‘AGE IS NO BARRIER TO ‘SMOKY’……….’

I spot him fossicking for weeds, hidden among the veggie patch at the rear of his Wangandary Road residence……..He’s taking advantage of a break in the miserable weather that’s recently befallen us……..

There’s not much of Greg ‘Smoky’ Hogan……In his footy prime he stood just five foot five and a half……”I’ve shrunk a bit since then,” he quips.

His favourite haunt these days is just up the road…….He thinks nothing of lugging his clubs around the 18 holes of undulating, picturesque Jubilee Golf course thrice weekly……

It’s testament to the fitness – and competitiveness – of this spritely 90 year-old….………

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‘Smoky’ was raised at Yerong Creek, a tiny Riverina farming community, wedged in between Lockhart, Wagga and The Rock……..

It’s said that the ‘Barassi Line’, drawn just to the north, was the imaginary strip of demarcation between Rugby League territory, and the Aussie Rules heartland.

Not that there’d be any doubt where the loyalties of the sizeable Hogan clan would lie……Their dad Tom was a ‘Rules’ fanatic and had played in a couple of flags with nearby Osborne, in 1923 and ‘24.

But when it came to continuing their Secondary education Greg and his brother Maurie were shipped off to St.Gregory’s College in Campbelltown…… a rugby stronghold, if ever there was one.

“We had to adapt to this strange game ,” he says. “I was in the same class as Jimmy Sandral (the triple Morris Medallist) and he became one of the school’s stars in the three years we were there……”

But when Tom and Tess loaded up the family truck, packed to the hilt with their belongings, and headed for a new life down south – on a dairy farm at Moyhu – the boys were tickled pink……..

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‘Smoky’s’ quietly spoken; a man of few words……but he’s effusive when he recalls his early days in the Ovens & King…..

“It was a Major League when I started with Moyhu in 1949……Your dad was coaching the Rovers….Old Len Ablett was in charge of a really strong Myrtleford team……every side had its array of stars……”

“A few years later you had blokes like Greg Tate, Billy Dalziel, Mick Flecknoe, Bill Pinder and Bill Comensoli – all brilliant players – coaching….”

“The O & K used to pick a rep team which would meet a combined Rovers/ Wangaratta side, and we usually gave ‘em a good run for their money……”

Greg returned to the Riverina in 1953 and ‘54, working as a shearer and satisfying an ambition to play with Osborne – his dad’s old club.

By the time he settled back into O & K footy in the mid-fifties he’d become a star in his own right….He shared the 1956 Baker Medal with Ray Warford (Tarrawingee) and Timmy Lowe (Beechworth), and took out the Chronicle’s Harman Medal.

His first flag came in 1959: “We hadn’t won one for 12 years and were darned lucky to get over the line against Chiltern…..We were well ahead, but they began to peg the margin back, then threatened to run over the top of us….”

“I remember our centre half forward Brian Martin putting his fist up to punch the ball in the dying stages…..It ricocheted over the back of the pack; ‘Jackie’ Corker ran onto it and kicked a goal….”

“They took the ball back to the centre and the same thing happened again……We’ve kicked two goals in two minutes to win the game….We’d thought we were buggered….”

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The following year (1960) the Hoppers were under the leadership of a colourful, enigmatic figure – Ron ‘Modest’ Murray – whose habit of ‘breaking out’ for more than the occasional night on the drink almost proved disastrous.

“ ‘Modest’ pranged his car the week before the Grand Final……He was driving up Perry Street and swerved when he thought a car was heading straight at him with its headlights on high beam……It turned out, of course, to be a reflection of his own lights on the shop windows in Vincent Road,” Greg recalls.

“He wasn’t too popular when word got out…..The Selectors talked about leaving him out of the side at one stage……Luckily they didn’t, because he turned it on and proved to be one of the key factors in us defeating Beechworth in a thriller….”

Maurie ‘Bumper’ Farrell, a great player in ‘Smoky’s era, won seven B & F’s at Moyhu, but he’s not too sure he would have had the same influence in O & M footy….

“He was only a 6 foot ruckman, you know…..He was strong, a good palmer, and jumped in hard at centre bounces….He was at his best when he was resting in the back pocket….would mark everything…….”

‘Bumper’ was certainly a dominant figure in that great Moyhu premiership team of 1962…..They went through the season undefeated and it’s regarded as one of the finest O & K teams of all time.

“Things panned out beautifully that year,” Greg says.

“ Tony Nolan, a terrific player, fell into our lap, and a fellah called Lex Lane turned out to be a cracking centre half back.”

“He was from Morwell and just happened to be building a shearing shed at Moyhu at that time. He used to call in to the pub for a beer after work……They talked him into having a run …..What a player he was….”

“But it topped off the side when our coach Ray Burns twisted my 17 year-old brother Neville’s arm and talked him into delaying his entry into O & M footy.

Neville showed his exquisite skills in that Grand Final win over Tarrawingee; his final game with the Hoppers before he embarked on to a distinguished playing and coaching career with the Wang Rovers.

Greg also starred in the 33-point victory, as did his brother-in-law, back flanker Ian ‘Tiger’ McDonald……

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After Greg and Bev married they settled in Hansonville and continued to expand a thriving Freight business…….

He admits that footy training had to be put on the back-burner sometimes, due to the long hours that he and Maurie ( operating as ‘Hogan Bros Livestock Transport’) were logging up:

“In those days, for instance, it’d take us 16 hours to cart lambs to Sydney….You’d have to be continually stopping to stand the lambs up……”

“We were returning from Sydney one night and found floodwater over the road at Holbrook….So we cut across to Wagga, left the trucks there and got our cousin to drive us home and enable us to play footy against one another the next day…… ( Greg was at Greta and Maurie, at this stage, was Tarrawingee’s star full forward)……We went back on the Sunday to pick up the trucks….”

Greg’s brother Neville can recall him falling asleep half-way through a meal, still gripping his knife and fork, after one of those marathon trips.

But footy was his outlet…… four years at Greta yielded another two flags – in 1965 and ‘66 – under the coaching of his old Moyhu contemporary, ‘Bumper’ Farrell…….He reluctantly hung up the boots at the age of 36.

It’s an imposing footy C.V: 210-odd games with Moyhu, 72 with Greta, and 39 at Osborne; five O & K premierships and a Clyde Baker Medal……

Were there any regrets about not having a crack at Ovens and Murray football ?

“Not really….Wang and the Rovers both approached me, but I would have had to make a stronger commitment to training….and that wasn’t possible with the hours we were putting in on the trucks….”

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Greg and Maurie continued to carry livestock until the closure of the Newmarket Saleyards in 1984 put paid to their four-times weekly trips to Melbourne.

Greg continued trucking, and took up a contract with Pioneer Concrete for 14 years, before retiring in 1998.

His love-affair with golf began a few years earlier, when he and Chris Norris, a Greta school-teacher used to come in to Jubilee for an occasional round….

And when he and Bev moved in to Wangandary Road in the early nineties he became fair dinkum:

“I’d go up nearly every night, about 5pm and play nine holes, hitting two balls…..You improve a fair bit when you’re doing that…….”

He’s managed a hole-in-one at Jubilee, and has ‘Shot his Age’ eight times:

“I hit a purple patch once, when I got my handicap down to 12……”Don’t print that, though…….People will think I’m blowing my bags……..I’m usually around the 14-15 mark…..”

“They’re a good mob at Jubilee, and I still really enjoy playing……Everyone chips in and helps around the Club…..”

“One of my jobs for roughly the last 25 years has been emptying the rubbish bins and generally tidying up around the course………….”

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The six Hogan kids have continued the family’s deep sporting involvement……..

Gary, who’s currently President of the Greta Football/ Netball Club, played well over 370 club games for the Blues and finished when he was 44…..Phil, who plays music in two rock Bands, also chalked up 30-odd games with the Reserves……

Besides all enjoying lengthy tennis careers, Wendy, Robyn and Joanne played significant roles in the 13 A-Grade Netball premierships that Greta won between 1985 and ’99.

Robyn won 5 Ovens & King Netball B & F’s ( 2 A-Grade and 3 B-Grade). She and Jo-Ann also featured in an A-Grade Netball Grand Final for Wangaratta.

Greg and Paul share the honour of being the O & K’s only father-son Baker Medallists……

After 51 games – and a premiership – with the Rovers, Paul returned to Greta, where he took out the League’s prestigious ‘gong’ in 1995, collected three Club B & F’s and was a member of three flags…..

His career, which totalled 436 Club games with the Blues, also earned him induction to the O & K Hall of Fame….an honour he shares with Wendy and Robyn, who were inducted in 2015 for their services to Netball…..

Of the 13 Hogan grandkids – a number of whom are now progressing through the sporting ranks – Jayden Bear has achieved the most prominence…..He has 58 senior games to his credit with the Wangaratta Rovers, including a couple of solid performances in this year’s O & M finals…..…..

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Super-veteran ‘Smoky’ says he likes to remain active, and Golf provides him with the opportunity to get out and about……”Besides, I really love the game,” ……………

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