“TRADITIONAL RIVALS SQUARE OFF AGAIN……..”

It was the throwaway comment that helped re-ignite one of country football’s keenest rivalries………

The Ovens & Murray League had just suffered a shock 15-point loss to Goulburn Valley, in cold, wet and slippery conditions at the W.J.Findlay Oval, in early June, 2003.

GV jumped the O & M in the opening quarter, making a mockery of the conditions, and slammed on five goals, to open up a commanding 23-point lead at the first change.

They maintained that ascendency for the remainder of the game.

Gleeful Goulburn Valley diehards celebrated…….For the second time in four years they’d knocked O & M out of the Country Championships in the opening round……

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Their exuberance touched the nerve of Ovens & Murray General Manager Leigh Elder:

“We’re still Number One,” he retorted.

He pointed to the O & M’s unparalleled record of four successive titles, from 1996-‘99 as proof of their standing among Country football’s pace-setters……….

“I think he’s clutching at straws,” scoffed Elder’s opposite number, GV’s Eric Bott.

“It’s a bit of a joke, really……….In my opinion the O & M is back in the pack with us…….We hold the upper hand……The O & M can say what they like………”

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The Border-Mail’s football editor David Johnstone penned a sober assessment, in the game’s aftermath, under a heading : LEAGUE IN SHOCK AFTER FLAGSHIP SINKS:

“The Ovens and Murray League was in mourning yesterday.

“The flagship representative team has been bundled out of the Victorian Country Championships in a first-Round encounter by the Goulburn Valley for the third time in a decade.

“The latest loss doesn’t go close to the pain experienced in 1993, when the GV sent O & M tumbling back to Division Two of the Championships, but the sting was clearly obvious in the rooms afterwards.

“The O & M expects ( as opposed to hopes ) to win the championships every season, and when these expectations are not met the mood is predictably sombre.

“Opposition teams consider this attitude arrogant, and delight in defeating the O & M.

“The Shepparton News yesterday trumpeted the GV’s win with a screaming front-page headline: ‘ONE MAGIC MOMENT’ and an accompanying lead story………..”

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The battle for football bragging rights in the Murray-Goulburn region began 92 years ago………..

Of the many competitions in vogue at the time ( every tiny village boasted a team of their own ), the Goulburn Valley and Ovens and Murray Leagues were the stand-outs.

If you were a star in either League in those days, chances were you’d have received a typed letter from almost all of the VFL clubs, inviting you to do a pre-season…….Such was their strength , players could be plucked from playing with Albury, Wangaratta, Shepparton or Kyabram one week, to lining up with Footscray, Fitzroy or Melbourne the next………

In the end, many of them became legends of the game………

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To settle the debate about which was the stronger of the Major Leagues a match was designated for the Wangaratta Showgrounds on June 6th 1930……..Admittance was set at 1/6d and all profits would be channeled to the Wangaratta, Corowa and Goulburn Valley Hospitals.

Every O & M team, barring East and West Albury ( who were opposed that day ) was represented.

The scribes predicted that, despite the absence of several stars from the two Albury clubs, Ovens and Murray would have too much overall strength, and should win comfortably…..It certainly began to pan out that way:

“Throughout the first three quarters, O & M seemed to have a bit in hand…….It came as a surprise in the last quarter when the boys from the land of tinned fruit and big wheat crops, came out and practically took charge of the game……

“The lead changed regularly. The visitors, though, seemed to have a bit in hand in the last quarter……

“Eventually, they grabbed a lead of seven points and held it for the last few minutes…..”

Final Scores: Goulburn Valley. 2.4, 6.7, 10.8, 16.14 (110)

Ovens & Murray. 4.5, 8.11, 14.11, 15.13 (103)

A return ‘bout’ came 22 years later, in the Semi-Final of the first Country Championship series, at Ballarat.

O & M cruised to a 9.18 – 5.7 victory, and went on to defeat a wayward Bendigo: 11.11 to 8.21, by eight points, to clinch the title…………..

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The Leagues next met on Queen’s Birthday week-end, 1961, when the ‘Caltex’ Country Championships were revived after an absence of four years……

O & M travelled to Narrandera, where they comfortably defeated the South-West League on the Saturday.

The keenly-anticipated second-round clash with Goulburn Valley came two days later, at the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

For youngsters like myself, it was the closest thing to live VFL footy that we’d seen. I can recall sneaking into the Magpies’ clubrooms to watch the O & M prepare, and counting nine former League players pulling on the Black and Gold guernsey.

The selectors suggested that the captain-coach Bob Rose, who’d been playing under extreme difficulty, might consider pulling out of the game, but ‘Mr.Football’ wouldn’t have a bar of it.

Scarcely able to hobble, he argued that once he got onto the ground he’d be right: “ The way those blokes upfield deliver the ball, I should be okay,” he said.

And so it proved. O & M ran away to win: 13.11 to 8.8 in a high-standard clash. Wangaratta’s champion forwards Bob Constable (7 goals) and Ron McDonald (4) shared the goal-kicking honours:

The O & M side lined up as follows:

Backs: Brian McKoy (Wodonga), Bob Ronnfeldt (Rutherglen), Ray Thompson (Rovers)

H. B : Harold Davies (Rutherglen), Jim Sandral (Corowa), Ken Ellis (Yarrawonga)

C: Brian Bourke (Benalla), Don Ross ( Nth.Albury), Terry Burgess (Myrtleford)

H.F: Lionel Ryan. (Wodonga), Ron McDonald (Wang). Stan Sargeant (Nth Albury)

F: Neville Waller (Wang). Bob Constable (Wang), Bob Rose (Rovers)

Foll: Lindsay Cooke (Wodonga), Kevin Mack. (Wang). Les Clarke (Rovers)

19.20: Len Sherlock (Benalla), Bill Gayfer (Rutherglen)

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Forty-eight years after their first victory over the O & M, Goulburn Valley registered their second triumph, winning 17.12 to 15.8 at Benalla, in 1978.

In a classic encounter which ebbed and flowed, O & M were unable to restrain GV forwards Terry Keenan ( 6 goals), Des Campbell (3), and massive Bernie McCarthy; and received great service from Graeme (Josh) Kendall and dynamic rover Gary Cooper.

Steve Norman booted five goals for the O & M, who trailed by two points at three quarter-time, but couldn’t withstand a five-goal last quarter burst from the Purple and Golds.

Enraptured GV President Jack Arthur invoked Churchillian language to laud his players:

“The Goulburn Valley is very, very proud of you players…….I’m sure we can say this is one of our finest hours…..”

GV went on to clinch the Country Championship.

The following players wore the O & M guernsey:

Backs: Chris Porter ( Rovers ). Brian Symes (Benalla). Kevin Richardson (Wodonga)

H.B: Daryl Henderson (Ruth ). Merv Holmes (Rovers). Evan Connick. (North Albury)

C: Jim Britton (Wodonga). Eddie Flynn (Rovers). Gary Paxton (Albury)

H.F: Steve Doolan (Ruth). Reg Gleeson (North Alb). Les Parish (Yarra)

F: Peter Sharp (Wodonga). Steve Norman (Rovers). Jim Hooper (Benalla)

Foll: Rod Page ( Myrtleford). Andrew Scott (Rovers). Vin Doolan (Rutherglen).

19.20: Robert Tait (Yarra). Peter Howard ( Myrtleford )

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In 2001, the Leagues struck a perpetual Trophy, honouring two long-serving players – Ovens and Murray’s Mick Wilson and GV’s Stephen Ash. The winning team would hold the ‘Wilson-Ash’ Shield……..It pin-balled between the old rivals for the next decade…….

With the increasing difficulty in maintaining player interest in the Country Championships, the VCFL introduced a seeding system in 2010.

Ovens and Murray and Goulburn Valley, the two recognised powerhouses, were seeded 1 and 2 respectively.

They met at the Lavington Oval, with the honour of being the State’s Premier League at stake……..A relentless GV outfit blew O & M out of the water with 7 unanswered goals from late in the first quarter.

The O & M were unable to muster enough scoreboard pressure to seriously threaten GV……Shepparton United man-mountain Jason Eagle exploded in the second quarter, taking several strong marks on Kade Kuschert.

He converted with 3 majors, before finishing with 4……… His efforts were the catalyst for a GV scoring spree which effectively wrapped up the Wilson-Ash Shield before half-time……For a team comprising the O & M’s finest players, the home side made too many simple errors, especially in delivery to the forward line, whilst GV were consistently able to find loose men due to their willingness to run harder………

GOULBURN VALLEY: 3.4, 8.9, 10.13, 12.16 (88)

OVENS & MURRAY. : 4.4, 4.5, 6.8, 9.10 (64)

BEST. G.V: B.Murray, T.Durward, T.Sheldon, N.Gieschen, K.Height, G.Campbell.

O.M: M.Pendergast, J.Mackie, M.Wollington, S.Meyer, D.Leslie, D.Maher, Z.Jones.

Ovens and Murray wrested the Shield back when the team’s next met – seven years later – at John Flower Oval, Wodonga, in 2017.

And what a pulsating contest it turned out to be…….

There was nothing in it all afternoon, with the home team’s biggest lead being only 17 points, which came early in the final term.

O & M would have put the game to bed had they converted a shot that would have put them 22 points up. But they couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.

GV then took charge, nailing the first three goals of the final quarter to regain the lead for the first time since the second term.

However, in the dying stages, goals to O & M’s Lachie Howe and Ben Speight sealed a thrilling seven-point win.

The next instalment of the Wilson-Ash Shield will be held this Saturday, at Mooroopna. Of the 25 matches which have been played between the arch rivals. O & M have won 15, to GV’s 10……This is a summary of their meetings:

1930: GV. 16.14 (110). d. OM. 15.13 (103)

1954: OM. 9.18 ( 72). d. GV. 5.7. ( 37 )

1961: OM. 13.11 ( 89). d. GV. 8.8. ( 56 )

1965: OM. 9.16 ( 70). d. GV. 8.5. ( 53 )

1967: OM. 16.15 (101). d. GV. 10.12.( 72 )

1971: OM. 22.4. (136). d. GV. 8.10. (58 )

1978: GV. 17.12 (114). d. OM. 15.8. (98)

1979: OM. 12.14 (86 ). d. GV. 11.10.(76)

1980: OM. 19.11 (125). d. GV. 14.9. (93)

1981: OM. 14.19 (103). d. GV. 12.11 (83)

1983: GV. 13.18 ( 96). d. OM. 10.12 (72)

1987: OM. 21.16 (142). d. GV. 12.15 (87)

1990: OM. 19.13 (127). d. GV. 15.11 (101)

1993: GV. 21.12 (138). d. OM. 9.12 ( 66)

2000: GV. 14.27 (111). d. OM. 15. 9 ( 99)

2001: OM. 22.18 (150). d. GV. 14.9 ( 93)

2003: GV. 8.5 ( 53). d. OM. 4.14 (38)

2004: GV. 9.4. (58). d. OM. 6.9. (45)

2005: GV. 11.8. (74). d. OM. 3.4 (22)

2006: OM. 11.5. (71). d. GV. 2.4 (16)

2007: OM. 12.10 (82). d. GV. 12.7 (79)

2008: GV. 6.6 (42). d. OM. 6.5 (41)

2009: OM. 20.7 (127). d. GV. 12.8 (80)

2010: GV. 12.16 (88). d. OM. 9.10 (64)

2017: OM. 12.14 (86). d. GV. 11.13 (79)

N.B: Matches in 2004, ’05, ’06 and 2008 were of two-quarters duration and were part of a Round-Robin Tournament.

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