TOUGH NUT TACKLES COACHING CHALLENGE

Andy Hill has scant regard for statistics.

You run his impressive footy CV past him and it barely raises an eyebrow. But touching on the fact that he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather – and his dad Denis – brings the hint of a smile to that otherwise impassive countenance.

Len Hill coached the Wangaratta Rovers to their first premiership – in the Ovens and King in 1948. He stayed around for another four decades, to help build the Club into one of the most famous in country Victoria.

So the young fellah is chuffed to be taking on a co-coaching role – 69 years after his Pa was originally coaxed into the position.

His mates say that he has an innate knowledge of the game which will stand him in good stead.

The many other intricacies involved – like man-management, transmitting the message and maintaining his equilibrium, will be a vital part of the continuing football education of he and his coaching partner, Sam Carpenter.

On the face of it, there couldn’t be a better man for the job……………..

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Andy was destined to become a Hawk. He played junior league football with Tigers, showed promise, then spent a couple of years in the Rovers Thirds. His class was obvious; it was just a matter of when he would be blooded in the senior side.

He played his part in Thirds flags of 1995 and ’96 as the kid who had the potential to turn a game of football.

So when he got that senior opportunity, against Yarrawonga early in 1996, at the age of 16, plenty of eyes were trained on this ‘star of the future’.

It was a dream debut. He picked up a few possessions, the Hawks booted 29 goals, won by over 100 points and there were slaps on the back aplenty for the newcomer.

“How good’s this,” he no doubt mused, as he toasted the debut with a couple of cleansing ales.

Tiredness crept in. He decided to reflect on the day’s events with some silent contemplation in a Bull’s Head toilet cubicle, where he awoke around 4am, stumbling out of the pitch-black hotel onto a deserted Murphy Street.

He played the next week too, then it was back to the Thirds. But when he was selected in the opening round of 1997, he was there to stay.

It was a tumultuous time for any young man to arrive in senior ranks. The Rovers had declared themselves ‘broke’ during the off-season. The seemingly invincible Hawks of the early nineties were bleeding and the players were prepared to accept no payment for a year. The wider football public expected them to fracture.

But the financial demise had no effect on the attitude of the players, or their performances. Maybe it eased the pressure on youngsters like Andy, Daniel McLaughlin and Danny Nolan. They handled senior footy with ease as the club boxed on to finish a creditable sixth.

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Toughness and a fanatical determination were essential ingredients in the make-up of Andy Hill.

He hated the limelight, but when you have the ability to climb through the air and take that spectacular mark, then convert that crucial goal, it’s rather difficult to avoid the accolades that come your way.

And he wasn’t backward when it came to a bit of on-field argy-bargy. Hawk champ Rob Walker, who was embroiled in a scuffle with Mark Duryea in a 1998 semi-final, remembers a fist whistling past his nose, in the direction of the Tiger tagger. It belonged to the 18 year-old in the number 6 guernsey.

Andy was well-schooled by some superb role-models ; playing alongside half a dozen superstars of the club. He learnt to train as intensely and prepare as diligently as they did.

He was soon recognised as a star in his own right. Whilst he didn’t fancy the peripherals, such as team-meetings and pep talks, once he crossed that white line, there was no-one who cared more for the Brown and Gold.

He wore the Ovens and Murray jumper for the first time in 2001 and was runner-up Best & Fairest to the legendary Walker.

In what became a recurring them during the 2000’s, his absence at a vital time proved costly to the Hawks. He ‘popped’ a cheekbone in an Elimination Final victory over Corowa-Rutherglen and was missing the next week when Wodonga Raiders clinched a thriller at Myrtleford.

To his surprise, he received an approach from Collingwood at season’s end, and was drafted. Considering his age (22), he thought he had ‘missed the bus’. He later discovered that a Rovers team-mate, Rob Panozzo, had forwarded a tape of highlights to a suitably-impressed Magpie recruiting chief Noel Judkins.

He had no regrets at not making the grade, even though he played a couple of NAB Cup games, and spent the season with the Magpies’ VFL affiliate, Williamstown. “It was a great experience and I learned a lot from watching the top guys train. I just wasn’t good enough”, he said later.

So he returned to the Hawks in 2003, then moved up to the Top End to play in an off-season premiership with Darwin club, St.Mary’s. Scouts from South Australia and the West, who salivated at the sight of this gem in the sweltering north, were unable to tempt him with their attractive baits. He returned home to the Findlay Oval.

When the older generation of players had hung up their boots, Andy’s work ethic, preparation, performance and consistency, became the benchmark for all other players.

The philosophy that he had taken from his stint at Collingwood, was simply that ‘if you train hard you’ll get more out of yourself’.

And so it proved. He took out five Bob Rose Medals, was runner-up twice, third once, and twice finished fifth in the Morris Medal. He booted 225 goals in his 254 senior games.

He was, indeed, the player to be watched if the Hawks were to be stopped.

But again, fate intervened in a couple of years that the Rovers were running hot. His fractured collarbone in the opening minutes of the 2007 Elimination Final proved costly, as the Hawks just failed to run down Wodonga.

And a painful neck injury, which was to ultimately force him out of the game, saw him operating at half rat-power for much of a 2012 season that saw the club go within a whisker of a Grand Final.

His one regret, in a glittering career – other than not sharing in a senior premiership with the Rovers – would probably be not making himself available for more representative football.

But that was a small price to pay, he felt, for making sure he was in the right nick for club footy.

As a player who could be thrown to either end of the ground with equal effect, was as tough as boot leather, could produce dashes of unbridled brilliance and reeked of team spirit, Andy would have held his own in any era.

He must rank among the greats of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club.

 

P.S: The  Andy Hill story was penned to coincide with his recent induction to the Rovers Hall of Fame.

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