“THE LONG ROAD TO THE FLAG…..”

Footy premierships are hard to win.

Sometimes they’re the culmination of years of careful planning, prudent spending and nurturing of local talent. Even then, just as ‘Everest’ seems to be within reach, a knee injury to a gun player, or an untimely suspension, can derail the most meticulous of finals campaigns.

On rare occasions, though, a hefty slice of luck by way of a last-minute recruiting coup, can thrust a battling team into flag contention.

This is the story of an unlikely Ovens and King League triumph – the seeds of which were sown during a late-night session in a Darwin pub…………….

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It’s March 1990, and a star Territory goal-kicker, who is enthusiastically celebrating yet another NTFL flag, is yarning with a Tarrawingee lad who’s up in the far north searching for work, catching up with family….and spruiking about his home club, the mighty Bulldogs……..

The next day Paul Nolan rings home: “Chris Long’s interested in coming to Tarra……..”

“Chris who?”

“You know………Michael’s brother…..He played in Yarrawonga’s premiership last year.”

“Terrific. But we’d better run it past Barrett ( Tarrawingee coach and Plough Inn publican, Bob Barrett ) to see what he reckons……”

A couple of nights later, another phone call confirms that Chris Long is in the process of loading up his ute, and is about to embark on the 4,000km trek down the Stuart Highway ………and he’s also bringing his brother Johnny, along for the trip.

Fast forward three weeks: Tarra’s president Peter Byrne takes a call from the West. It’s Noel Long, who has already played three games at East Perth, but explains he’d prefer to line up alongside his brothers. He adds:

“I should be able to get a transfer in my job at the CES………. East Perth gave me a sign-on fee. I’ll pay them back half of it if you wouldn’t mind paying the other half. Oh, and by the way, my younger brother Patrick is with me, and he’d like to come too”.

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Tarrawingee figured in a Preliminary Final in 1986, but by the late eighties had started to tumble down the ladder. The stars who had served them diligently had almost reached the end of their tether, and there wasn’t much talent coming through. The glory of their last flag, in 1975, now seemed a distant memory.

In the lead-up to the 1990 season, with a scarcity of numbers, there had even been talk of a potential amalgamation with neighboring Milawa. Things didn’t look all that rosy.

So, thanks to this out-of-the-blue recruiting windfall, those close to the club got busy lining the newcomers up with some work………. Johnny started as a part-time farm-hand on Peter Byrne’s property, and worked with L & S Coating; Chris was employed at OP Industries; Patrick started as an apprentice at Bob Dewar’s Butchery in Murdoch Road.

And Noel was able to initiate his transfer with the CES . His job alternated between the Wangaratta and Shepparton offices.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

To put into perspective the good fortune that had befallen the Bulldogs, here’s a thumb-nail sketch of the career details of their new recruits:

# Noel Long, a silky left-footer, had won the Chaney Medal, as best afield in St.Mary’s stunning 1989/90 premiership win in mid-March (he finished his career with three Chaney’s). It was the sixth of 11 flags he was to play in with his beloved Saints. He had represented the NT 10 times, played with East Perth and West Torrens, won the Territory’s Nichols Medal and chalked up 215 NTFL games.

# Johnny, elusive and dynamic, figured in seven flags in the Green and Gold, was a 3-time NT rep and played 153 NTFL games – kicking 226 goals.

# Chris shared in four flags with St.Mary’s, represented the NT three times and was ever-dangerous up forward. He made 93 senior appearances with the Saints.

# Patrick’s six senior premierships included a starring role on the wing, alongside Noel, in the ‘89/‘90 flag triumph. He played 172 games with St.Mary’s.

 

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‘Cyril’ Everitt had been a mainstay with the ‘Dogs since arriving from Wangaratta in 1981. A vigorous, hard-working ruckman, he rarely lowered his colours in the big man duels and was one of those ‘heart and soul’ players who are capable of inspiring their team-mates to greater deeds.

“To put it bluntly,” Cyril recalls, “we hadn’t been expecting much. Our previous couple of years had been underwhelming, but the moment the news came through that the Longs were coming, it seemed to give the whole place a lift.”

“I remember Paul Nolan driving Chris up to our first game at Beechworth. He kept asking him to turn the heater up. It was a typically-crisp autumn day at Baarmutha Park, and he wasn’t too keen to brave the elements.”

“From about the half-way mark of the season, you could sense that there was something special brewing within the playing group……The influence of the Longs had a part to play in it, I suppose….. but even the battlers seemed to be swept along…….”

Even so, the Dogs were no certainty to cement a finals spot. In fact, their fate could well have been sealed in a late-season clash at North Wangaratta.

With the bottom-placed Hawks clinging to a narrow lead in the dying seconds, Johnny Long threaded the ball towards the waiting arms of key forward Mal Dinsdale. It’s said that the noise from a passing train drowned out the final siren, which sounded before the mark had been taken.

It was paid by the ump, much to the dismay of the irate Northerners. Big Mal kicked truly, to give the Tricolours a four-point victory……..

The presence of Dinsdale, Lionel Schutt and Chris Long gave the forward line a real presence. Chris booted several big ‘bags’. He accepted a challenge one Thursday night, from a Plough Inn patron, who wagered $100 that he couldn’t boot 10 goals against Greta that Saturday.

It was a breeze. Already with nine on the board, and in the dying stages of the game, he clutched a ‘dinky’ 11-metre pass from his brother Johnny, to notch his tenth. He finished with 11.

Schutt, aged 21, had acceded to the captaincy when injuries forced ruckman Dave McCann out of the side. Playing above his height at centre half forward, the long-haired, swarthy youngster developed an amazing telepathy with the Long brothers. They dubbed him ‘Lionel Long’……..

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Bright’s loss in Round 18, dispatched them from the five and pitted 1989 premiers Whorouly against the glamor team, Tarrawingee, in a mouth-watering Elimination Final.

The ‘Dogs were in control throughout and ran away, to win by 57 points, with Noel, John and Chris Long the architects of a landslide victory.

Prodigiously-talented Noel, and reigning Best & Fairest Wayne De La Rue, were the stars of a fighting two-goal win over Beechworth in the First Semi, the following week.

Flag favourites Chiltern, reeling after being sensationally over-run by Moyhu in the Second Semi, were determined to make amends against Tarra in the Preliminary Final.

The Swans had capitulated, and allowed the Hoppers to boot 12 goals in the final term. Despite being labelled brittle, they were prepared for anything that the Dogs threw at them.

Again, they surrendered a big  lead, after being five goals up with 10 minutes remaining, to allow Tarra to pinch a dramatic seven-point win. Another Chris Long eight-goal haul contributed to the highlights reel.IMG_3391

The Dogs were in the Grand Final……….

A huge crowd, upwards of 5,000, crammed into the Greta Recreation Reserve, to salivate upon the eagerly-awaited clash between Moyhu and Tarrawingee. By now, ‘Long-fever’ had swept the Ovens and King League, and many fans who had only heard of the magical brothers were keen to see them in the flesh.IMG_3386

They weren’t disappointed.

From the moment Lionel Schutt poked through his first major with a snap from the boundary, the Bulldogs were in complete charge. They booted 7.2 to 1.5 in the first term, and despite the Hoppers fighting back bravely in the second, the result never seemed in doubt.IMG_3392

The effervescent Schutt nailed eight straight for the day, and always posed a danger. Noel Long set things up from the middle and Chris assumed centre stage late in the game, when he lined up – and kicked truly – for his 100th goal of the season.

But it was a local boy, Andrew Pryse, who was hailed a hero. The rugged defender played the game of his life in an exceptional performance.

The Dogs had been emphatic in their 27.11 to 15.12 victory……………….IMG_3400

IMG_3401…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

  • THE AFTERMATH

* Peter Byrne served eight years as President,  six as Treasurer and is the current Chairman of  the O & K Board. He’s chuffed that, although outsiders predicted Tarra’s financial demise during the 1990 season, the Club finished well and truly in the black. “Bigger crowds and extra enthusiasm around the club certainly helped. It kick-started our clubrooms re-building program,” he says. “We had two ladies – Jackie Everitt (Griffin) as Secretary and Marie Pryse (Financials) who did a fantastic job that year.”

 

* After a brilliant season, in which he finished runner-up in the Baker Medal, despite missing five games, Noel Long returned to the Territory, and continued to dominate. He was later inducted to the NTFL Hall of Fame.

* Brian and Paul Judd, both with O & M experience, proved handy acquisitions. Brian was awarded the VCFL Medal for a sterling performance in the Grand Final.

* Johnny Long came back to play a further three seasons with Tarra. He finished with 53 senior appearances in Red, White and Blue. The Longs still remain in contact with the Club. Chris’s son Ben has played several games with St.Kilda this season. Patrick is returning this week-end, and will catch Tarra’s game against North Wangaratta.

*Andrew Pryse never played again, after being seriously injured in a motor-bike accident.

* ‘Cyril’ Everitt soldiered on. When he finally hung up the boots, he had made 288 senior, and 94 Reserves appearances, won four B & F’s and coached the Club. He served as President, Secretary and Treasurer and remains a devoted supporter.

But there’s no question that the most memorable moment of his footy career came on that sunny September day in 1990, when he held the Cup aloft after played a starring role in his one and only premiership……………IMG_3399

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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