“THE SPORT-MAD KID WHO MADE THE GRADE……….”

Tony Fisher was a sporting prodigy of the sensational seventies……….

At the age of 17 he already had three seasons of A-Grade WDCA cricket under his belt…….had represented Victorian Country in Basketball……and was an irresistible junior football talent – that is, when he wasn’t tearing around bush tracks on his motor-bike……..

His mum Shirley recalls his Galen College teacher, Br. Gerard, stating the obvious at a parent/ teacher interview: “I’ll put Tony on a pedestal for sport…..but knock him off it for anything else…..”

Then again, the Fisher siblings were all blessed with talent…….The eldest , Peter, was a more than handy footballer, and Tony’s four sisters – Leanne, Kathy, Jane and Jackie – wore the country ‘Big V’ in Under-Age National Basketball Carnivals……..

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Their dad, Jimmy, was one of those real characters you come across in sport. He played footy for the Rovers and Greta and, at the tail-end of his long career, took on the coaching job at North Wangaratta.

North were battling along in the Benalla & District League at this stage, and one of the long treks they used to undertake was to play at Tatong, in the rain, hail and fog.

“Apparently snow also fell at half-time in this particular game,” Tony says. “Visibility was poor and conditions were appalling, but North snuck home in the dying minutes to record their second win of the season……Dad took the boys to the Tatong pub to celebrate, but unfortunately it was closing early that night because of a wedding ….”

“They scored an invite to the wedding, had supper, then went back to the pub, and continued on ‘til all hours…..”

“Overwhelmed by the hospitality of the locals, they arrived home on Tuesday…..”

Jimmy kept wickets for Greta until he was in his late fifties, and Tony remembers his parents dragging the 6 kids along to games ever since he could crawl.

“I started taking my gear when I was 10 or 11, in the hope that the opposition might be short and could need a ‘sub’ in the field.

“I was in the deep one day (subbing for West End, I think) when John Tanner skied a pull shot…..I ran around, dived, and caught it on the boundary……..That was the end of me fielding against Greta…..”

‘Nirvana’ for Jimmy, was relaxing after a game, over several quiet ales and sharing tall tales and true with team-mates like Tanner, Max ‘Pigsy’ Newth, Richie Shanley and ‘Jackie’ Corker.

“It was cut-short one night when someone mentioned that a few ducks had been sighted on a nearby dam…..That was enough for Dad…..He grabbed his gun out of the car, and started to head off with ‘Newthy’…

“Mum complained in vain: ‘You can’t go….the kids have got school in the morning…”

“She got up the next day, looked out of the kitchen window, and here’s Dad fossicking around in the garden, still in his mud-splattered whites……She’s never found out, to this day, how he got home….”

“He always reckoned that was the only day he ever made a duck and shot a duck……”

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At 14, Tony played junior cricket with United on Saturday mornings, lined up with their senior side in the afternoon, then stripped with Greta – alongside his Dad and elder brother in the Sunday competition.

He was a right-arm quickie and dashing left-hand bat, and has the distinction of winning the WDCA’s inaugural junior Cricketer of the Year Award in 1975/76. He also guided United to the flag, with 108 and 5/27 in the Final.

On the same week-end, his 8/46 helped Greta win a WSCA Semi…….

His arrival in senior ranks could have been better-timed, as United’s unprecedented run of dominance was drawing to a close…… he missed the opportunity to share in an A-Grade flag. As a tireless youngster, he bowled with pace and accuracy, and could swing the ball both ways – often in tandem with wily left-armer Geoff Welch.

His blood boiled over against the Rovers one day, however…..

Tim Carr had nudged along into the nineties and was seeing the ball like a water-melon…..In exasperation, he ran in and bowled one ball left-handed to the unsuspecting right-hander…

“ Tim said to old Freddie Larkin, the umpire: ‘Did you see that ?’…… Freddie gave me a nice old serve…”

“Geoff Welch was a big help to me in my cricket…….In fact, he and Geoff Lacey, who was my first football coach, were the two greatest influences on my sporting career….”

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At this stage, with his involvement in cricket, basketball and motor-bikes he hadn’t given much thought to football…..His cousin, Russell Harris, suggested: ‘Why don’t you come out to Greta and see how you go ?”

“I played my first game in the 2’s……For two quarters……. then they ripped me off and put me in the Seniors….I really enjoyed it…….once I got into it I took to it like a duck to water…”

He was going on 18, and played the remainder of the season, as Greta stormed into the Grand Final.

“We had a terrific side – Paul O’Brien had returned from the Rovers; Dessy Steele was still starring….we had ‘Gunner’ Williams, Barry Tanner, Geoff Lacey was a brilliant leader, and there was a fella called Leigh Candy, who virtually walked in off the street….”

“He was an off-beat sort of bloke….He’d come in at half-time and smoke a pipe……but he was an absolute ripper….”

“He didn’t get a touch early in the Grand Final….. I remember ‘Lace’ dressing him down, and he replied : ‘My yings and my yangs are not working properly……..’Lace’ said: ‘Well get your yings and yangs in line.”

“He did just that; kicked five goals after half-time and we knocked Whorouly over by 29 points…..The only problem for me was that I got rubbed out for a couple of weeks for striking Alan ‘Cocker’ McNeil….”

Geoff Lacey suggested that Tony would ‘walk’ into Ovens and Murray footy…….So he went in to have do a pre-season with Wangaratta, and performed well in three practice matches.

The Pies were keen to test him in the Reserves when the season got under way, but Greta were adamant – they’d only supply Match Permits if he played Seniors.

He decided to stay at Greta but, as luck would have it, missed the majority of the season with Glandular Fever………

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Basketball played a huge part in the lives of the Fisher clan……Tony’s arrival on the scene came at a time when the game was possibly at its peak in Wangaratta.

“The ring in the backyard at home used to get a decent work-out and the girls were mad-keen…….It was our life……I started at Hustlers, moved on to Gotsims, (where he won a competition B & F), then coached Wranglers when I was about 20…..”

“A car-load of us – Ronnie Graham, Phil Dent, Rod Orton, Steve Harries, Greg Canny and myself – used to travel up to play in the Myrtleford comp each Wednesday night……called ourselves the Myrtleford Tigers…”

The friendships he formed with several Myrtleford footballers who were also involved, influenced Tony’s decision to play with the Saints in 1982.

“They lined up a job for me with Myrtleford Tyre and Battery and I lived up there. I had a terrific time at Myrtleford. The guys were so tight and the families really looked after us,” he says.

The highlight, no doubt, was his second season, when the Cinderella Saints came from second-bottom to almost pinch a Grand Final spot.

They were helped, of course, by the recruitment of Gary Ablett a couple of rounds into the ‘83 season…..

“We’d heard whispers about him coming, but it was a fantastic atmosphere when he turned up at training for the first time….”

“I remember his first game, on the Rovers’ ground……A few minutes in, our coach Greg Nicholls was poised for a mark at centre half forward, when Gazza climbed all over his back to take a screamer….”

“Next minute Greg yelled out to the runner, Sam Holmes: ‘Sam….Sam..get out here…Ablett to the centre…..I don’t want him on my bloody back all day….”

“He kicked a goal that they still talk about, from 80 metres out, to help us beat North Albury in the First Semi….”

The Saints trailed by 22 points with seven minutes remaining when the Ablett heroics unfolded. They took the game out by 4 points.

The following week, a battle-royal with Albury unfolded . Ablett was again the dynamo in a tough, spiteful clash.

“It’d been close all day….But the turning-point came when one of the Doolan’s ( who was injured and wasn’t playing) ran out and clocked a Myrtleford player. We lost concentration after that, and went down narrowly,” Tony recalls.

“It was a hell of a side….Bobby McNamara, ‘Chad’ Light, Terry Burgess, Ablett, Peter Ruscuklic and Greg Nicholls all represented the O & M…and Burgess won the Medal….”

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Tony was lured to Canberra the following year, signing on with Ainslie ( Greg Nicholls’ old club), and working with the Electricity Authority, laying underground cables.

Canberra footy suited his game and he starred, playing as a winger, or centreman. He was best-afield in ACT’s inter-state clash against the Mick Nolan-coached Queensland, in Brisbane, but unfortunately, sustained a stress fracture of the lower-back late in the ‘84 season…..He missed Ainslie’s flag triumph.

“A few of us got together the following summer and got ourselves really fit. That, and playing A-Grade cricket with Norths, had me really prepared……I think I played probably the best footy of my career in 1985,” he says.

He again represented the ACT, finished runner-up in Ainslie’s B & F, and the League’s Mulrooney Medal, which helped ease the disappointment of being narrowly beaten by Queanbeyan in the Grand Final…..

Collingwood came knocking, with an invitation to do a pre-season, but Tony and Dianne weren’t keen on heading to Melbourne…….instead, they landed in Adelaide, and he signed with the reigning SANFL premiers, the Graham Cornes-coached Glenelg.

“They were a really settled side……Chris McDermott had the centre tied-up, and Tony Symons and David Kernahan were the incumbent wingers……..It was hard to break into that line-up…..”

“You’d be picking up 30 possessions a week and thinking: ‘Maybe I’m a chance next week….But next week never came…”

He played a handful of senior games, but spent most of his two seasons in the Reserves side, coached by ex-Essendon star Geoff Blethyn.

“We became really good mates, and started up ‘Toil & Soil’ in Adelaide……Then Di and I went out on own, carting rocks out of the Adelaide Hills.”

Tony’s final two seasons of footy in Adelaide were spent with Southern Association club McLaren Vale……….

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When the Fisher’s headed back to Wangaratta, there were dreams of a nostalgic return to Greta, who were now in the hands of his brother-in-law Robbie Richards, and good mate Brett Keir.

But it wasn’t to be….He played two Reserves games, ‘did’ a Driver muscle and that was it. His career was over…….

Tony had brought his Bobcat and Equipment over from Adelaide, and he, Robbie and Len Richards set up Toil & Soil in Wangaratta.

“We did that for two years….Then I came home one night and said to Di: ‘Come on….Let’s pack the bags….we’re going around Australia……Destination Darwin….”

They lived in Darwin for 10 years….Tony worked for a travel company, Billy Can Tours, for a good while, then went out-bush, building camps and working with the indigenous…..”It was great…..I saw country that a lot of white people had never been to……..” he says.

On their arrival home in 2007, they bought a farm at Myrrhee, and Tony began his present job, working with Brown Brothers, at Banksdale……..They also purchased the Milawa Bakery in 2008, which they still operate.

He’s done alright, this sport-mad kid, whose teachers reckoned, was on a path to nowhere………….

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