’JUST A STREAK OF RUTHLESSNESS…..’

Dad lost a few of the best years of his sporting life to the War. He’s not Robinson Crusoe there, of course. Those of his generation, many of them potential top-liners, had to forsake their careers and head off to tackle the pesky Germans and Japanese. Some never returned………

He was born in 1917 – just a fortnight short of a century ago.

Those bleak times, when the world was still embroiled in its first almighty stoush, bred an era of independent, resilient, homespun characters who learnt to cope with the rigours of life.

Is it any wonder that, having stuck up for himself among a tight-knit mob of 10 kids, and helped the family to keep the wolf from the door when the Depression hit hard, he was well-equipped for anything that was hurled his way.

Which included playing his part in defending Darwin from potential invasion…………….
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Dad played footy with O & K Club Waratahs as a youngster. When he returned from the War, he stepped straight into Laurie Nash’s 1946 Wangaratta premiership team as a key defender.

He had aggravated an old knee injury in that Grand Final and was gingerly feeling his way through the early rounds of the next season when he received an approach from the Rovers. Their coach had walked out after a few heavy losses and he was invited to take over.

After initially resisting, he signed on as playing-coach and made an immediate impact. Players who served under him testified that he was tough and durable, and able to play at both ends of the ground, with a preference for centre half back.

After a slight improvement in his first season, they were staring a premiership in the face mid-way through 1948. They lost just two home-and-home games and when he was chaired off after leading the Rovers to their first flag, he reckoned it gave him his proudest moment in sport.

He handed over the coaching reins when the Club gained admittance to the O & M, but played on for half a season before old age and a ‘dickey’ knee hastened his departure from the playing arena.

He struck a chord with many of the people who had been part of the Rovers since the club’s infancy. Old stalwarts like Jack Maroney, Mannie Cochineas, Freddie Booth, Les O’Keeffe, Jack Stubbs, ‘Spud’ Patat, Alan Bell and the like, became cherished lifelong friends.

For the next 36 years he was at various times a Committeeman, Vice-President, Recruiter, Fund-Raiser, Maintenance-Man, Selector, Past-Players’ President, sounding-board for coaches, and finally – reluctantly – President.

He was behind-the -scenes in all of those magical moments of the Rovers early days, like the recruitment of Bob Rose…..the build-up to the 1958 flag……the construction of the Clubrooms……..the punt on the infamous Ken Boyd to succeed Rosey……and more.

When his boys began to filter through to the playing ranks, Dad eased away from the Selection Committee and followed us closely, without burdening us with advice.

The one pearl of wisdom he would proffer on a potential opponent was : “Don’t be frightened to give him a whack behind the ear…..just to let him know you’re around.”

With that train of thought, it’s not surprising that his favourite Hawks were Ken Boyd and Merv Holmes – both fierce, hard-hitting types.

As an old centre half back, he had all the time in the world for ‘Farmer’ and I detected his unwitting vote-selection method: “When in doubt, go for Holmes.”
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Sport was an intrinsic part of our family. Mum had been raised in a footy environment and was more than handy with a tennis racquet. Dad was a competitive animal and was obsessed by all aspects of sport.

Even when he was deeply-entrenched in business with his Rovers team-mate Frank Hayes, and was toiling away for long hours at Wang. Furnishing Company, cricket and football provided him with a release-valve.

He had a streak of ruthlessness which embarrassed us sometimes. He would fight like heck in a game of table-tennis or darts, and on the cricket field, had a touch of white-line fever.

When he eyeballed someone from 22 yards away, they knew there’d be no easy runs.

Dad had many tricks up his sleeve. He needed to, because he didn’t turn the ball a great deal, relying on flight, guile, accuracy and a bit of bluster, to wheedle batsmen out.

He had his ‘quicker one’ – which opponents argued looked suspiciously like a throw – there was the ‘slower one’, then a ball which he delivered from well behind the bowling crease. If that didn’t catch the batsman by surprise he would, next ball, wheel around and be on the poor devil before he’d shaped up.

Well before extensive research was done on opposition players he’d compiled a dossier of batsmen’s weaknesses in his head, and would painstakingly set his field.

He likened it to enticing a fly into a spider’s web. But woe betide the fieldsman who dropped the catch, or the umpire who turned down the decision which foiled his act of subterfuge.

Dad won his last WDCA bowling average in 1970/71 – 18 years on from his first – and 34 years after he began sending down off-spin in club cricket. He took 584 wickets after his 40th birthday.

Some of his best performances came at the tail-end of his career, when he operated in tandem with Geoff Billman, an excellent swing bowler.

He played his final season, aged 54, but continued to roll the wickets at the City Oval, as he had done since he helped install the turf ‘track’ there in 1955.

Years later, he would position himself under the huge gum tree at the town end of the Rovers ground, directly behind the bowler’s arm. “Put your square-leg deeper”……”You don’t need a Third Man for this bloke”……”Attack his off-stump”, would be some of the none-too subtle pieces of advice offered when one of his sons was captaining the Rovers.

Several years later, he got word we were desperately short in the Seconds and offered to help make up the numbers . The theory was that, at 65, he’d be best-advised to park himself in slips on this stinking hot day. But he couldn’t resist suggesting an over of off-spin. Sixteen overs later, he had five wickets and a complexion the colour of rhubarb.

He played with all six of us at one time or another. The post-mortems over the tea-table could become heated, especially if it had been a gruelling day in the field. It necessitated Mum to step in and diffuse the situation…….
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I admired his tenacity in confronting life’s pitfalls, and envied his skills as a Salesman, Businessman, Communicator and leader.

I thought he was just about invincible……..until suddenly, in 1986, he was confronted by an opponent he couldn’t overcome.

But we were comfortable in the knowledge that the greatest legacy he had left was that of a champion Husband and Father………

Happy Father’s Day, old fellah…………

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