to a six goal haul from diminutive rover ‘Curly’ Kerris.

And the Bullies were too tough and tenacious when the sides tangled again in the Grand Final. Des played a starring role in the centre, and managed to overcome some close attention from his Bomber opponent, fearsome Frankie Marinucci.IMG_3953

It had been 11 years since the flag had flown at Tarra, and the club celebrated accordingly. With talent in abundance, you’d think that more premierships would follow, but they succumbed to Beechworth in successive Elimination Finals and were to wait 15 years for another tilt at the flag.

But ‘Diamond’ continued to be one of their shining stars.

Local sporting legend Mick Wilson recalls watching him play in the late-seventies:

“He was Tarra’s captain for a few years and a real spiritual leader, “ Mick says. “Strong and fearless; a bit of a hero to us kids – and a terrific role model. No matter how bad the situation got on-field, ‘Griffo’ always remained positive…….Then, after games, with sufficient liquid fortification, he’d grab hold of the mike and belt out his repertoire of songs, like ‘Johnny Be Good’ or ‘Get a little dirt on your hands’……..”IMG_3948

“He coached Tarra Thirds when they started up. He’d pile a few kids in the back of a Panel Van and head off to away games. Myself, my brothers Joe and Waldo, and Robbie Hickmott were only little tackers then, but he made sure we were just as much part of the group as the older kids.”

“ He emphasised getting enjoyment out of the game. They’d be getting belted, but he’d say: ‘Don’t worry about the scoreboard, just play footy’……….“
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Des juggled playing seniors and coaching the Reserves for the last three years of his 300-game career with the Dogs, then was enticed into Wangaratta, to coach their Reserves for two seasons.

Again Tarrawingee came calling. He coached for three years ( 1992-94 ) during some fairly bleak times. “ ‘Diamond’ could coach, no worries about that, but we just didn’t have the cattle,” said one old Dog.IMG_3950

He returned to Wang for another two-year stint as Reserves coach, then headed across the laneway to be Runner and assistant to an old mate, Greg Rosser, with the Rovers Twos.

His son Trav was, by now, playing at King Valley, so Des found himself linked up with the Roos, as Chairman of Selectors to Mick Newton.

Then it was back to his original ‘home’ again, as the right-hand man to Rovers Thirds coach, Johnny McNamara……
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Footy clubs recognised that ‘Diamond’ was a good man to have around, and the same could be said about his lengthy involvement in cricket.

He was a left-hand bat, and didn’t deem it necessary to wear gloves, thigh pad or helmet. It would be an apt description of his batting that he wielded the wand with reasonable proficiency. But his greatest asset was as a team-lifting captain.

There was always plenty of mirth amongst he and his team-mates when they were batting. In the field, he’d be forever talking things up and encouraging the youngsters.

He played six years for the newly-formed Tarrawingee when they joined the Sunday competition, but spent most of his career with United, which morphed into Rovers-United in 1988/89.

“A few of the old United blokes weren’t too happy when the merge came about with the Rovers. We were always arch rivals. But I didn’t mind it one bit,” he says.

He was handed a new nickname – ‘Dezzy Whites’ – when he’d follow up the after-match drinks with a session at the ‘Pino’, then a Mixed Grill at a Murphy Street cafe – still clad in full cricket regalia….. And in his younger days, a visit  to the Saturday night dance in his grass-stained whites was also on the cards.

He ran the club’s juniors for five years, eventually playing with most of them after he’d slid back through the ranks to be captain of the C-Grade team.

In his last season – 2001/02 – he led them to a flag. They’d scored three for plenty  after the first day’s play, and the opposition enquired as to whether a declaration might be in the offing, early on the second day.

“Yeah, about 10-to,” he replied. “Okay, 10-to what ?, “ they queried.  “10 to 6……..”
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‘Diamond’ prized the Life Memberships he received from Tarra Football and Rovers-United Cricket clubs.

A new job with Veolia, required him to travel the nation, overseeing the materials required to repair Kilns and Furnaces on Mine-Sites. A mine shut-down sometimes took four weeks, so he was away for long periods.

He’s still working, but taking things a bit easier now, giving he and Carol time to spend with their four kids and 10 grand-kids. And he still keeps a close eye on the fortunes of his old clubs……IMG_3943

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‘THE BRIAN DORMAN SHOW…….’

When old Wangaratta Social Cricket Association stalwarts gathered last Sunday, for a charity re-union match, discussion  no doubt drifted to the gun players who graced the competition over its colourful 74-year history.

There were a host of those – and countless others who served their clubs with distinction.

Occasionally a champ flashed across the landscape like a shooting star – only to quickly disappear……..leaving you with indelible memories of his skill.

I recall one of them. At times – in the early to mid-sixties – I had a box-seat to the Brian Dorman Show…………
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He stood 6 foot four, tipped the scales at 15 stone, and – brandishing a bat that looked like a tooth-pick in his hands – bludgeoned the bowling as ferociously as any local player I’ve seen.

Added to this, he was a high-class wicket-keeper;  creating an imposing presence behind the stumps as he stood up to most bowlers. His glove-work was neat, swift and effective.

They called him ‘Horse’. Some said his footy team-mates gave him that ‘handle’ because he took long, slow strides like a race-horse. More logically, it was probably because of his fascination with the sport of kings.

He arrived in Wangaratta to take up a job as a foreman for local trainer Hal Hoysted, and, after admitting his fascination for cricket, was recruited to WSCA club Socials.

It was a perfect mix. Socials were a motley band of keen cricketers and racing fanatics who included in their ranks a couple of the local constabulary and two or three S.P bookies.

Their President – and probably the bloke who recruited ‘Horse’ – was Ray Parkinson, one of the town’s leading bookmakers. Opposition teams irreverently dubbed them the ‘Cops and Robbers’.

The Socials players used to joke about the post-mortem of the previous day’s races which would be undertaken during their innings.  It would become so absorbing that a participant could excuse himself when a wicket had fallen, go out to bat, be dismissed and then rejoin the conversation without anyone having noticed that he’d gone missing !

Of course that was until ‘Horse’ Dorman arrived on the scene.

His debut knock was a signal of things to come, when he hit 99, including 8 sixes and 7 fours, against South Wangaratta. He followed this up with 114 in 72 minutes against Postals.

He wasn’t just a left-handed slogger. Possessing a fine array of shots and a keen eye, he exuded great power. Many of his sixes at North Wangaratta’s Sentinel Park ( Socials’ home ground and the local greyhound venue), landed half-way up the adjoining paddock – or smashed into the dog boxes, 30 metres from the field of play.

His first season – an interrupted one – netted 867 runs and a premiership.

He continued to pile up the runs. I was a decade younger than ‘Horse’ and had the privilege of standing, entranced, at the other end some days as he slaughtered the bowling. In one match our opening stand was 150 ( in 86 minutes ) of which my contribution was 22…… Oh, and that season produced another flag.img_3938

Later, when he moved to Berrigan, he travelled over for another season or two, such was the enjoyment that he derived from Sunday cricket.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I should fill you in on the Brian Dorman story…….
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He hailed from Merbein, a little town just 12km or so north of Mildura….. “There were four of us kids ( we had two sisters Raylee and Annette) and we were all mad on sport,” says his brother John. “Brian was a bit of a prodigy….played senior cricket and footy for Merbein at 15. “

“You know what it was like in the fifties…..No such thing as zoning. A bloke called Len Herath alerted Collingwood to Brian, and their Secretary Gordon Carlyon came up and nabbed him.”img_3937

“I went down too……Made the list, but got transferred to Boort in the Post Office soon after, so that was that. I wasn’t good enough to play League footy, anyway.”

But the younger Dorman made an impression. After three promising games in the Reserves early in 1954, he was named at centre half forward against Geelong for his senior debut. At 16 years 324 days, he had the unenviable task of lining up on Cats premiership defender John Hyde in the re-match of the previous season’s Grand Final.

He kicked a couple of goals too, but the Pies were just giving the lad a sniff of the big-time. He was to spend several years growing into his body and suffering injury setbacks before he was deemed truly ready.img_3934

His dad Marnie – a wood-merchant and non-footballer – was an old mate of Collingwood captain Lou Richards, who offered to put Brian up at his pub for a while, to keep an eye on him.

Firstly, he resided at the Town Hall Hotel in North Melbourne, then Lou and Edna took over the Phoenix, in the city. ‘Horse’ became the ‘star boarder’ for seven years.

The Richards’ had the benefit of a baby-sitter, fill-in barman and occasional handyman.
Lou enlisted Brian’s support one night, when a customer who’d been at the bar all day, collapsed, and, to all intents and purposes, appeared to have gone off to his mortal coil.

They carried the body out of the pub and around the corner . Lou suggested placing it in a phone-box, so as to avoid any adverse publicity for the Phoenix Hotel.

At that moment a passing policeman queried what was going on…..“We think he’s dead,” said Brian….With that, the cop gave the bloke a good kick in the midriff, and he awoke, startled………..
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Besides his run of footy injuries, Brian copped another when he was on National Service duty at Watsonia. The Army jeep he was driving, rolled over and he sustained a broken pelvis. It cost him half of 1956, and all of the ‘57 season.

Collingwood was heading towards one of their most famous premierships in 1958. ‘Horse’ had played the bulk of the season in the key forward post, but rolled his ankle in the second-semi, and was ruled out for the season.

But by 1960, he had hit his straps. He’d booted three goals in each of his three previous games, and when he lined up at CHF in the Preliminary Final against Fitzroy, was considered one of the keys to the Magpies’ victory chances.

The ‘Sun’s’ preview of the clash stated that: “……with more pace, Dorman could be a top-line forward…..He’s not a slow thinker and knows what to do with the ball when he gets it. He was the side’s most positive forward in the semi-final………..”

Alas, the Dorman career ended tragically that day, when he took a mark, attempted to kick on the muddy surface of the MCG, and his left knee caved in. These days, it would just require a ‘reco’, some rehab and he’d be back as good as gold in less than twelve months.img_3933

But in that era it spelt disaster. His career with the Magpies was finished, after 51 senior games. He was grateful for the resultant job offer from Hal Hoysted, as he was enthralled by the racing game .

He attempted a footy come-back of sorts a year or so later, when he had a run with Wangaratta, but the knee continued to ‘blow up’. It was all over for ‘Horse’………img_3936
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Brian was lured to Berrigan by an old mate, Bert Honeychurch, and became Stable Foreman for the Training legend, thus beginning a 46-year love affair with the small Riverina town.

After a lengthy training ‘apprenticeship’ he obtained his own trainer’s licence in 1977, and, with wife Jan ( a Wangaratta girl ) started operating from the Berrigan Racecourse.

Soon after, Brian’s keen eye for talent saw him purchase Warlike, a seven year-old, for $1,250. It proved a sound investment, as the gelding was to take the $10,000 Golden Harp at Broken Hill, the Deniliquin Cup, and got up – at long odds – in a shock result at Moonee Valley, among its 14 wins.

Namrod ( Dorman spelt backwards ) was also a more than handy galloper who landed a few wins at double-figure odds.

He continued to chalk up the winners, particularly on Riverina tracks, over the next 35 years, and numbered Griffith, Albury, and Chiltern Cups – and a Riverina Cup with Master Delville – among his many successes.

‘Horse’ battled cancer for two years before finally succumbing in 2012. He left wife Jan, who still resides in Berrigan, and two daughters, Marnie and Anissa, who live in Albury.

His memory is perpetuated by the Berrigan Race Club who annually name one of their races, the Brian Dorman Memorial Handicap…………….img_3935

‘BRINGING HOME THE BACON IN THE LOCAL GIFT………’

Wally Pasquali occasionally harks back to the most memorable night of his sporting career……

He was feeling the weight of expectation pressing down upon his slightly-built frame, as he stepped onto the blocks for the Final of the 1995 Wangaratta Gift.

Moments earlier, under the glare of the floodlights, the second back-marker had sauntered down the 120-metre track whilst being introduced by the ground announcer .

The accompanying applause from the locals sent a tingle down his spine.img_3924

Wal was 27, and already an accomplished pro performer. He’d contested a Stawell Gift Final, won two Broadford Gifts, finished fourth in South Australia’s prestigious Bay Sheffield, fourth in a Bendigo 1000 – and two weeks prior, had taken out the Rye Gift.

But this one would give him special satisfaction.

He got away to a flier and breasted the tape in 12.21 seconds, a metre clear of his nearest opponent – Peter Harloff of North Albury – to whom he’d conceded five metres.img_3925

It was a dream run. With hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history. He completed his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand…………..
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Twenty-four years on, the prestigious Wangaratta Carnival still means the world to Wally Pasquali. He plays a key role in its organisation. His company – Optus – heavily promotes the event.

He regards that as his duty, just as he did when the Wangaratta City Soccer Club – and his old footy team, the Wangaratta Rovers – both asked him to be their President.

Wal has a keen eye for history, and he’s proud of the fact that he’s one of only seven locals to have taken out the Carnival’s ‘Blue Ribbon’ event in its 97-year history……..
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Mick Maroney was the first, in 1930.

Maroney stood just 5’4”, was beautifully proportioned, and was handled by a wise old coach, Marty Bean, who had a number of Wangaratta runners in his ‘stable’.

Bean was only an average runner himself, but had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty, who was born in 1896, had played in Wangaratta Football Club’s 1920 premiership, and acted as Head Trainer for the Pies for 17 years. It was whilst performing this role that he recognised the talent of the elusive, courageous, determined Maroney, who was a star winger.img_3930

The bookies adjudged the 18 year-old a 7/4 favourite for the Gift. Given a liberal handicap of 12 metres, he cruised home in style, and completed the double, by taking out the Warby Sprint.

The following year, Mick continued his good form, despite being handed a much stricter mark from the handicapper. He ran impressively to win the Shepparton Gift, and pocket the accompanying purse of 130 pounds.

He moved to Melbourne soon after, but would make the annual pilgrimage home to compete at the Carnival each Australia Day week-end. In 1937, his final success at Wang, he won the Ovens Handicap and Warby Sprint………..

 

Alf Whittaker had gained employment locally, with the Railways, when he prevailed in 1938 . After winning a re-run of the 100 yard sprint in effortless fashion on the Saturday night, and effortlessly winning the twelfth Gift heat , he stormed into contention.

The Final proved a thriller, as front-markers Stevens, McCorkell and the Echuca sprinter C.R.Collins were locked together nearing the end of the 130 yard journey.

But Whittaker lunged at the line to take out the 100 pounds prize-money, finishing six inches in front of the fancied Stevens, with McCorkell a further six inches away in third place……….

 

When Frank Seymour bobbed up, the town was in raptures.

Seymour’s adolescent years co-incided with the advent of World War II. He was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association.

The cessation of hostilities saw O & M football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, was selected for his share of senior matches with the Pies. Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership, with the youngster in their line-up.

By now, Marty Bean had convinced Seymour that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro-running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers:

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you.”

After experiencing success at a few unregistered athletic meetings, Seymour reasoned that he’d like to give it a go in pro ranks

‘Old Marty’ decided to set him him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947.

A blistering-hot January day reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity.

When Seymour registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, he was installed as warm favourite for the final.img_3929

Running off seven yards, he scorched to the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well-fancied. A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their glee, having backed their team-mate for a considerable sum…………

 

The Doolan family moved to Wangaratta in 1950, and young Jim, who had attended Assumption College, soon made his mark in local sport.

He came under the influence of the ageing Bean, who was sure that he had the talent to go a fair way as a professional athlete.

Doolan’s big moment came in 1958, but it was not without its share of drama. He dead-heated with W.Dinsdale in the semi, but won his way through to the Final on a soggy Monday evening.

He ran the race of his life to take out the Gift, then completed the double with a win in the Ovens Sprint…………..

 

Greg O’Keeffe was jogging around the Galen College Oval, trying to maintain some fitness after an exhausting 1980 football season with the Wangaratta Rovers, when a car pulled up and a voice called out: “……Ow ya goin….”.

It was Bernie Grealy, a local running legend and two-time Stawell finalist.
He told the panting O’Keeffe that he’d seen him on the footy field, and reckoned he could do all right as an athlete.

He must have sold the message okay, as, within months, Greg had his first run, in the Carnegie Gift. He was unplaced, but the adrenalin had started to flow. He ran in his first Wangaratta Gift in 1983. The next year he finished second in the Final.

He was to reach his home-town Final five times, but in 1985 ‘ran the house down’. Off a mark of 7.5 metres he clocked 12.23 to narrowly defeat Murray Dineen in a famous Gift Final.img_3931

Greg continued to compete with considerable success all over the state, and is renowned as an icon of pro running. He has been inducted into the prestigious Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame, in recognition of  his devotion to the sport over nearly 40 years.

He’s another stalwart who decided to put his shoulder to the wheel when the Wangaratta Carnival faced the threat of extinction several years ago.

He was President for 13 years and will be floating around in some administrative capacity this week-end, besides keeping an eye on a couple of the runners he now coaches…….

 

Jason Boulton was one of Wangaratta’s up-and-comers in the early nineties. He showed his potential by figuring prominently in many meets around the state. But there was a bullet beside his name when he finished runner-up in the 1996 Gift – pipped by Scottish-born Kevin Hanlon.

The following year he turned the tables with a strong performance, outlasting Hanlon in a tight finish.img_3926

By now, Jason had re-located to Melbourne, but he continued to return for the Carnival week-end. In 2006, nine years after his initial triumph, he coasted to victory in 12.36 seconds, off the handy mark of 11.5m, to become one of only four dual Gift winners.

Boulton had overcome some niggling injuries, including three shoulder reconstructions emanating from his football career. But he kept persevering. He made the Gift Final four times, won the 70 metre event twice and also took out the 400m handicap in 1998.img_3927
These days he keeps a close eye on his four kids, who are keen Little Athletes and shaping as stars of the future…………
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One of the host of great Wangaratta Gift stories concerns, not a local winner, but probably the most famous runner to have contested the event…….

American negro Barney Ewell ( a 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist ) won his heat and semi-Final of the 1950 Gift, then came up against Carlton footballer Laurie Kerr, who was favourite to win the Final.img_3922

Ewell badly wanted the prize-money.

At the start he walked across the track and saluted each finalist. When he came to Kerr he said: “Hiya Laurie, see you at the tape……but you’ll be looking at my back.”
Vintage gamesmanship indeed !

There was a sensation, and the hushed crowd sighed as Ewell and Frank Banner appeared to break. It was revealed that the fault was caused by a ‘snapped cap’ from the starter’s gun…..

Ewell later said: “I went and Frank followed. I gave that goddam starter the raspberry when I went back to the blocks.”
Ewell burned up the track to set an all-time record of 12.1, beating Laurie Kerr into second place.

In presenting Ewell with his sash, long-time Carnival President Arthur Callander said: “ Great run, Barney. You have done so much to put this town on the map…………”img_3928

‘THE GAME – CHANGER……….”

Michael Newton is blessed with the rare ability to change the course of a sporting contest.

In recent years his feats as a high-marking, long-kicking, goal-scoring forward with Wangaratta, have made him the most eye-catching player in Ovens and Murray football.

But last Saturday he reproduced that unique trait on the cricket field, to rescue his WDCA side Ovens Valley from a precarious situation.

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It was a sweltering 39 degrees at the W.J.Findlay Oval – home of their opponents, Rovers-United-Bruck. Obviously the side winning the toss held the aces. Ovens Valley grasped the opportunity to bat, and so avoid the discomfort of an afternoon in the field under under a blazing sun.

But things didn’t quite go to plan. Their progress was snail-like. The oppressive heat intoxicated both batsmen and bowlers, as just 31 runs came in the first 23 overs.
Then, as so often happens in modern-day club cricket, a clatter of wickets brought the game to life.

Ovens Valley slumped from 1/31 to 6/34 in a jiffy. Newton, who had strolled to the crease at the fall of the fourth wicket, could merely spectate at the other end, as a couple of team-mates played indiscreet shots, with inevitable consequences.

The consensus of a few onlookers in my vicinity was that they’d possibly scramble to a total of 60 or 70 – if they were lucky.

‘Juice’ had other ideas. He was a touch rusty early on. Talk was that a tender calf was causing him grief and may hinder him at the crease .

But once he hit his straps, the Hawk bowlers were at his mercy.img_3895

He was circumspect for a period, and defended sternly, for a fellow with a reputation as a sporting ‘dasher’. Then he’d unleash the odd off or straight drive which would skelter to the boundary.

Suddenly, he was set; and motoring through the thirties and forties, whilst doing his utmost to protect numbers eight, nine and ten, who nevertheless, lent good support.
The heat – and a lack of success – took their toll on the Hawk bowlers, who had lost their vim. The big fellah was in total control.

A ton was staring him in the face until he injudiciously propped his lanky left foot in front, and was adjudged LBW to part-time medium-pacer Jordan Blades.

He had scored 96 of the 127 runs which came whilst he was at the crease – a knock which had been peppered with 13 boundaries and a hefty hoik over the mid-wicket boundary. His side had advanced to a rather more healthy, competitive 161.

The runs are on the board, and now Newton must don his other cap – as an express opening bowler, to protect that total on Saturday……….
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Michael Newton was a childhood prodigy.

From renowned sporting stock which had faithfully served the the township of Whorouly for generations, he took the usual career path of a gifted country football talent.

He was spotted by the Murray Bushrangers, then recruited by Melbourne, who took him at Pick 43 in the 2004 AFL Pre-Season Draft.

The stand-out characteristic of his game was his height ( 6’4”) and agility, and, of course, that freakish ability which could drop the jaw of the most-judgemental recruiting scout.

But that was no ‘free pass’ to League football. He laboured for for almost three years with Sandringham – the Demons’ VFL ‘feeder’ club, before being handed his AFL debut in Neale Daniher’s final game as coach – Round 13, 2007.

Three games later, he sprung to the attention of the wider football public when he pulled down a ‘screamer’ against North Melbourne; soaring high above the pack to pluck a Colin Sylvia ‘long bomb’ from the clouds.img_3903

It was almost an exclamation mark in the youngster’s football journey, signifying that he had ‘arrived’. He was awarded the AFL’s Mark of the Year and the accolade as an ‘up and comer’.

But footy’s never that easy. He was plagued by a series of injuries, and made only six (2008), five (2009), and four (2010) appearances in the following three seasons.

Newton was delisted at the end of 2011, after 28 senior games over seven seasons……….
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Famous Adelaide club Norwood snapped him up, but he was again at the mercy of the ‘injury stick’ which had played havoc with his stop-start career.

After settling in well at The Parade he damaged an ACL, which required a full knee reconstruction and put paid to his efforts to make an impact on the SANFL for more than a season and a half.

Having played just 10 games in his first two years at Norwood, he came back in style, to boot 57 goals, and play an important role in their 2014 premiership – the club’s third straight title.

In front of 38,000 fans, Norwood held off a powerful Port Adelaide – comprising 19 AFL-listed players, to win by four points, in a classic encounter.img_3899

At last, it seemed, the football public would see an unrestrained Michael Newton, as he moved into his late twenties.
Alas, he was again frustrated by injuries, which restricted him to just nine games in 2015. Compounding that was a falling-out with Redlegs coach Ben Warren, which prompted his decision to return home to the family dairy farm……..
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Naturally, when footy clubs get wind of a giant, goal-scoring forward with a considerable reputation returning to their midst, there’s a flurry of activity. Four clubs were in the hunt for him, and the Rovers who felt they held a strong family affiliation with him, stood at the front of the queue.

His dad Rod, a classy half-forward, had played 49 games with the Hawks in the eighties; sister Kristy had won a Netball B & F; twin cousins Josh and Andy were both wearing Brown and Gold. The stars certainly seemed aligned…….

But, in a shock announcement, he chose to join arch rivals, Wangaratta.

The touchy Newton soft tissues restricted him to just nine games in 2016. One of those was the much-awaited opening stanza of the ‘Local Derby’, when he limped from the field early on.

To the delight of Hawk fans, the Pies struggled to recover from the loss of their star recruit and were over-run late in the game. But, with 42 goals in his other eight games, there was proof that, if Wang could keep ‘Juice’ on the field, he’d hold the key to their success.

No doubt his most memorable performance – and probably the finest of his career – came in the 2017 Grand Final, when he provided the inspiration for one of Wang’s finest flag wins.

Red-hot favourites Albury – chasing their fourth straight title – were caught on the hop, as the Pies continually attacked in the first quarter. With 7.0 to 2.2, they built a ‘bridge too far’ for the shocked Tigers, who were unable to contain the champion skipper.img_3902

He kicked four of his eight goals in that first term and provided a master-class, on the way to being awarded the Did Simpson Medal as best-afield.

He has the knack of polarising opinion amongst opposition fans. I witnessed it in a clash against Yarrawonga at the Minns Oval last season, when the Pies were beginning to lose touch during the third term.

In an blatant piece of gamesmanship, ‘Juice’ started to niggle his opponent, who could take no more, and retaliated, in full vision of the ump. It resulted in successive goals to the big number 3 . Pigeon fans cried blue murder, but too late, the game had swung Wang’s way and they went on to a comfortable win.img_3914

He’s now booted 197 goals in his 47 games in Black and White. His tally of 81 in 2018 was enough to clinch his first Doug Strang Medal.

He’s nudging 32, and it’s debatable how long Michael Newton can pamper those unpredictable hamstrings, calves and thighs. Obviously, those fly-in fly-out trips to the Far North where he’s occasionally strutted his stuff with NTFL club Waratahs in the off-season, will have to go on the back-burner.

But you’d think he still may be able to change the course of a few more sporting contests……….”img_3898

‘ANDREW GRESKIE’S FLING WITH THE SPORT OF KINGS…..’

Andrew Greskie first savoured the roar of the crowd back in 1973.

He was seven years old, and garbed neatly in Brown and Gold, when he led North Wangaratta through the streamers and balloons, and onto the field, for their first-ever Ovens and King League Grand Final.img_3886

His dad Len, who had enjoyed a stellar career with Wangaratta Rovers, had, four years earlier, been handed the unenviable task of resurrecting the Northerners.

Rock-hard Lennie, the epitome of on-field toughness, played 236 consecutive games -often with a splitting migraine- and figured in four premierships with the Rovers.

Relishing the challenge at his new club, he introduced a brand of ruthlessness and discipline which culminated in this long-overdue premiership.

He would have spared his most special thoughts for young Andrew – who was no doubt nipping at his heels amidst the wild celebrations – and hoped that sometime in the future, the lad might be able to follow suit………..
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But it wasn’t to be…..

“I played Midgets in the same team as North Melbourne’s Darren Steele, and against some future stars in Danny Craven, ‘Pas’ and Mark Stone. That’s my claim to fame. But I don’t think I had what it took to be a player. Besides, at that age, I was more interested in being a jockey.”

Andrew recalls Don Hackett, the sports teacher at Galen despairingly yelling out to him during a training drill: “Nah Greskie,…… You’re gonna be a jockey.”

His interest in the Sport of Kings had initially been fostered by a next-door neighbor Peter Taylor, who was a jockey; and by frequent visits to his uncle, Rex Greskie, the Clerk of the Course at Flemington. His grand-father George provided some of the genetics. He was an old bush ‘hoop’.

Andrew lived on the corner of Scott and Tudgey Streets, just a short jaunt to the Racecourse. He’d sneak through Hal Hoysted’s stables, head across the road, and hang around old horsemen like Paul Erwin, Donny Winzer and Dennis Gray – and the jockeys, Col Matthews, Robbie Beattie, Brian Creed, Brian Johns and Gaye Mullins.

“I loved the smell of the stables; it was just a natural thing. I was drawn to the racing game,” he says.

It was Peter Taylor’s wife Ann who first legged him up onto a horse.

“I was petrified at first. I just hung on for dear life, but after cantering around for a while I thought: ‘How good’s this.’ ”

The die was cast…….
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At the tender age of 15 he secured an apprenticeship with local trainer Dennis Gray. But, with one apprentice already in his stables, Dennis soon reasoned there weren’t enough horses to keep the youngster in work, so he transferred him to Epsom, under Bob Durey.

Then another complication presented itself. Durey decided he’d like to return to race-riding, which again left Andrew in a pickle. Fortunately, a Wangaratta connection, Stephen Aldridge, who was attached to the renowned Hayes stable, put in a good word for him.

Suddenly he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime, and found himself at Lindsay Park, the plush’ training operations,  at Anguston, 80km from Adelaide, apprenticed to the great Colin Hayes.

“You can imagine; at 15, and so far from home. I was desperately homesick. Some nights, I used to sleep out in the paddock, I was that unsettled. But the Hayes family were really good to me, and, after all, I was living out my dream,” he recalls.

Andrew had created an impression with his talent and eagerness to learn, and had his first race ride just before his 18th birthday. He rode his first winner at Clare, not long after.

“It was a 10/1 shot, and wasn’t really expected to win. One of its stable-mates was the favourite, but when I passed the post first, I think everyone was shocked, more than anything.”

His first city winner followed soon after, when he piloted home Lindsay Park’s Arctic Thunder, which saluted in the Deloraine Graduation.img_3884

From then on, his progress was quite staggering. The winners came along with such regularity that he had already maintained a stranglehold on the Adelaide apprentice’s premiership….. That was until the management of Lindsay Park decided to send him across to Melbourne, in preparation for the Spring Carnival of 1984.img_3885

The consensus was that, as Hayes’ leading apprentice, they’d use Andrew in claiming races ( when apprentices were able to claim weight). It was all rather heady stuff for a lad of 18, to be thrust into the thick of things at the Mecca of racing.

At one stage he was having such a good trot that he was just behind the gifted Darren Gauci, as Melbourne’s leading apprentice.

One of those wins was on Nouvelle Star, which was of particular significance to the Hayes camp, as it was Colin’s first success in a newly-minted partnership with a mega-rich Sheik.

On one unforgettable day, Andrew rode a treble at Sandown and was just pipped for a fourth win at the same meeting. He was flying, and admits he enjoyed the glamour of it all.

“But then, there was the other side. If you were on the favourite and you got pipped, the punters would give you a hard time. So there was always heaps of pressure……”

There were times, also, when he fell foul of the stewards: “ I always tried my guts out when I was riding – especially as an apprentice – and it resulted in a few suspensions. I learned to control myself a bit more in later years.”

The danger attached to his profession was never far away. “I got knocked out at Murray Bridge one day, and spent a night in hospital. Then there was the time I went through the rails in a race at Victoria Park…… But that was all part of the game.”

He reflected that, whilst regular winners gave him confidence in his ability, it also made him a touch big-headed.

“I was playing up a bit, and started to put on weight,” he says. Inevitably, the stable elected to send him back to Adelaide.

His health began to detoriate , and he decided to return home to Wangaratta, where he eventually recuperated, resumed full fitness and got down to his riding weight.

So he headed back for another crack at Adelaide racing. The Hayes stable offered to take him back on board, but instead, he began riding freelance for a few years ; in particular, forming a fruitful association with leading trainer David Balfour.

“I had one of my best wins for David,” he says, pointing to a photo of the Adelaide Guineas of 1990, a Listed race, in which he guided Faraday to victory in a blanket-finish.img_3887

“Have a look at the blokes behind me there,” he says, with a hint of nostalgia……”Harry White, Greg Hall, Rod Griffiths, Peter Hutchieson…..All champs in their own right.”img_3888

Andrew enjoyed a high sporting profile in Adelaide, and loved the lifestyle.

“I always liked a good time,” he says. “I used to knock around with a few of the Glenelg footballers – blokes like Kernahan, McDermott, McGuiness, Cornesy and also the actor Gary Sweet, who was tied up with Glenelg.”

“We’d regularly go to a disco called ‘Lenny’s’. It’d be rocking of a week-end. I suppose that’s not ideal when you’re a jockey, and trying to keep your weight under control…………”

He was only 26 when health problems again intervened – and put paid to – his glittering career in the saddle. He’d ridden more than 500 winners – roughly 120 of those on city tracks…….
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Andrew re-settled in Wangaratta – to be back with his family. He remains a relatively anonymous figure in his home town, but on his regular visits to the races, is rapt to catch up with old acquaintances.

He was at a Wangaratta meeting about five years ago, when David Hayes, who had a couple of horses running, stopped for a yarn about old times and enquired about his health.

The following day he received a phone call from Tom Dabernig – David’s nephew and training partner – offering him a job at the stable’s re-located operations, 16km from Euroa.

He’s been there ever since, working on Track Maintenance at Lindsay Park, under manager Richard Nettleton. A usual day sees him up at 5.30am, making the hour-long trek to Lindsay Park, working until 3.30pm, before heading home to Wang.

“It’s a busy place,” Andrew says. “They’ve got about 120 horses there at present, and there’s always plenty going on……. I’ve just got to resist the urge to jump on a horse……..”img_3891