“THE PROTECTOR”

In the late 1960’s, a man mountain began to make his way in the world of football.

No, it wasn’t ‘Big Mick’ Nolan,,who was already becoming a household name. It was ‘Big Micka’, a lad of similar-sized girth and heart.

He was to strut the stage of local sport for nigh on 20 years.

John Michelini’s ample frame could have done with a couple more inches in height. It would have compensated for a lack of pace, which proved to be an obstacle when he strove to make his mark in Ovens and Murray ranks……

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Michelini was a mere youngster when he pulled on the Red and Blue Milawa guernsey in 1969.

He timed his debut season perfectly, as the Demons were on their way to their first premiership in 29 years.

He displayed agility and spirit and was a fine player that season. He certainly fulfilled his role and showed plenty of maturity in the Grand Final, which saw Milawa overcome Beechworth by 16 points.

His development continued the following season, as he polled a dozen votes in the Baker Medal and figured in another Grand Final, this time against King Valley, which took out its first flag.

Encouraging reports of the progress of the promising ruckman-forward, had prompted the Wangaratta Rovers recruiters to include him in their ‘little black book’.

It prompted a visit to his Glenrowan home by Hawk coach Neville Hogan. ‘Micka’s’ mum said…”sorry, but you’ve missed him. He shouldn’t be far away. He went out ‘for a shot’ early this morning”.

“Head down that lane, take the first turn right and drive as far as you can ’til you reach a dead end. I’m pretty sure you’ll catch him there”, said Mrs.Michelini.

On cue, as Hogan reached his destination, he spied a bearded bloke lumbering out of the scrub, with gun in hand, looking every bit like a threatening nineteenth-century bushranger.

‘Micka’ agreed to have a run and had a couple of years at the Rovers (1971 and ’72). He was restricted to five senior games and spent the rest of the time in the Reserves.

The Hawks had a crackerjack side and won successive flags, as the deft ruck work of Mick Nolan proved a major factor in their dominance. It certainly limited the opportunities for a raw, cumbersome ruckman.

Many felt there could have been a niche for him in the O & M had he persisted, particularly in view of Nolan’s departure for North Melbourne, but ‘Micka’ was content, instead, to ply his craft in the minor leagues.

A Rovers team-mate, Paul Scanlan, enticed him to head out to Moyhu as his assistant-coach in 1973. They helped the downbeat ‘Hoppers’ climb up the ladder and the big fellow was a major factor in their improvement, with his solid work in the ruck.

An accident, when he fell off a haystack, curtailed him for several weeks, but he enjoyed a couple of good years and was an automatic selection in the O & K rep side.

Milawa dangled the ‘carrot’ of the coaching job in front of him in 1975, but it proved a disastrous season for the club, and his own form suffered accordingly. So he stood down in favour of Neville Pollard and stayed on in a playing capacity.

After another move, this time to Glenrowan, for two years as captain-coach, he returned to the Demons, where he was to prove a larger-than-life personality for more than a decade.

There was an aura about ‘Micka’. Teammates walked taller when he was around. He was 6’2″, his weight fluctuated between 18-19 stone and he possessed brute strength, which he used in a scrupulous manner.

His idea of bliss was to sit down, with a beer in one hand, and a fag in the other, to yarn about all things sport. He worked as a  Grader-driver for the Shire  and was a knockabout  bloke who had time for everyone.

Cricket and basketball were his ardent summer-time pursuits. But the Michelini legend was forged on the football field. It gained further lustre, as the Demons returned to power during their golden era of the eighties.

He morphed into a permanent full forward. With hands like dinner-plates, he was a difficult player to contend with in the air. And despite his bulk, he was pretty quick on the lead for 10 metres or so. In short, he was a defender’s nightmare. Added to this was his accurate kicking. He once booted 14 goals straight against Bright.

Milawa came from the clouds to win a spot in the Grand Final, against King Valley, in 1981. The two protagonists had filled the two bottom rungs of the ladder the previous season. But the Demon dream was extinguished by Richie Allen’s Kangaroos, who proved too good.

‘Micka’s’ magnificent performance in the 1982 Prelim Final snatched the game  from the clutches of Bright and he was Milawa’s best in an infamous game the next week. Playing with broken ribs, he did his best to ‘fly the flag’, as the first half of the clash with Chiltern erupted in a series of incidents and rolling brawls.

When the dust settled, the Swans ran away, to win by 74 points.

The Demons exacted revenge in emphatic fashion two years later, when they crushed their bitter rivals. ‘Micka’ had been an indestructable force in the goal-mouth and brought up his 114th goal for the season, in his side’s 13-goal triumph.

He chalked up his third flag the following year, when Milawa belted Bright in another one-sided encounter.

Lionel Schutt was the baby of that side and recalls the veteran sidling up to the occasional opponent who had given thought to roughing him up.

“He was great to play alongside. He always reckoned that he was responsible for my name. ‘Micka’ and dad were having a few beers together about the time I was born and were watching one of Lionel Rose’s title fights. They agreed I should be named after the champ.”

‘Micka’ was still kicking goals and acting as a ‘protector’ in a developing side, early in the 1989 season. After 212 games with the Demons, and despite advancing years, he’d maintained his hunger for the game and was much-loved by his young team-mates.

He had headed back to Wangaratta, after footy training one night, when his vehicle failed to negotiate a bend on the Moyhu/Oxley Road and veered into a tree, costing him his life.

In the 26 years that have since transpired his daughters Kim and Kerry-Lee have enjoyed lengthy netball careers. Kim recently celebrated her 550th game with Milawa.

They are certainly doing their bit to perpetuate the name of one of the Ovens and King’s most beloved characters.
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4 thoughts on ““THE PROTECTOR”

  1. kim michelini

    Wow, what a story! I love to read about all of my father’s achievements and how he had such a big impact on the game in a career that was tragically cut short. My mother is still heavily involved with the club and as long as my sister, my daughter’s and myself are still around the club I will en devour to make sure that his legend lives on #13
    Thank heaps for the article – we loved it !!!

  2. Andrew Michelini

    This brought back so many great memories about
    The days of old.
    A truly inspiring legend.
    To this day I still play for a local AFC team on the NSW Central coast
    ( Wyong lakes )wearing the legendary num13.
    Will always be missed,(Uncle John)forever in our hearts.

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