“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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

Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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

His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”

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