THE MAN WITH THE PREMIERSHIP TOUCH

*           It’s a vital WDCA semi-final. Rovers-United are under severe pressure, as an attacking batsman carves up the bowling. The game is slipping away. In an inspired move, the fieldsman at short leg shifts himself in so close that he could pick the plundering batsman’s pocket. Next ball, obviously distracted, the potential match-winner swipes wildly and is bowled. The game swings the Combine’s way in an flash.

*   A crucial stage in the last quarter of a tight O & M game. The Rovers’ number 10 shows ridiculous courage to back into a converging pack, ignoring the physical consequences. He is hammered, gets up slowly, but his example of commitment provides the impetus for the Hawks to fight on and close out the game against Albury.

*           Rain delays play in the 2006/07 WDCA Final, then ladder-leaders Rovers-United subsequently find themselves in deep trouble at 5/57. Desperate measures are required and a dogged Hawks’ left-hander drops anchor. Realising that his side have to keep occupying the crease, he bats on – and on – and on, until, late on the second day he is dismissed for 95. Rovers-United save the game and clinch the premiership.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The central figure in each of those random ‘snapshots’ was a legend of country sport. His name ? Peter Tossol.

Sometimes you’re dead lucky to arrive upon a bloke like ‘Toss’. In the case of the Wangaratta Rovers and Rovers-United it stemmed from a friendship he struck up with an old cricket rival, John Welch.

He had spent 3 years playing footy with Melbourne and desperately wanted to leave the ‘big smoke’. After an approach from Welch, whom he had opposed in North-East Cup cricket matches, he reckoned the Rovers were a good fit for him.

Besides, he had been a Rovers fan from afar. “I could remember listening in to the footy scores on the ABC every Saturday night when I was a kid and I started following the Rovers because they were always winning. So I developed a bit of a fascination with them”, he once recalled .

Tossol was born and bred in Thornton, one of four boys in a fanatical sporting family. His dad, also Peter, had trained with Melbourne as a lad and was a renowned sportsman in the mountain country.

The boys were educated at Assumption College and from there two of them, Peter and Johnny, were recruited to Melbourne. “Toss ” played 19 senior matches with the Demons and is sorry that he didn’t achieve more.

“I think that if I’d trained a lot more I would have done better, so I reflect on it with a bit of regret”, he said.

Despite his obvious talent as an all-rounder, he never seriously contemplated playing District cricket. During his time with Melbourne he returned each week to play with Thornton.

His career-high score of 210 came in a semi- final. He twice made double-centuries in Grand Finals in the Alexandra/Mansfield competition and played in a swag of premierships for his home club.

He was selected for six Australian Country  Cricket Carnivals (22 games), and earned an All-Australian cap one year. He also represented a Vic. Country XI team against the West Indies at Wangaratta in 1985 .

Facing the gauntlet of the fabled Windies pace attack, he scored an unbeaten 69 and later discovered that his hand was broken when a rearing Courtney Walsh delivery cannoned into his batting glove.

In his first season of O & M footy – 1985 – ‘Toss’ would travel over from Thornton in his dearly-beloved, but not always reliable, Citreon. With the eyes of the crowd trained upon him in his debut match in Brown and Gold, he marked in the opening quarter and sent a soaring torpedo punt through the Town End goals from beyond 60 metres.

He had won over the Hawk crowd instantly. And in each of his other 210 games he performed deeds which became the stuff of folklore. A ball-magnet, he was an ace on-baller, but could be switched to a key position when required.

‘Toss’ had interruptions. He missed the 1986 season, recovering from a knee op. and in 1988 he returned home to help Alexandra to a flag. But from 1989 until his retirement in 1998, he was part of the furniture at the Findlay Oval.

He had the knack of fostering the camaraderie which produces the team-spirit, which in turn cultivates team success. The footy – and cricket – clubs were always happy places to be around when ‘Toss’ was involved.

He was a four-time runner-up in the Best and Fairest and played in the premierships of 1991, 1993 and ’94. Whilst playing with the Rovers he coached the O & M for three seasons and led them to the Country title. He represented the League 13 times and the VCFL five times, thrice as captain.

And for good measure he was given the honour of captaining the All-Australian side in 1990.

It was always accepted that when Laurie Burt abdicated the Rovers coaching position, ‘Toss’ would step up. Much to the surprise of the football public, though, he took on the role at Corowa-Rutherglen. Within six years they would have two flags in the bag and would be transformed from middle-of-the-roaders to a power team. As a recruiter, motivator and man-manager he took the Roos to a new level.

The ‘marriage that was made in heaven’ eventuated in 2004 when he returned home to take charge of the Rovers. It remains a mystery why things didn’t work out and, after an ordinary year, he decided it was best for the Club if he moved on. He headed to Mansfield to coach for 3 years, then had another 3 years back at Corowa.

In the final wash-up of his glittering O & M career he had played/coached 386 games, contributed to 5 flags, was proclaimed Corowa-Rutherglen’s ‘Coach of the Century’ and had been inducted to the League’s Hall of Fame.

There was a heightened sense of expectation in the mid-nineties when the Tossol clan settled in Evans Street and Rovers-United finally had procured their ‘elusive recruit’. Here was a bloke who had done the lot in cricket, scored runs by the bucket-load and reportedly bowled like the wind.

The boys noted that the intensity, which had been the keynote of his footy, carried on into his cricket, both at the Findlay Oval and at WSCA club Tarrawingee. His attitude lifted the standards within the Club. Although he still ran in to bowl at a hundred miles and hour, his pace had dropped considerably, despite his efforts to prove otherwise.

But he was still more than handy and it was difficult to extract the ball from him when he got on a roll. He proved to be a run-machine, as expected. Single-minded at the crease and with extraordinary focus, he would re-play each shot three or four times, before settling in to face the next delivery.

He was extremely difficult to dislodge, with a game based around a sound defence. In the rare instance of his early dismissal he would drag someone down to the practice nets to bowl at him and ‘iron out the faults’.

‘Toss’ played in three flags in his 111 games with the Combine and, much to his chagrin, missed a fourth when a footy practice match intervened.

But he played his part in the victory in a roundabout way. Sensing that one of the overnight not-out batsmen, who didn’t mind a cool drink on a hot day, might be tempted to ‘unwind’ after his good knock, he was invited to partake of some of the Tossol hospitality that night.

It worked. Hostess Bronny fed him well, he had a few quiet drinks, and continued on the next day to guide the Hawks to an exciting one-wicket victory.

The Tossol sporting career yielded around 23 premierships and was the epitome of professionalism. Even now, in his early fifties, he would give anything to be able to spend a while at the crease or engage in a fair dinkum footy contest.
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