” TWELVE FORGETTABLE SECONDS…….”

Ovens and Murray football was at its scintillating best in 1960.

High-profile coaches and big-name players attracted huge crowds and created massive interest. Of the 10 coaches, five had played in a VFL premiership, three had captained their VFL club ; there was a Brownlow and dual Magarey Medallist among them, and all were relatively still in their prime.

The pick of them was Bob Rose, who had enjoyed a dominant season at the helm of the Wangaratta Rovers. ‘Mr.Football’s’ inspirational play was a major factor in his side finishing four games clear at the top of the table.

Despite the space between the Hawks and the rest, there were four other legitimate contenders . Coming into Round 18, the battle for the one vacant finals spot had narrowed down to two clubs – Myrtleford and Benalla.

The equation was simple. The Demons, who clung to fourth position by just two points, had to defeat the Rovers at the City Oval to cement their finals spot. The Saints were sweating on them, as they were red-hot fancies to topple the winless Rutherglen.

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Myrtleford were untroubled, and went on to trounce the Redlegs by 70 points. The buzz of transistor radios could be heard around McNamara Oval, as fans nervously listened to the coverage of the Rovers-Benalla clash. It had developed into a classic.

The Hawks got away to a flier and led by 22 points at quarter-time. But it was the mercurial Demon forward, Bob Hempel, who revived his side’s fortunes with a devastating second quarter. He booted two goals, hit the post and narrowly missed with two other shots, as Benalla took a 10-point lead into the half-time break.

Rose firstly swung Les Clarke, then Bill McKenzie, onto the star, without great effect. The pendulum swung wildly for the remainder of the clash, which produced more than its share of rough stuff.

The Hawk leader, as well as being his dominant self throughout the game, had to work overtime to placate his players. He reasoned that he could ill-afford to have any of them reported at such a delicate stage of the season.

In the dying stages, the Rovers had regained the initiative. They led by two goals and looked to have the game in hand.

Then big Benalla ruckman George Aitken goaled and the big crowd tensed again.  Surely the Demons, even though they had a run-on, couldn’t kick another goal ?

The bounce of the ball had barely re-started play when the siren sounded. The Rovers had won by a goal – 11.6 to 10.6. There was wild cheering 30 miles away, in Myrtleford, as the Saints had clinched their spot in the finals.

Or had they ?

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The thousands listening to 3NE’s coverage of the game had heard a voice in the media box shouting : “No, no, no”, as the  blast of the siren halted play.

In the resultant wash-up, Benalla protested and the O & M decided to investigate the game. One of the time-keepers disclosed that he had accidentally pressed the siren instead of the time-on button when the ball was bounced after the final goal.

The clock indicated that there were still 12 seconds of play remaining in the game – enough time to have conceivably allowed Benalla to kick another goal.

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Thus it came to pass that, on September 3rd 1960, the Hawks met the Demons in the only re-play of a home-and-home game in the 123-year history of the Ovens and Murray Football League……….

But there were subsiduary issues to sort out. The Rovers requested ( and were granted) a quarter of the gate-takings for the re-play. They were asked to provide additional parking and media facilities for the anticipated large crowd, and to ensure that check-scorers and time-keepers were on hand.

Then there was the issue of the Morris Medal. Benalla’s roly-poly back pocket star Richie Castles had led  Bob Rose by one vote, going into Round 18.

The Medal-count,traditionally held on the Sunday after the last game, revealed that Rose had polled two votes to overtake Castles – by one vote..

Benalla claimed that the votes from that game should be declared null and void. The League decreed that, no, the status-quo stood and that Rose was still the Medallist.

Just to further complicate the argument, the brilliant Rose turned in a ‘pearler’ in the re-play and was widely-regarded as best afield. Castles, though, was not far behind him.

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The re-play attracted a semi-final sized crowd that paid £721 through the gate. Another battle-royal ensued. The rainy day and soggy conditions produced a hard, slogging game which was notable for its intensity.

Little separated the sides, but when the Hawks drew away to lead by 21 points early in the last quarter, it looked all over.

The Demons again counter-attacked. They were lifted by an inspired burst of play from Castles and goals to Ian Hughes and Bob Hempel, which again put them in the frame.

It prompted Rose to go onto the ball. He steadied the Rovers, but they missed his influence up forward.

Castles marked and drove Benalla into attack time and again, but the Hawks were able to hang on and win by 8 points.

So Myrtleford, who had been waiting patiently for a fortnight to confirm their finals booking, confronted Yarrawonga in the First Semi-Final. They booted 16.20 to lose a thriller by 3 points.

Who knows whether the extra game that the Rovers had to play fine-tuned them for the finals ?

They engaged in a titanic struggle with Wodonga, to win the Second Semi by two goals. A fortnight later, they were always in control against the tired Bulldogs in front of a record crowd of 12,000, to take out their second flag.

Again, it was Rose, whose 4.6 in the Grand Final, provided the impetus to a talented line-up. But it was fearless big man Ray Burns, left-footed half-forward Neil McLean and the effervescent, elusive winger Les Gregory who rivalled him for best-afield honours.

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The Hawks didn’t have much time to rest on their laurels. Their meeting with VFA premiers, Oakleigh, the following Sunday was touted as a match-up between the ‘two best Victorian teams outside the VFL’.

And it wasn’t just an exhibition game. The Devils supporters brought a barrow-load of money to back their team, and were well-accommodated by local punters and bookmakers – all of them keen Hawk fans.

The keenly-anticipated clash proved to be an anti-climax. The Rovers dominated from the opening bounce, to win by 73 points – 14.17 to 3.10.

Of the 22 games they contested during 1960, the Hawks had dropped just one – by a point to Corowa. It had been a season for the ages, and it was time for the celebrations to begin……………

 

Postscript:

*   Benalla played in the next three O & M Grand Finals, taking out successive flags in 1962 and ’63.

* The re-play proved to be Bob Hempel’s final game with Benalla. He coached Euroa for two seasons, then transferred to the Rovers, with whom he played 100 games and figured in the Hawks’ 1964 and ’65 premierships.

 

 

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