‘THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL………’

You’ve heard the story about the kid who used to plonk a rubbish-bin in a forward pocket at the Showgrounds. He’d drill 70 or 80 kicks at it, then drag it over to the other pocket and repeat the exercise.

Became a triple Geelong Premiership hero,  Norm Smith Medallist and media darling. They dubbed him ‘Stevie J’.

………. And the larrikin with loads of talent and spunk. North Melbourne officials lobbed at Myrtleford’s McNamara Reserve one night, whisked him off the training track and named him in their side the following Saturday.

Lou Richards was a fan and handed him a moniker that stuck. From then on he was ‘Slammin’ Sam’ Kekovich.

…………Sam played in the ‘Roos’ first Premiership with a hulking fellah from Tarrawingee, who made his name at the Wangaratta Rovers.  North’s talent scouts came up to a Grand Final to cast an eye over another lad- Johnny Byrne –  but were so impressed with the ruckwork of Michael Nolan that they signed the pair of them.

‘The Galloping Gasometer’ was to become a VFL cult hero.

………….Richmond recruiters took an immediate shine to Doug Strang when they saw him playing for East Albury in 1930. They thought they may as well invite his likely-looking brother Gordon down as well. In just his second game Doug kicked a lazy 14 goals and Gordon (‘Cocker’) dominated at the other end.

They figured in the Tigers’ Premiership victory the following year, alongside another O & M champ Maurie Hunter, who was by now a star of the game.

…………..A tall, blonde lad from Corowa-Rutherglen was just 16 when he booted 12 goals against Myrtleford in 1987. He was destined for the top, the experts proclaimed.

John Longmire had a striking physique, athleticism and an attitude beyond his tender years. Three seasons after his O & M debut he won the Coleman Medal and North Melbourne’s best and fairest. Subsequent coaching success with Sydney has added further lustre to ‘Horse’s’ burgeoning  resume’.

………….Fitzroy lured a star forward from Albury in the mid-thirties. Exasperated by his wayward kicking, they experimented with him at centre half back. Such was his dominance in the new position that Denis ‘Dinny’ Ryan took out the 1936 Brownlow Medal…………..

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It’s O & M  Hall of Fame time. Since its introduction in 2005 more than 60 champions have been duly honoured.

But who is the greatest home-grown product of them all ?

I’ve touched on a few, but the list of stars is as long as your arm. For argument’s sake, I’ll throw in a few more of the 350-odd who have ventured to the ‘big time’………Lance Oswald, Bert Mills, Don Ross, Daniel Cross, Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe, Fred Hiskins, Brett Kirk, Joel Smith, Daniel Bradshaw, Dennis Carroll, Fraser Gehrig, Dinny Kelleher, Ben Matthews, Lance Mann, Les (Salty) Parish, Norm Bussell and Jimmy Sandral.

And some, like Robbie Walker, Stan Sargeant, Brian Gilchrist,  Neville Hogan, ‘Curly’ Hanlon and Dennis Sandral  didn’t find the urge to leave home, yet are right up there when the experts compile a list of the ‘Best from the Bush’……….

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But there’ll be no argument about the Best-Ever.

Haydn Bunton won Brownlow Medals in his first and second years at Fitzroy – and  another, three years later.  Scribes of the thirties lauded the precocious talent of the lad from Albury, who had been forced to stand out of the game for a year. It was alleged that Fitzroy had paid him an illegal sign-on fee and thereby flouted the Coulter Law.

His brilliance had originally come to the attention of talent scouts when he starred for the O & M against a combined VFL team in 1928. He was still 16, but already exhibited wondrous skills.

Some years after his retirement, Haydn reflected on his early days and his entry to senior football:

“…..By the time I was 13, my two elder brothers George and Cleaver were playing for Albury and my younger brother Wally was already showing promise of doing the same.

That year – 1924 – I played football for the Albury School on Fridays and for Albury in the Ovens and Murray League on Saturdays.

In my last year at school I captained the school cricket team and hit 805 runs at an average of 201 and took 43 wickets. I’ve often been asked why I gave up cricket after only one District season with Fitzroy.

At times I wonder myself. I could get runs, but I was always a pretty stodgy bat. I had the chance. In 1927 I was chosen in the Riverina team to play Country Week in Sydney and made 3 centuries.

The next season I again got among the runs with 4 more centuries. Bill Ponsford came to see me at Albury and asked me to play for St.Kilda. I would have gone, but my mother was against my doing so.

In fact, when I did leave Albury to go to Melbourne to play football in 1930 it was still against my mother’s wishes. My father only agreed when he saw how keen I was.

It was around 1928 that the turmoil in my life began. For four years I’d been playing football with Albury………Four Buntons were in the Albury team. George was centre half forward and Wally centre half back. Cleaver took the knocks and the coach Bobbie Barnes, and I picked them up.

When I’d won the Best & Fairest for the team for three years -1926,’27 and ’28 – we played against a visiting Essendon side. Frank Maher, the State rover, was opposed to me. I had the better of him all day. At the time I thought I was king of the world. When I look back, though, I realise Frank was near the end of his time after a brilliant career. His legs weren’t as youthful as mine.

In 1929 the pressure was really on. Eleven Victorian clubs – all except Collingwood – came after me. They sent their men with all sorts of propositions, and they laid on the charm with a trowel.

It was pretty flattering and mighty bewildering. It would have been a game son who got a big head with my dad. In fact, his stern advice to me when I eventually left to play in Melbourne, was: “If you get swollen-headed don’t come back to this house. I want no son of mine to become too big for his boots.”

Looking back now, I almost blush with embarrassment when I think of how I arrived in Melbourne – a typical hick from the sticks’. My felt hat was dinted in four places, I wore a navy blue suit, the coat cut high at the back, the trousers almost bell-bottomed, cut-away double-breasted waistcoat, butcher blue shirt – and 4 shillings in my pocket when I stepped on to Spencer Street station.

Carlton officials were supposed to meet me. They were never at the station -although they claimed they were. I went straight to the head office of New Zealand Loan and asked for the manager. “Has my transfer been arranged to here from Albury, sir?” I asked. “What transfer, Bunton ?” was his staggering reply. I told him that Carlton had arranged it.

He rocked me again with his reply: ” I know nothing of any transfer, Bunton. In any case, we don’t transfer professional footballers.”

That was that. I was out of a job. I went out and immediately rang Tom Coles, the Fitzroy secretary. He got me a job straight away, working with Chandler’s, the hardware merchants. I signed there and then with Fitzroy…….”

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Because he was forced out of League football for a year, Haydn caught a train back to Albury each week-end of the 1930 season, to play for West Albury.

Then, almost from the time of his League debut, he became a celebrity.  In 119 games with Fitzroy, he kicked 307 goals, was twice their leading goal-kicker, twice club captain and was captain-coach for a year.

In 1938 he transferred to Subiaco, where he dominated the WAFL, winning three Sandover Medals in his four years in the west.

Haydn settled in Adelaide in 1945 and played his final season with Port Adelaide. He then went on to become a League umpire and, finally, a League coach with North Adelaide in 1947 and ’48.

He suffered serious injuries when his car veered off a road near Adelaide and hit a tree in 1955. The colourful life of the legendary Haydn Bunton was over at just 44 years of age………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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