Darryl Smith remembers the day he was set on the path to an illustrious football career.
He was 14 when his dad gave him two options: “You can either play footy or come cutting wood with me over the winter months”.
“It was a no-brainer, really”, says Smithy.
He’s a native of Hastings, a Westernport town, described as the ‘gateway to the lower Mornington Peninsula’. In football parlance, it lays claim to be the launching-pad from which the legendary Essendon goal-kicker John Coleman began his journey to fame and fortune.
The biggest influence on Darryl, though, was a tough on-baller, Hastings 300-gamer and coach, Richard Everest, who lived and breathed footy and inspired the club’s youngsters to ‘follow their dreams’.
After a season in the Under 17’s he joined Everest in the senior side – an awkward boy, still growing into his body, but progressing quickly.
St.Kilda invited him to do a pre-season. His dad would drive him to Frankston; he’d be picked up by Saints star Travis Payze and transported to Moorabbin for training, then back home.
10 minutes into his first practice match he was knocked out and carried into the dressing-rooms, where he lay motionless, like a body in the morgue, until just before half-time. His dad found him and asked the obvious question. “What happened ?”
“Can’t remember”, was Darryl’s response.
“Well, have a shower and get your clothes on. We’re off home”.
“Two weeks later, a St.Kilda official rang to see where I’d got to. The old man tore shreds off him. Told him they can’t rate the young bloke too highly if it took them a fortnight to check up on what had happened to me “.
So that was the end of his crack at the big time.
Darryl returned to Hastings, had a fine year and won the Best & Fairest. He dislocated his shoulder in the finals, which kept him out of work for an extended period.
A friend, Bob Mayne, who was in the CFA in Wangaratta, suggested he make a fresh start. He said: “Come up and have a look around. I’ll arrange for you to meet both clubs”.
It coincided with the Rovers Premiership Ball. “I had such a good time there, I just about made up my mind on the spot. The Rovers seemed like a real good fit for me”, he recalls.
In common with a lot of Hawk recruits, he was lined up with work at Thompson’s Brickworks.
“It was the worst – and hardest – job I’d ever had. I reckon I did well to last six weeks”, he said. (I tell him I know how he felt. I left after one day ! ).
” I moved on to Canny’s, shovelling briquettes ; drove a truck for Howlett’s Transports, then was offered a job selling cars with Alan Capp’s. Work was certainly providing me with plenty of variety “.
On the footy front, he settled in perfectly. ” The support the club received from the public was incredible and it was run more professionally than anything I’d experienced. ”
Darryl made an immediate impact and his adaptability proved a decided asset. At 6’1″ and 13 stone, he could be moved to a number of positions to plug gaps, but was probably at home at centre half forward, or back.
He was a star in the 1972 premiership win, then won successive Best & Fairests in the following two years.
After four years with the Hawks he had collected three flags and was an established star. Further emphasis of his class came when he booted five goals at full forward, for the O &M against a top-notch VFA representative team.
In 1976, however, he did his knee and required a reconstruction. He was still hobbling around when the Magpies deeply wounded the Rovers in the Grand Final.
It was to be Neville Hogan’s final game and drew the curtain down on one of the club’s most celebrated playing and coaching careers.
The question was: Who would succeed the champ ? There was the usual conjecture, and rumours pointed to a Preston rover, Peter Weightman, being the warm fancy.
Rovers stalwart Les O’Keeffe pulled Smithy aside and urged him to have a crack at it, but he wasn’t so sure.
He had nagging doubts about how his knee would recover, whether the players would accept him after being one of them for five years, and if he could live up to the standards set by Hogan.
He eventually put up his hand and was given the job.
Miraculously, he lined up in the first practice match of 1977. There were no after-effects from his operation, but he was hampered by hamstring problems throughout the season. This increased the pressure on him and he suspected there were the inevitable comparisons with Hogan.
Luckily, the side performed superbly and the coach began to feel more comfortable in the role. Because he was still a bit underdone, Darryl started on the interchange bench in the Grand Final against Wangaratta, which the Hawks dominated.
His coaching performance had passed the pinch-test. Everyone appreciated his honest approach and, thankfully, he returned to his best playing form the following season. He had now added a harder edge to his game and acted as a ‘protector’ for his younger players.
By the end of his third year at the helm the Hawks had won a hat-trick of flags and were looking to become just the third O & M club to win four in a row.
It wasn’t to be. They led North Albury by a goal at half-time in the Grand Final. Glory beckoned, but North kicked 6 goals to nil in a blistering third quarter, to win comfortably.
Darryl sensed that his message was starting to fall on deaf ears in 1981 and, even though his charges rallied to reach the Preliminary Final, he knew that his time was up.
He handed over the coaching reigns to John Welch and played on for one more senior season. He was still playing okay, but recognised that he shouldn’t stand in the way of the youngsters coming through.
He had notched up 195 games, booted 185 goals and his achievements ultimately earned him entry to the Wang. Rovers and Ovens and Murray Halls of Fame.
But he reckons that his next role – as coach of the Third Eighteen for three years – gave him as much satisfaction as any of his playing deeds.
Many of the Hawks’ next wave of champions – such as Matt Allen, Rob Walker, Mick Wilson and Robbie Hickmott – thrived on the Smith coaching doctrine which culminated in the Thirds’ flag of 1985.
Darryl moved to the Bellarine area in the late eighties and continued his involvement in footy, with coaching appointments at St.Leonard’s (’89-’90) and Portarlington (’91-’92). But their lack of professionalism frustrated him. ” They just weren’t fair dinkum and this irked me”, he says.
He is moving back here in September and is excited about renewing his links with the Club and his old team-mates, many of whom have become lifelong friends.
It’s the beginning of another chapter in the life of Darryl Smith..