” SAINTS VERSUS HAWKS – RE-VISITING A CLASSIC……….”

Myrtleford and Wangaratta Rovers meet in a Final on Sunday for the first time in 38 years…….’On Reflection takes you back to that First Semi-Final of 1984; a match that typifies the rivalry of two proud clubs.…..

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

The persistent rainfall of late-winter has given way to a delightfully sunny spring day………….They’ve come down from the hills in droves for the clash between the Saints and Hawks, at the Norm Minns Oval…….

The two old foes have endured a love-hate relationship since well before they were jointly admitted to the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950………Their rivalry stepped up a notch when they met in successive O & K Grand Finals…..The Rovers celebrated wildly after their triumph in 1948, but the Saints delighted in turning the tables the following year…..

The most memorable of their four previous O & M Finals meetings came in the 1970 Grand Final, at this very same venue…….History was in the making………In a ‘battle for the ages’, spiced with niggles galore, the Hawks held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, only to be reined in by the never-say-die Saints, whose fans celebrated like there was no tomorrow……..

In the late-seventies, well-meaning officials struck a Perpetual Shield, commemorating two long-serving Presidents, for competition between the Clubs……….After one spiteful encounter five years later, emotions spilled over and the Maroney-Ablett Shield was banished to a store-room – never again to be exposed to the light of day…..

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

In fairytale fashion, Myrtleford rose from second-bottom to become the glamour team of 1983…..The recruitment of Gary Ablett helped, as did the arrival of new coach Greg Nicholls, from Ainslie, via Geelong…..They played off in the Prelim Final, but in the aftermath suffered substantial player losses and were expected to come back to the pack in ‘84.

Peter Ruscuklic, the former Fitzroy and Geelong forward, who achieved fame by kicking successive tallies of 136, 156 and 213 goals in the Sydney Football League, ( and had won the 1983 Doug Strang Medal in his first O & M season) inherited the Saints’ coaching job from Nicholls………..They snuck into the Five by a mere two points from fast-finishing Yarrawonga and Lavington.

The Hawks, meanwhile, reacted to a disappointing ‘83 season by recruiting strongly. One of their coups was a VFA champion, Laurie Burt, from Coburg.

Built like a Sherman Tank, and a renowned in-and-under player, Burt made an immediate impression; as did Robert Perry, a stylish key position player, who was studying Law at Melbourne University and couldn’t spare the time to continue his fledgling career at Collingwood.

Additionally, big Gerald McCarthy, after a quiet first season in Brown and Gold, hit his straps.

McCarthy had started his VFL sojourn at Hawthorn, before being involved in a straight swap with a promising Fitzroy mid-fielder, Terry Wallace. He played most of his 150 VFL games in defence, but Rovers non-playing coach John Welch swung him into the ruck in ‘84, with immediate effect………

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

The Hawks were right on song for the first two-thirds of the home-and-away rounds……..With an 11-1 record, and perched well clear on top, they were the raging flag favourites.

But when the rain tumbled down in July, so did their air of invincibility. They lost four of their next six games to limp into the finals……then allowed North Albury to kick 24.16 in registering a 38-point win in the Qualifying Final.

On the other hand, despite errant kicking in the Elimination Final, Myrtleford gained considerable confidence when they scraped to a 12.24 96) to 14.9 (93) win over Yarrawonga…….

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

The Hawks took a gamble at the selection table by including ruck-rover Mark Booth for the Semi. He’d been under a cloud for several weeks. The move backfired when the experienced campaigner, after kicking an early goal, left the ground with a groin injury in the first quarter.

Another of their veterans, Andrew Scott, was ‘playing with’carrying’ a painful foot complaint and was parked at full forward. Despite the injury, and in typically courageous fashion, he was destined to have a major influence on the game.

The Rovers opened brilliantly and darted away to a handy four-goal lead by quarter-time. Greg O’Keeffe and youngster Shawn Dennis were magnificent on their wings and Neville Pollard’s run from defence and long, raking kicks were a feature.

The Saints whittled the margin away, as Freddie Baldori and forwards Dale and Darren Holmes continually came under notice. But, try as they might, the underdogs found difficulty in finding the big sticks.

High-flying centre half forward Russell France and coach Ruscuklic were dominating the airways, and energetic rover Terry Burgess was in the action……However, their deplorable kicking was keeping the Hawks in the game.

France, the former Prahran star took 13 marks, yet finished with 1.8 for the match. Ruscuklic, on the other hand, was at his uncanny best, juggling several freak marks and kicking seven goals.

By three quarter-time Myrtleford had valiantly fought their way back into the contest. They held a slender eight-point lead………The stage was set for an exciting run home.

The thrilling contest was to keep the large crowd on tenterhooks and leave the players emotionally and physically drained…..

Coach Welch took a gamble when he moved Scott onto the ball early in the final term. He rose to the challenge as only he could, scouting the packs like a rover, and fighting for possession with tenacity……..

The Rovers bridged the initial gap, and fortunes ebbed and flowed, before goals to Dale Holmes and Burgess put Myrtleford 12 points up at the 24-minute mark.

The little maestro was in everything, and had a few other opportunities to kick goals during the last term. But the Hawk defence exerted just enough pressure to ensure near-misses….

Mark Frawley was another Hawk who lifted a notch when it counted….He cruised the ground with great anticipation and his marking and long-kicking were a feature of his strong display.

As the time-clock edged into time-on the Hawks managed to gain the upper-hand, with stalwarts Leigh Hartwig, Greg O’Keefe and Barrie Cook fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain possession.

Finally, in the dying seconds, a cool pass by 19 year-old Peter Watson to Scott gave the old champ a chance for glory…….

He kicked truly for his fourth…….. The Hawks were home by a solitary point……..

Wang. Rovers: 5.5, 8.8, 9.9 , 13.12 (90)

Myrtleford: 1.5, 5.10, 9.17, 11.23 (89)

Goals: Rovers: A.Scott 4, M.Frawley 3, M.Booth 1, G.McCarthy 1, R.Perry 1, S.Dennis 1, L.Burt 1, G.O’Keeffe 1.

Myrtleford:.P.Ruscuklic 7, R.France 1, Dale Holmes 1, F.Baldori 1, B.Garoni 1.

Best: Rovers: M.Frawley, G.O’Keeffe, S.Dennis, R.Perry, L.Burt, A.Scott, N.Pollard, S.Baird.

Myrtleford: F.Baldori, I.Wales, P.Ruscuklic, R.France, Dale Holmes, T.Burgess, B.Garoni.

Estimated Attendance: 4,750

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

THE AFTERMATH

# The Rovers were bundled out of the finals the following week, when Wodonga defeated them in the Preliminary Final: 16.22 to 6.21.

# The Saints fell to the bottom of the ladder the following year, winning just 2 games. Peter Ruscuklic moved on and was replaced by former Rovers star Norm Bussell, who was non-playing coach.

# Terry Burgess finally achieved his dream of an O & M premiership in 1990, with Wodonga.

# Four Rovers players: Merv Holmes, Andrew Scott, Mark Booth and Laurie Burt, were laterInducted to the O & M Hall of Fame.

# Burt took over as coach of the Rovers in 1987, and is recognised as one of the Club’s greatestmentors, taking them to flags in 1988, ‘91, ‘93 and ‘94.

# Ian Wales is the current Myrtleford Football Club President.

# Myrtleford rover Darren Handley was recruited to Collingwood in 1986. He played 12 gameswith the Magpies and later, 10 games with Fitzroy.

# Sean O’Keeffe, Daine Porter, Tyson Hartwig, Hugh and Elijah Wales, Sam Martyn , Mitch and Darcy Booth are present-day O & M players whose fathers were involved in the Semi-Final.

# Shawn Dennis abandoned his football career to concentrate on his first love – Basketball. Heplayed 10 seasons in the NBL before starting an illustrious coaching career. He has coached in the NBL,, in New Zealand and Japan for the past 29 years. He is currently coach of Japanese side Nagoya Dolphins.

# Four months after starring in the Semi, Greg O’Keeffe achieved his most memorable sporting achievement when he ‘ran the house down’ to take out the prestigious Wangaratta Gift, infront of an adoring home crowd. He appeared in the Gift Final five times in his lengthy athletic career.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s