“MAGPIE DAINE JOINS 300-GAME CLUB……..”

Meet the archetypal country footy legend……..

He’s the bloke that a savvy coach spotted early on, and built the side around…….There were no airs and graces about his playing style, other than his knack of being able to find the Sherrin.

When he was coming through junior ranks, AFL recruiters, smitten with the array of silky-skilled ‘gazelles’ on show, put a line through his name.

‘Unfashionable’…….’Awkward kicking action’……’could lack a yard’…….’an in-between size’……were the knocks on him.

But they under-estimated the youngster’s character, determination and love of the game……….

He knuckled down to carve out one of the great Ovens and Murray careers……….

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Daine Porter plays his 300th senior game for Wangaratta this week-end.

He’s the first Magpie to do so…..which is quite an accomplishment, considering the cavalcade of champions who have passed through the 128 year-old club.

One veteran says his approach to footy reminds him of Bill Comensoli, a stalwart of the fifties:

“At the end of a game he’s extracted every ounce out of his body….there’s nothing left in the tank. Even at training he never stops…… he’s relentless on the track.”

“He’s a quiet, humble fellah,” said another, “………. certainly not one to blow his bags.”

Which is why I half-anticipate Daine’s response when I mention that, among his many attributes, he seems to be a big-occasion player:

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “I don’t think my good games are that great, but consistency is what I pride myself on….”

Seems to me he’s consistently outstanding ……After all, he’s won three Best and Fairests, finished runner-up on four occasions and third three times…….

No wonder the ‘Pies love him……

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His dad Noel, and uncle Chris, were tough, hard-hitting defenders , 100-Gamers, and premiership players during a Golden Era for the Wangaratta Rovers.

Noel’s never-say-die attitude was reminiscent of his sons, and his ungainly, but effective left-foot kicking style resembled Daine in full flight.

He was coaching out at North Wangaratta when Judd and Daine came along. They vaguely remember him playing, and there’s no doubt that the fascination for the game was already well and truly in their blood.

Daine played his junior football with Tigers, and says he never gave much thought to following in the family footsteps and heading to the Rovers.

“It was more just about playing with my mates, like Aaron Braden, who were going to Wang……Besides, Judd was already there…….And my uncle ( Steven Adamo ) had been a star in the mid-eighties….”

It took a while for Jean Porter, whose name is inscribed on the Honour Boards in the Rovers’ Maroney Pavilion, to become accustomed to her grandsons wearing the Black and White. But she eventually adjusted and joined their mum Lynne, and their other Nan, Nola Adamo, who became their greatest fans, and have rarely missed a game.

Daine came under the influence of a passionate Thirds coach, Peter Whittlesea, who had earmarked him as someone with plenty of potential.

By mid-way through the following season (2003) he’d been promoted for a handful of senior games. Coach Jon Henry was already convinced that the club’s future lay in the hands of lads who were coming through, like Judd, Daine, Matt Kelly, Aaron Braden, Jai Canny and others, topped-up with some hand-picked recruits.

They duly handed him the No.1 guernsey, which his uncle had worn with distinction, as a two-time Doug Strang Medallist and century goal-kicker.

“I was lucky to come in at a good time, really,” he says. “After the club had been in the doldrums for nearly a decade, we played finals in 2004, and eventually bombed out in the Elimination Final.”

“And ‘Henners’ was a great first coach to have. He was a really good influence…..knowledgeable, a terrific mentor….and hard, but fair…..”

SANFL club Glenelg came knocking at about this time.

“I went over there, to train for a week….. to see if I liked it…….But no, at 18-19 I decided I wasn’t prepared to move from Wang to give it a crack.”

He played mainly up forward, with an occasional run in the midfield in his early days with Wang, and was rewarded with an O & M guernsey in a Country Championship Carnival at Geelong in 2005.

I express my surprise that, for a player of his repute, it’s the only time he’s worn the Black and Gold.

“Ah well, there’ve been a lot of good midfielders over the years……And remember, they’re not easy sides to make,” he says.

“ I haven’t really dwelt on it……”

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Besides, Wangaratta were building………..

They had a crackerjack side in 2007. The recruitment of players like Ben Cosgriff, ruckman Paul Kirby, Jarrod Hayze, Jessie Smith, Ed Clarke and Marc Lord had thrust them into the premiership window.

“Yeah, That was one of the highlights of my career,” Daine says “…..especially the way we won it, against the odds .”

Going into the final round match with Yarrawonga, the ‘Pies were clinging onto top spot, but had a few injuries, including a damaged shoulder to classy mid-fielder – and eventual Morris Medallist -Jon McCormick.

“Yarra knocked us off by 70 points….If we had lost by one more point we’d have forfeited top spot……And, with a few blokes under a cloud, we really needed that week off.”

“Jonny was pushing to get back, and shouldn’t have played when he did……..We dropped the Second-Semi to North, but finished all over Wodonga in the Prelim Final.”

“That set up the big clash with North Albury, who seemed to be more interested in targeting Jonny’s bung shoulder than winning the premiership.”

Wang booted 6.0 to 1.3 in a first-quarter blitz which set the victory up. They ended taking the game out by 51 points in front of a crowd which paid record gate-takings.

“The flag meant a lot to Wang people, who’d experienced plenty of ups and downs since our last flag 31 years earlier. And the way we withstood North’s aggression made it all the more satisfying,” Daine recalls.

The aftermath of that bruising Grand Final came in Round 8, 2008, when the two clubs met at the Norm Minns Oval.

“There was a bit of bad blood between us, mainly stemming from their treatment of Jon McCormick more than anything. So we expected plenty of spite and fire in the next contest.”

“One of their players head-butted Judd, which prompted a melee………I became involved as well. A few players from both sides ended with suspensions as a result of the ‘stoush’.

Wang again finished as minor premiers, dropping just two games for the 2008 season. It was no surprise when they convincingly defeated Lavington by 32 points, to win their second successive flag………

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By now, Daine was living in Melbourne. His partner ( now wife ) Katrina was attending Uni and he was doing Financial work with a Superannuation company.

I suggest that it must have been a burden, travelling home each week to play :

“Not really,” he replied. “We lived on the northern side of town. Most of our friends and family were all in Wang, and we always looked forward to coming back to see everyone.”

“We had a core group of ‘travellers’ who got together to train down there. Sometimes we joined with a few of the Wodonga fellahs and trained at clubs like Old Ivanhoe…….”

He resisted the temptation to play with Heidelberg in 2012:

“I had a couple of chats, and trained with them a few times. I was almost going to play, but changed my mind at the last minute.”

The constant travel certainly didn’t affect his form. He had become an expert ‘In and Under’ on-baller ( he credits Jason Lappin for helping him hone the midfield craft ), and produced some of his best footy under his brother’s coaching.

“Judd’s been a terrific influence……… It was great to have played alongside him for most of my career.”

They shared their 250th game milestone against Corowa-Rutherglen in 2017. Daine says he remembers the game more for the fact that it almost provided the upset of the year:

“It was on our ground….They hadn’t had a win for the year, and we were sitting third……I think our boys must have been distracted, because the Roos were 7 goals up at three quarter-time……We got up on the last kick of the game.”

The Porters had become only the second set of siblings to play 250 O & M games ( the Rovers’ Mick and Andrew Wilson are the others ).

But the pair had bigger fish to fry…….

The Magpies were right in contention that season, and loomed as a threat to Albury’s dominance when they fell just seven points short in the Second Semi-Final.

Even so, the Tigers, playing in their ninth Grand Final, and chasing their fourth straight flag, were hot favourites when the teams met at Lavington.

But they were overwhelmed by a 7.0 to 2.2 first-quarter onslaught by their irresistible opponents, who eventually prevailed by 21 points.

“That win was on a par with the 2007 flag,” Daine says. “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance, so it was pretty special. Coming at the end of your career, you appreciate it a bit more.”

The Porters announced their retirement immediately after the game. “It’s good to go out on a high,” was their joint pronouncement.

Their coach Dean Stone added: “If I was a young boy watching footy, and had a desire to play at the highest level in country Victoria, I’d tell ‘em to go and watch some videos of Daine and Judd Porter…….The way they compete is second to none….It’s unbelievable…..”

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Their retirements were short-lived.

Judd was coaxed out to Rennie for a final season ( and a premiership ). Daine wasn’t intending to play, but he and the family returned to Wangaratta to live, when Katrina’s mum passed away. It was almost ten years, to the day, since they’d left town.

Katrina continued nursing, and he settled into a teaching role at the Wangaratta Special School, alongside Judd, and an old Magpie premiership team-mate, Luke Mullins.

“I wasn’t planning on playing footy…..then it got to about March……Katrina had already decided to play Netball at Tarra, and, with the two young kids, I thought it’d be easier for me to play there as well.”

“We had a really enjoyable year. Trev Edwards is a great person and was terrific to play under.”

Of course, the Bulldogs came home like a steam train, conclusively defeating Milawa by 27 points to clinch the flag. Daine was awarded the Medal as BOG in the Grand Final.

He wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to make a comeback to O & M footy, but things came together quickly in 2019. He settled seamlessly back into the Magpies’ line-up and enjoyed a fine season; although it ultimately ended in Grand Final disappointment.

At 35, his good form shows no sign of abating. I suggest that another flag would bring him into the rarified air of all those Magpie legends of the past, as a four-time premiership player.

He’s tempted, at this stage, to go on next season:

“But I don’t want to be one of those blokes who plays on too long, and regrets it…… I’m enjoying being around the footy club, though, and still feel like I’m contributing….We’ll see what happens…..”

Meanwhile, we’ll raise our glasses to the 24th member of the Ovens and Murray League’s 300-Game Club……..

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