Heavyweights jostling…….arms entwined…….horns locked….bodies grappling……..pushing…….shoving…..
That’s life in the goal-square.
Heck, you almost need to be a World Championship wrestler to contend with some of the full forwards in O & M footy nowadays.
This has been the era of the celebrity goal-kicker . Some big names have been brought into the League to win games of football and put bums on seats.
The full backs are the party-poopers. It is their role to do whatever they can to make life difficult for the Brendan Fevolas, Adam Priors, Daniel Bradshaws and Setanta O’halpins of this world.
Thank heavens for Tyson Hartwig.
Tyson’s built like a brick out-house. Someone said the other day that he resembles a bloke who has been plucked out of that video of the ‘Sensational Seventies’ and dumped into the modern generation.
With bulging biceps, a confident strut and a booming voice, he’s got ‘Leader’ written all over him.
And he deserves his reputation as one of the outstanding defenders in the game.
Tyson wasn’t born when his dad, Leigh, reached the end of his illustrious, 252-game career. By the time he was three, or four, the old man was coaching the Rovers Thirds.
The Hartwig family would head off from their Greta farm on match-day, at about 7.30am . Vicki had kiosk duties, Leigh would be geeing up his players, his aunties were on the netball court and the kids pretty much knew their way around the Findlay Oval. Their grandparents Rex and Madge kept an eye on them, just in case.
Tyson took the usual pathway to senior football….. Midgets, Junior League, Rovers Thirds, Murray Bushrangers, a brief run in the Reserves and into the ones.
The moment for which he’d been waiting, came in 2005. He was 17 when he pulled on the number 26 guernsey and ran out for his senior debut against Wangaratta.
He had the physique and know-how to match it with opponents years older and looked set to be a 300-gamer. Certainly, not too many kids of his age have appeared as comfortable in defence.
But he spent a season criss-crossing between the ‘Bushies’ and the Rovers, then another when he was experimented with as a key forward, only to run out of form and favour with the selectors.
It’s hard to believe now, that 2007 saw him play 14 games in the two’s. But a positive by-product of his demotion was that he starred in the Reserves premiership side.
His coach in that Grand Final was Bobby Murray, rated one of the greatest full backs of all-time.
“Gee, I can’t remember now why we had ‘Tys’ in the seconds that year, but I do recall how well he went in the finals, ” Bob said the other day.
“I love watching him play. He goes when he’s gotta go, but he’s always there for the one-on-one duels. He’s a terrific defender.”
Tyson began his inter-league career against Goulburn Valley in 2009. He was now established among the upper-echelon of back men in the competition and contributed to a win, but a shirt full of sore ribs, which saw him miss several games, probably soured his memories of that game.
The media applauded him for the courage he showed in backing into a pack, but this was small consolation.
He was studying Myotherapy at Uni in Melbourne and worked one day a week in placement at Carlton. Two of the players he regularly treated were O’Halpin ( “seemed a nice bloke”) and Fevola ( ” a character, always on his phone”).
Emerging Queensland club Aspley focused a recruiting raid on country Victorian players and the promise of a job as a Myotherapist sounded attractive to Tyson. He joined the QAFL Hornets, alongside Jamie Sheahan, Sam Carpenter, Myles Aalbers and Matthew Shir.
He had a strong first year and was close to State selection. His second was marred by injury.
Things hadn’t panned out as well as expected with his job either, and he decided to head in a new career direction. It resulted in him returning home and commencing a Phys Ed degree at RMIT in Bundoora.
The Rovers swooped and he was delighted to again pull on the Brown and Gold. “I’m looking forward to getting back out there with the guys I grew up playing with,” he said at the time. “I’ve matured as a player” .
He certainly had. The Hawks went along for a great ride in 2012 and he was right at the forefront. With Hartwig and Hall as the two bookends and a side bursting with confidence, they were an errant kick away from a Grand Final appearance.
Earlier in the season, Tyson had represented the O & M and VCFL and was rewarded with an All-Australian guernsey for his performances in the National Country Carnival.
There was no doubt about it. He was the best full back in the area.
The sight of him tucking the ball under his arm and charging out of the last line of defence reminded you of one of those old piston-driven steam trains reaching full capacity. He would then invariably use his left boot to drive the Hawks into attack. Or, at the back of a pack, thump the ball many metres clear with a well-placed left fist.
He was appointed captain in 2013, again represented the O &M and VCFL and took out the Club Best and Fairest. It was the first Father-Son senior B & F in the club’s history.
And his battles with the big guns in the goal-mouth have been worth the price of admission alone. The Fevola-Hartwig duels have really been something. ‘Fev’, who throws most opponents around like rag dolls, seems to enjoy the physical confrontation with his Hawk opponent.
He got away from Tyson at Mulwala earlier this year, to boot 11 goals in a magical display.
Despite that, it was acknowledged that Hartwig did everything in his power to curtail the champ, but was just outpointed on the day.
Brad Murray placed himself at full forward at Myrtleford last year, and gave the big fellow the run-around. He was just too elusive and it was a tactical masterpiece by the Saint coach to exploit him with his agility.
But overall, he is rarely beaten and his aggression, determination and competitiveness, make him an opponent to be wary of.
As the Rovers came from the clouds last Saturday, it was Hartwig, resolute in defence, who proved to be one of the architects of a miracle victory.
The 130 games he has played have been of the highest quality. He’s well on the way to becoming one of the greats of the club .