“THE BIRTH OF A FABULOUS ERA……….’

It’s fifty years now, almost to the day, since Philip Doherty played the last of his 43 games for the Wangaratta Rovers……..

The lanky, acrobatic key forward, dubbed the ‘Flying Doctor’, produced a quarter of football which turned a Grand Final on its head, and earned him a spot in local footy folklore……

Philip Doherty

A phenomenal run of success was to follow for the Hawks, but ‘Doc’ moved on……firstly, for a brief career at North Melbourne, then to WAFL club Perth, as part of a deal which landed the great Barry Cable at the Kangaroos.

He rarely ventures eastwards these days, but I’m sure, occasionally reflects on the part he played in that famous ‘Flag of ‘71’…………………

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Neville Hogan took time to warm to the coaching caper.

When the Rovers first dangled the job in front of him he deferred, and reckoned they should set their sights a tad higher. He was aware that they’d been in negotiations with Richmond hard-man Mike Patterson, but when the ‘Swamp Fox’ opted for North Adelaide instead, they settled for the popular local lad.

Many fans were sceptical of the decision. Hogan was the first ‘insider’ to take the reins at the Findlay Oval, but he adapted smoothly and led his side to a narrow Grand Final loss against Myrtleford in 1970.

Even then, he wasn’t convinced of his coaching capabilities. He suggested to Hawk President Jack Maroney that, if they were able to find someone more suitable he’d happily step aside.

That approach fell on deaf ears.

So he and his footy department set about filling some gaping holes, caused by the departure of 10 members of the side that had taken them to the ‘Big Dance’…………..

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Terry Bartel

Some were already within the ranks…………..like Steve Norman……..

Despite his obvious potential, Norman had chalked up just a handful of games in his two senior seasons at the Club. Much to his dismay he’d been dropped from the 1970 Grand Final side because selectors were fearful that his slender, immature body may be targeted by the physical Saints.

Determined to prove himself, he proceeded to ignite a spectacular career which would set goal-kicking records over the next 13 years.

Others, like Peter Jack, Mickey McDonald, Greg Patterson, Noel Hiskins and Brian O’Keefe were given an opportunity……….A speedy winger, Peter Booth, was recruited from Glenrowan, and a more-than-handy utility, Ian Hutchieson, landed in their lap, by virtue of a transfer in employment.

And a footloose youngster, Terry Bartel, re-appeared on the scene. Bartel was a 16 year-old schoolboy when the Rovers enticed him to play four games on Permit in 1966 and invited him to join their end-of-season cruise to Perth. But there were sojourns at Beechworth, Carlton and Albury before the Hawks finally persuaded him to sign on the dotted line.

There’d been fears that much-loved, and rapidly-developing ruckman Mick Nolan may depart. He’d been enticed to Geelong for a pre-season, and made a solid impression, before a bout of homesickness drew him back to the nest.

In the meantime, he’d formed a strong friendship with Rick Sullivan, a similarly laid-back lad from Swan Hill who’d encountered similar difficulty in adapting to life at Kardinia Park.

‘Big Mick’ talked his mate into spending a season ( which was to stretch to four ) with the Rovers. The pair would finish first and second respectively in the 1971 B & F.

Veteran Bobby Atkinson found his way back to the Club after coaching King Valley to a flag. Valued for his uncompromising approach to footy, it was anticipated that Atkinson would help produce a tougher edge, and provide Hogan with valuable leadership support .

Rick Sullivan

One of the ‘gems’ to be plucked from the recruiting campaign was Donny Lappin, a skilled, and adaptable on-baller from Chiltern, who improved as the season wore on………

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Wodonga, under the leadership of the dynamic Mickey Bone, had been the power side of the competition in recent times, winning two flags and having another couple snatched from their grasp.

But their era of dominance had now drawn to a close, and they fell out of Finals contention.

Conversely, after several seasons in the doldrums, Yarrawonga had pulled off the League’s major recruiting coup by appointing champion Essendon centre half forward Ken Fraser as captain-coach.

The addition of Fraser’s ex-Bomber team-mate, ruckman Jimmy Forsyth, and another big man, Neil Fell, also stiffened their line-up.

The Pigeons were the pace-setters in ‘71, and topped the ladder, with 15 wins, one clear of the well-balanced Benalla. Reigning premiers Myrtleford slotted into third spot, equal on points with fourth-placed Wangaratta Rovers.

The Hawks had won 12 games, but of their six losses, five were against fellow-finalists.

In fact, their Round 18 capitulation at the hands of a slick Benalla was a mortal blow to their flag chances, in the eyes of the media critics……….

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The First Semi-Final between the Hawks and Saints was billed as the Grand Final replay. It developed into a battle-royal for three quarters, with only one point separating the sides at lemon-time.

However, the expected close finish didn’t eventuate.

The Rovers dominated the final term, to win 15.8 to 11.15. Don Lappin turned on a great performance, picking up 26 kicks………Ric Sullivan, tall key defender Graeme Booth, the experienced Eric Cornelius, Simon Goodale (4 goals), and Neville Hogan were their other stars.

The Second Semi between Yarrawonga and Benalla was a game of fluctuating fortunes. The Pigeons led by 45 points half-way through the third quarter, but Benalla rallied to get within eight points at three quarter-time.

In fact, they hit the front early in the last term, but the ability of Ken Fraser and Jim Forsyth to take timely marks at vital moments enabled the tide to turn in Yarra’s favour.

They held on to win 15.18 (108) to 15.7 (90)……….

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The Rovers turned on a magnificent display of power football to destroy Benalla’s premiership hopes in the Preliminary Final.

They prevailed by 33 points, reversing the 54-point shellacking they had received at the hands of the Demons in their previous encounter.

Benalla did boot 5 goals to 1 in the third quarter, to give themselves a sniff, but from then on the boys in Brown and Gold took over.

21 year-old Doherty, who had finished equal third in the Morris Medal, exemplified his obvious class by grabbing 15 marks at centre half forward.

Bartel and Lappin eclipsed the Benalla small men; Des Flanigan, Mick Brenia and Geoff Welch defended stoutly, and ruckman Mick Nolan held sway in the air.

The battle of the mid-field proved the highlight of the game: Cornelius (26 kicks), Hogan (26) and Peter Booth (23) were prolific, as were Benalla trio Chris Elliott (20), Bill Sammon (25) and Robbie Allen (21)……….

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An estimated crowd of 9,000 flocked to Martin Park, Wodonga, to see the Rovers tangle with Yarrawonga in a eagerly-anticipated Grand Final.

In one of the early sensations of the game, Doherty fell to the turf when he was upended by tough Pigeon defender Jimmy Bourke………..The young giant was out of sorts, and 33 year-old ex-Fitzroy defender Alan Lynch kept him under close wraps.

Even so, there was nothing in the contest at quarter-time, with the Hawks holding a two-point lead.

With the brilliant Hogan showing the way, they booted the only three goals of the second term ( two of them to Steve Norman ), to lead by that amount at the main break.

A dramatic change came over the game when play resumed, as Yarra abandoned their short game and took advantage of a handy breeze, concentrating on kicking the ball long and direct.

Neil Fell plucked seven marks for the quarter, and was well supported by Fraser, and small men Lance McMillan and Billy White. The Pigeons slammed on seven goals to one, to lead by 20 points at three quarter-time.

The Hawks were in desperate straits………

In a master-stroke, Hogan placed Brian O’Keefe at centre half forward and plonked the out-of-sorts Doherty, who had hardly been sighted for two quarters, in the pocket.

The game was transformed in a trice…….Doherty pulled down three spectacular marks and converted each of them; all within the first ten minutes of the final term.

With about seven minutes left on the clock, another of his shots – which would have been the sealer – hit the post.

Shortly after, defender Mick Brenia sent the ball to Sullivan, who found Doherty dead in front for his fourth goal……..The game was as good as over……

The brilliant Hogan was the architect of the victory. He outplayed two opponents and, when the game looked to be drifting away from his side in the third term, was a steadying influence.

Norman’s six goals for the game gave him 65 for the season, whilst Sullivan, Lappin, Bartel, Flanigan, Welch, Goodale and Mick Nolan all played their part in the 16.11 (107) to 13.10 (88) triumph.

For the Pigeons, Neil Fell, Peter Ennals, Bill and Johnny White, Fraser, Forsyth and Billy McLaughlin all contributed……….

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* Of the players who participated in the 17-point Grand Final victory over Yarrawonga, several shared in multiple flags during the Rovers ‘Super Seventies’ era. They included: Steve Norman (7), Neville Hogan (4), Eric Cornelius (3), Peter Booth (3), Bob Atkinson (2), Mick Brenia (2), Don Lappin (2), Terry Bartel (2), Des Flanigan (2), Roley Marklew (2), Geoff Welch (2), Mick Nolan (2), Ian Hutchieson (2), Rick Sullivan (2).

* Neville Hogan, Mick Nolan, Roley Marklew, Geoff Welch, Steve Norman and Eric Cornelius are all inductees to the WRFC Hall of Fame.

THE TEAM

Backs: Des Flanigan, Geoff Welch, Mick Brenia.

Half Backs: Bob Atkinson, Graeme Booth, Peter Jack.

Centres: Eric Cornelius, Neville Hogan, Peter Booth.

Half Forwards: Roley Marklew, Philip Doherty. Simon Goodale.

Forwards: Brian O’Keefe, Steve Norman, Don Lappin.

Rucks: Mick Nolan, Rick Sullivan. Terry Bartel.

19, 20: Ian Hutchieson. Mick McDonald.

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