Brett Keir doesn’t say much…..Never has.
When he was being inducted into Wangaratta Football Club’s Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, his old mate Billy McMillan was invited to join him on stage.
“He’s such an unassuming bugger that they thought there’d be ‘Buckley’s’ chance of getting him to elaborate on his career,” says Bill. “So I did my best to drag a bit out of him.”
The pair go back a long way. “We made our senior debuts the same season – 1979 – played alongside each other in the backline; knocked around together. I remember we used to drive to the away games with ‘Chooka’ Dean.”
“ Coming home from Albury, for instance, we’d grab a few cans and go the back way; replenish our supplies at Beechworth; maybe pop into the ‘Plough Inn’ at Tarra…… We’d dissect the game, and life in general……. ‘Balls’ didn’t drink much in those days, so he was usually the driver……..”
“Whenever we played at Yarrawonga, everyone would call in to a spot at Bundalong after the game for one of Brett’s specialties, the ‘Hangi’. He would go out early Saturday morning, prepare the ‘tucker’, and get the fire going. Then there were the Crayfish week-ends, and his famous ‘Duck Nights’, at which he used to supply, cook and oversee the menu .”
Brett Keir’s the sort of person that Clubs are built around. He still contributes……does his turn behind the bar; is a regular attendee at Wood Days and the like. And after training, every Tuesday night, for the last twenty years, he, Rod Canny and Bruce Poulter have provided soup and Hot Dogs for the players.
Only the super-veterans among them would have seen him play. Determination and courage were his trademarks. Well-proportioned and agile, he rarely ventured from deep in defence.
He was destined to be a Magpie. His family were keen followers of the club and his transition from the Junior Magpies was considered a formality.
But he did test the waters over the road. He and a future Magpie coach, Robbie Richards, played a handful of games with the Rovers Thirds before a touch of family influence prevailed.
After an apprenticeship of nearly two years with the Wang Thirds he finally earned his senior spurs. He was there for keeps.
His fine form at full back was one of the reasons why the Magpies were flying high in 1980, They finished on top of the ladder, and looked a distinct premiership chance. But in finals, there can be a fine line between glory and heartache.
They led the Rovers for three-quarters of the Second Semi-Final, before the Hawks, with a six goals to one final term, took the game away from them.
And in a pulsating Preliminary Final, Wang led by 17 points heading into time-on. Then North booted the last three goals, to sneak home by a point.
“Brett got his pants pulled down that day by a blonde-haired forward called Andy Alderton, who finished with five goals and helped swing the game North’s way. But it was a good learning experience. Not too many other blokes got hold of him from then on,” Bill McMillan says.
There were star forwards aplenty in the O & M during the ‘80’s. Keir had the mandate to curtail goalkickers of the calibre of Brian Parkes, Steve Norman, John Longmire, Darrell Bakes, Neale McMonigle and David Turner.
“ Yarrawonga once had a bald-headed coach called Steve Jones, who kicked heaps of goals,” recalls McMillan. He was unlike most forwards, in that he used to get stuck into the backmen. I went to Brett’s aid one day, and he told me to keep away.” “You’ll only make the bastard more cranky,” he said.
Keir certainly benefited when North Melbourne’s premiership defender Frank Gumbleton was recruited to the ‘Pies in 1981. “Frank played alongside him for a year and took him under his wing. He became more polished and professional and graduated from being good to outstanding,” recalled one ex-team-mate.
He endured another steep learning curve when he headed off to Sydney on his first trip-away with the Magpies. “He was just a ‘pup’ at the time and his mum asked if I’d keep an eye on him,” says Clive McKibbin.
“On the very first night, we lost him. What a disaster ! We’re miles away from our hotel and the ‘baby’ of the trip’s gone missing. But he materialised the next morning, as large as life. He explained that he just kept following the beach around until he found the pub.”
The Magpies tumbled down the ladder quite dramatically in the early ‘80’s, and it was left to the redoubtable Keir to carry the backline on his shoulders in these tough times.
But he was highly-regarded throughout the League, and earned recognition, after the retirement of Albury’s Rod Coelli, as the premier full back in the competition.
He wore the Black and Gold Ovens and Murray guernsey 12 times, was twice rewarded with VCFL selection, and shared in Country Championship triumphs in 1986 and ‘87.
John Byrne was Keir’s coach for most of his representative stint. I once asked him for a summation of his key defender: “Very consistent; a really good player,” said Byrne, one of country footy’s most astute judges.
“He had great pace for a big fellow, which enabled him to play on tall and small opponents with equal success. “
“He could handle forwards who led quickly, and was always a sure ball-handler. I never saw him play a bad Inter-League game.”
The well-documented Keir resilience saw him line up on countless occasions with injuries that would ‘kill a brown dog’. It was all part of his dedication to the cause. The only time his loyalty swayed was at duck-opening week-end.
Over the years, Brett resisted several tempting offers to leave the ‘Pies . To acknowledge his yeoman service they threw a 200-game Testimonial ‘shindig’ in his honour. Naturally, considering his popularity, it was a rollicking affair, and a tidy sum was raised.
It just proved a tad difficult to hand it over to him. “He wanted to donate it to the Junior League, or the Past Players. We had to get it to him in a round-about way,” recalled one official.
To the astonishment of the majority of his team-mates, a Best and Fairest eluded the champ during his 15 years and a club-record 264 games with Wangaratta.
So did a Senior Premiership, and when injuries started to become an impediment to producing his best in O & M football, he was enticed to Greta for a final farewell to the game.
His great mate Robbie Richards had taken charge of the Blues and it seemed like a perfect fit.
“We had our Hop-Farm out there, and I knew plenty of people,” says Brett.
The flag that he savoured finally came in 1995. Greta led at every change and held off a fighting Beechworth resurgence in the final quarter, to win by four goals.
The Chronicle reported : ‘…..it was a fitting reward for Robbie Richards and Brett Keir, whose long careers were crowned with victory. Keir led a strong Greta defence with a Best-on-Ground performance……….”
Brett celebrated accordingly :“I took my swag out and slept under the Greta Hall that night. It turned out a big week-end.”
“I did a knee 5-6 weeks into the next season, and came back just in time for the finals. I knew then it was time to give it away,” he says.
Nowadays, Brett loves heading off into the bush to his favourite fishing and shooting haunts, or up to the Wonnangatta, where he’ll trudge miles and miles in search of deer.
He also tends to a couple of big vegetable gardens out at his Colson Road property, in between working as a Gardener at the Wangaratta and Shepparton Private Hospitals, and helping a plumber install Water-Tanks.
But he certainly doesn’t miss those goal-square battles with annoying forwards…………