RUNNING RONNIE

He had the looks of a choir-boy and the wiry frame of an old ‘cocky’. Hardened by long and exhausting days of physical exertion on the farm at Murmungee, his was the perfect  preparation for a season of football.

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It stood him in good stead. Ron Ferguson was to prove a remarkably durable and hard-working  player over 14 Ovens and Murray seasons. Throughout a ‘Golden Era’ for the Wangaratta Rovers, he managed to escape the  spotlight, as his highly-credentialled  team-mates were lauded for their exploits.

It’s only when you reflect on his career achievements –  4  Premierships and 256 O &M games  – that you understand there was more to ‘Fergie’  than met the eye.

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His dad Dave was a long-serving defender with Whorouly. One of those blokes who stood up year after year at full back, or somewhere close handy. A salt-of-the-earth type for a country club.

Ronnie followed in his footsteps, playing in the Thirds, then graduating to the senior side. Soon he was being  pursued by  Myrtleford. He managed 16 senior games with the Saints, but wasn’t entirely comfortable and decided he’d enjoy his footy a lot more if he had a change of environment.

So in 1986 he transferred to the Rovers. His new coach was a like-minded individual, Merv Holmes, a fellow farmer from up-the-road at Carboor and a bloke who appreciated that Ron didn’t need to bust his gut on the training track.

It was Holmes’ last year as coach and not an entirely successful one on-field. But he had introduced some new talent in his two seasons at the helm. Peter Tossol, Matthew Allen and Robert Walker were blooded the year before ‘Fergie’ and Rick Marklew.

The following season Mick Caruso, Mick  Wilson and Joe Wilson were among  the long list that Laurie Burt fed games into. All of the afore-mentioned were to play over 200 games.

Burt was astounded that, despite his emphasis on a long, hard pre-season and that ‘you only get out of it what you put into it’, Ferguson was able to roll up  well after Christmas and finish first or second in the beep-test and run all night with ease.

That was ‘Fergie’s strength. He could run between the lines and showed no fear, although he sometimes frustrated  Rovers fans in the early days by zigging and zagging and running into trouble.  “Kick the bloody thing, Fergie”,  was the clarion call when they saw the slender number 9  grab possession and head out of defence.

Opposition supporters were not particularly enamoured of him either, as he had a hard edge to his game which prompted  the occasional altercation. He only went into the umpire’s book once, but did sustain the ire of Albury’s Mick Buchanan, who took exception to the treatment meted out to him in the 1996 Qualifying Final.

But ‘Fergie’ had a great fan in Laurie Burt, who appreciated his worth as a linkman in defence. At 21, he was almost one of the middle-aged players in ‘Burt’s Babes’, who conquered Lavington in  a famous 1988  premiership victory.

1991 was a ‘downer’  for Ferguson. For the first time in his career he spent an extended period in the curtain-raisers. His 10 games were enough to win the Reserves Best and Fairest award, but a move into the mid-field re-ignited his career.

He did enough towards the end of the season to find a place on the bench  in the ’91 premiership side, but from that point on his place in the side was never in doubt.

Burt threw him into a ‘tagging’ role and so effective was he that he often became the ‘tagged’  because of his ability to pick up possessions while negating direct opponents.

He figured prominently in the 1993 and ’94 premiership victories. Mick Caruso was the Did Simpson Medallist in 1993, but some in the media chose Ronnie as their best afield.

Selection in the O & M’s  1993 All-Star Team  was proof that  ‘Fergie’ had moved out of the shadow of  the big names and was a star in his own right.

The players  knew that a Ferguson prank just around the corner.  A dead snake strategically hidden in a player’s locker or the interchange box; the coach’s car being put up on blocks, or surprise ‘Lucky Door Prizes’  kept the place abuzz.

He was the only O & M player to embark on the very English pastime of hunting foxes with the hounds. He was President of the district Hunt Club.

‘Fergie’ was still playing at his top, right until the end of the 1998 season. But an accident on the farm, when a fragment  of steel entered his eye and cost him the loss of a lot of his sight, signalled the end of his career.

There is little doubt that his stamina was still the equal, or better than anyone’s and  his skills were as good as they ever had been. But for his accident he would more than likely have become a 300-Game player.

His injury woes continued upon retirement. A nasty fall off a horse badly broke his leg.The same leg was later broken in another on-farm accident. But ‘Fergie’ never let it get him down.

His son Sam is trying out with Myrtleford thirds, with Ronnie in support. He said :” I’ll  barrack for you, but when you play the Rovers, I’ll have to support them.

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