‘A SALUTE TO ‘J.A’ ……THE SPORTING SHOWMAN……..’

John Brady was one of the sporting heroes of my growing-up days……..A local who’d cracked the big-time ………..’J.A’ passed away last Tuesday, aged 90……… ‘We caught up with him several years ago, and penned this story…….

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John Alfred Brady was in his early teens when he first began to emerge as a prodigious sporting talent………

His dad Jack was a prominent livestock agent; the family resided in Moore Street, and John and his mates from the Wangaratta Technical School spent most of their down-time belting a cricket ball and kicking a footy.

He played a few games of Junior League football, he recalls, before heading down to Kilmore’s prestigious Assumption College…….His only contact with home would be during school holidays, when St.Patrick’s utilised his skills as a fast-medium bowler, and slotted him into their WDCA side.

You don’t crash through a strong batting line-up to take 7/20 at the age of 17, then follow it up with 4/4 in a semi-final, without people sitting up and taking notice.

Unfortunately, it was the last that Wangaratta was to see of Brady, the sportsman, for several years…………..

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Old Jack envisaged a future for the young bloke in the livestock industry and, after he’d graduated from Assumption, arranged a job for him, with New Zealand Loan, in Shepparton.

He was showing promise as a forward with Shepp, and had just qualified for his auctioneer’s licence, when a vacancy sprung up in Benalla………A clearance was lodged and the remainder of the season was spent with the Demons.

Things moved so rapidly – and his talent had become so obvious – that, by April 1952, he was playing League football………The colourful career of a North Melbourne champion was under way………..

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Within a couple of years he had amassed a reputation as one of the finest key-position players in the game……..Alternating between centre half forward and back, he won North’s Best & Fairest, the Sid Barker Trophy, in 1954, and earned the first of his Victorian guernseys.

The great Laurie Nash was asked, early in 1955, for his summation of the best players in the game……..he named Brady as one of them……

“He is one of the most natural footballers I have ever seen……His near-perfect build, wonderful pace, and mature football brain, puts him in the champion-class…..And his club is definitely playing him in the right position…..He could certainly do well at centre half forward , but in defence he saves North Melbourne time after time,” Nash said.

Initially, John’s ritual was to catch a train down from Benalla to Melbourne, in time for training on Thursday night, then return home on Sunday……It was taxing stuff…….

He began work in Wangaratta in the mid fifties, with Brady & Sinclair, a livestock firm operated by his dad and Gordon Sinclair, under the Dalgety logo.

This led to his brief, but eventful sojourn as a Country Week cricketer……….

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Wangaratta had recently won promotion to the Provincial Group and had a side loaded with fast bowlers – Max Bussell, Brian ‘Woofer’ Martin and Jackie Beeby among them……..Brady, who had become a prolific wicket-taker with new WDCA club, Magpies, complemented the group.

Wang clinched one title, and were runners-up in another, during John’s three visits to Country Week……His 11 wickets at 12.27 proved crucial in the Association’s only ( to date ) Provincial pennant win, in 1957.

His good mate Max Bussell spoke fondly of that Golden Era:

“The teams were disciplined and dedicated, and benefited from the outstanding leadership of Mac Holten…..There were characters, too, such as that terrible twosome – ‘J.A (Brady) and ‘Shadda’ (Stan Trebilcock)…..They were inspiring performers on the field, but just as remarkable off it…..”

“They were in fine form at the Queen’s Bridge Hotel one night, when they had a large crowd in stitches…..J.A, the auctioneer, and Shadda, the penciller, auctioned everything – and everybody – in sight…It was a true Tivoli performance…..”

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The fifties nurtured many swashbuckling, flamboyant VFL stars – rascals who were prone to play it hard on either side of the fence……Brady was one of them.

But he almost walked away from the melting-pot of League football prematurely…….In late 1956 Wangaratta dropped a bombshell when they appointed him to succeed the legendary Mac Holten as playing-coach.

The Pies no doubt anticipated that they would face a battle to prise away North Melbourne’s most valuable asset…….And so it proved……

North blocked his clearance: “They told me there was no way I’d be leaving, and handed me the captaincy,” he said recently. “And they suggested it’d be a good idea, by the way, if I moved back to Melbourne….”

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He had already proved a fine team player, and now showed outstanding qualities as a leader….A fine mark and excellent kick, he was capable of bursts of brilliance which would enthuse the crowd and inspire team-mates.

‘J.A’ again represented the ‘Big V’ in 1957 and ‘59 and led the downtrodden Kangaroos to two finals appearances in 1958.

North didn’t stand in his way when he told them, at the end of 1959, that he was heading to Ararat, to take up a healthy contract as playing-coach.

He had played 118 games, captained the side for three years, and was runner-up Best & Fairest in his swan-song season.

He was appointed for three seasons, but lasted only one, at Ararat: “One of the kids had bronchial asthma and the ‘doc’ advised us that the climate didn’t suit her…..The coaching job at Shepparton United bobbed up and they signed me on for three seasons,” he said.

“I told the United officials after my first year….”If we get a good full forward, I reckon we can win the flag…..I talked my old mate from North, Jock Spencer, into shifting up……We got him a job at the Abbatoirs; his family loved Shepp and he proved a star for United….”

“We won the 1962 flag in a canter…..Ironically, Jock only signed for one year, but his family loved it so much they stayed permanently, and two of his boys also turned out to be stars for United….”

Bernie Sleeth was a youngster, living on the family farm, and just cutting his teeth in Goulburn Valley football, when he experienced Brady’s coaching.

“He had an aura about him – a star quality – and he could still turn a game on its head…..He looked after the young blokes too, but by the end of 1963 United had fallen away a bit and it was decided they needed a change.”

“ JA virtually hung up the boots, but Dookie talked him into playing a few games the next season…..I think that was the last time he touched a footy for about three years,” Bernie says.

Until September 1967……..

Shepparton United had finished fourth….En-route to the Grand Final they lost four players through suspension, as well as their gun centre half back and their only ruckman, both to broken legs.

Their Reserves had finished close to the bottom…..The selectors were desperate, as they cast around for replacements for the eagerly-awaited decider, against bitter rivals, Shepparton.

‘J.A’ received a phone call. His old club was in a predicament. Seeing that he was still a registered player, would he be interested in helping out ? ……….Of course, he said.

Former Rovers star Eric Cornelius, who played with United at the time, remembers Brady’s inclusion being kept secret until training on Thursday night…….Bernie Sleeth was asked to test him out in a few marking duels.

“He was immovable once he got the front position……… even at his advanced age I knew he’d acquit himself well, “ Bernie says.

Much to the derision of the media and rival supporters, Brady duly took his place in a forward pocket.

He acted as a protector to young United spearhead Des Campbell, besides helping himself to four goals, in a vintage performance….

United had the game well in hand, about 10 minutes from the final siren, as ‘J.A’, ever the showman, made his exit…….

He slowly wandered around the boundary, waving to the crowd and soaking up their cheers and jeers….

The old champ had finally farewelled the sporting arena………

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