‘ A HARD-MAN…… ON AND OFF THE FIELD…….’

Ray Burns was one of those larger-than-life characters of my growing-up years.

As a recently-arrived member of the constabulary, he soon earned the respect of the town’s miscreants and scallywags; maintaining decorum by dispensing the old-fashioned form of justice – a decent, well-directed toe up the arse……..

Accentuating his reputation as a ‘hard-man’ was a flattened nose, spread generously across his ‘lived-in’ dial….. giving rise to a rumour that he’d once been a Golden Gloves contender.

He’s from an era when country football clubs eagerly anticipated the annual influx of bank-clerks, school-teachers and policemen to their municipalities. They would pray that, amongst those who migrated, they might be fortunate enough to snavel a ready-made star or two.

That’s what happened in late-1957, when ‘Burnsy’ made Wangaratta his home…………..

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He was just 16 when he left Shepparton and headed to the ‘big smoke’ to pursue his boyhood dreams.

Just as his brother Ted saw his destiny lying in the priesthood, Ray had his heart set on becoming a cop……and a star footballer.

But firstly, he had to ‘mark time’. He spent two years with the Railways before being accepted into the Police Academy.

By now he was well-entrenched at Richmond, where he’d had two years with the Third Eighteen, and was acquitting himself capably in the Two’s.

After playing a starring role in a Reserves Prelim Final in 1956, in which he received the plaudits of old Tigers for his three goals, a stint of National Service the following year took a decent slice out of his season.

Upon graduating from the Academy, and reaching the conclusion that League football was probably beyond his reach, he accepted his first transfer………

“The clubs came knocking, but there was no doubt where I was going to sign; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play under Bob Rose,” he recalls.

“It was sensational….They were the Golden Years of Country footy……..I loved regaling my kids with the stories of climbing on the train to go to the Grand Finals in Albury.”IMG_4242

“When we came back, victorious, we were greeted at the Railway Station by hundreds of Rovers fans, and the Town Band, which escorted us down to the Ground for the celebrations. Talk about being big frogs in a small puddle !……..”

Bob Rose loved Burnsy’s’ toughness and redoubtable spirit . And besides, the Hawk ‘protector’ regularly produced on the big occasions.

He was a key contributor in the club’s first flag – a 49-point win over Des Healy’s Wodonga in 1958. When the sides squared off two years later, he was best-afield, as the Rovers prevailed in a tight contest.

Casting his mind back to the closing stages of the 1959 Grand Final against Yarrawonga, though, still produces a lump in his throat.

It’s raved about as one of the finest O & M Grand Finals of all time. Here’s how it unfolded :

The Pigeons, pursuing their maiden premiership, scarp out to a 39-point lead in the third quarter.

But the Hawks produce 20 minutes of champagne football, to boot seven goals in 20 minutes, and take a 3-point lead into the three-quarter time break.

The lead changes six times in a pulsating final term. With the clock counting down, and the Rovers attacking,  Max Newth takes possession near centre half forward, fumbles, then, with a deft flick-pass, unloads to the running Burns.

From 50 metres, he promptly slots it through the big sticks to regain the lead for his side.

But seemingly from acres away, the shrill sound of umpire Harry Beitzel’s whistle sends a hush through the 12,000-strong crowd. He adjudicates Newth’s  pass as a throw, much to the dismay of Newth, Burns and the rabid Rovers fans.

Yarra take the resultant free kick and the giant, Alf O’Connor, becomes a hero when he slots a major from the pocket just before the siren, to see the Pigeons home……….

“That was a travesty,” Ray says. “There’s no doubt the pass was legitimate, but old Harry pulled the wrong rein. I still replay that incident, 60 years later.”

Bob Rose usually handed Burns the task of tailing Yarra’s tough-nut Lionel Ryan when the sides met. The fiery red-head was a fearsome opponent. When the pair tangled it was akin to two gnarled, feisty old bulls going at each other.IMG_4243

“I picked him up again in this game, but Billy Stephen rung some changes when they were under siege. He shifted Lionel into the centre early in the last quarter.”

“I said to Rosey: ‘Do you want me to go with him ?’……’Nah, it’ll be right,’ he replied. I’d been ‘blueing’ with him all day. As it turned out, Lionel became a big factor in them getting back into the game. But that’s footy……”

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After a magical three years with the Rovers, Ray was by now married to Judy ( ‘the best-looking girl in town’ ) and, having purchased a house in Swan Street, decided to try his hand at coaching.

Moyhu snapped him up. After reaching the Prelim Final in 1961, the Hoppers were all-conquering the following year, and went through the season undefeated. One of his prize recruits was a future O & M legend, Neville Hogan, who dominated the mid-field.IMG_4248

At season’s end, Ray received letters from two clubs – St.Arnaud and Nhill, sussing out his coaching availability.

“Wheat was big in the West in those days,” he recalls. “I’ll never forget this; a fellah called Ray Youthmire was showing me around the club’s facilities. Nhill had never won a Wimmera League premiership. He said: ‘If you take us to the flag, I’ll personally buy you a new Holden car.’ “

“That was irresistible. I told Moyhu I was keen to put in for it,  but instead of thanking me for keeping them in the loop, they sacked me !”

“I went ahead and accepted the job, subject to getting a transfer in the Force. But the cop who was leaving the Nhill police station changed his mind, and my transfer fell through.”

“To rub salt into the wound, Nhill won two of the next three flags, but luckily for me,  Brien Stone, the President of Tarrawingee offered me their job.”

It had been ten years since the Bulldogs’ last premiership, but they set the pace for most of 1963. The Grand Final was a gripping affair, and they just staved off a defiant Moyhu, to win 7.18 (60) to 9.5 (59).IMG_4250

Tarra again triumphed in 1964, this time against a Greta side which was on the rise. The following year, Greta, despite kicking just five goals in another nail-biter, were able to pip Tarra – who kicked 4.15 – by two points.

One of the highlights of his last year as coach was nurturing an overweight, easy-going kid called Michael Nolan, who was to rise to the heights of VFL football.

“I was close to buggered by now, and handed over the reins to Neil Corrigan. I thought it would be best to spend a year just concentrating on playing.”

And that was it for Burnsy – or so he thought.

The Rovers were keen for him to act as a guiding-hand for their youngsters, and appointed him Reserves coach in 1967. But on finals-eve, with injuries mounting, they thrust him back into the senior line-up.

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Ray Burns ‘flies the flag.l

A broken leg to coach Ian Brewer in the second quarter of the Grand Final placed the self-confessed ‘broken-down hack’ in an invidious position. He was now the on-field leader.

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Ray Burns receives instructions from Rovers’ injured coach Ian Brewer during the 1967 Grand Final

He threw his weight around, and was involved in a big dust-up in the third quarter. “I was lying on the ground after it, when a New South Wales copper came onto the ground and said: ‘If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll lock you up’. I don’t know how he came to that conclusion. I finished with the free kick……”

The Rovers were eventually overpowered by Wodonga, and Burnsy promptly hung up the boots.

After 13 years in the Police Force, he embarked on a new career, as the licensee of the London Family Hotel.

Situated opposite the wharves in Port Melbourne, it was a ‘7am to 7pm’ pub, and favoured watering-hole of Wharfies, Painters and Dockers and ‘colourful identities’.

“It was an interesting place, that’s for sure……And talk about busy ! We averaged 50 barrels a week.”

Controversial Dockers such as ‘Putty-Nose’ Nicholls, Pat Shannon, Billy ‘The Texan’ Longley, ‘The Fox’ Morris and ‘Ferret’ Nelson were numbered among his clientele. ‘The Ferret’ finished up wearing ‘cement boots’, and another notorious figure met his end after being gunned down outside the pub.

“We were there for a touch over ten years and although I was on good terms with the wharfies,  I did the ‘modern waltz’ quite a few times, with some of the local ‘intelligentzia’. And my head was used for a football on more than one occasion………They sure kept me on my toes.”

Ray went on to spend some time as a rep for Carlton & United Breweries, ran Wangaratta’s Railway Hotel for three years, then moved the family to Adelaide, where he operated the Half-Way-Hotel, a busy establishment with 40 poker machines and a thriving bar trade.

After a hectic 11 years, they sold out and he and Judy decided to put their feet up. They retired to his old home town of Shepparton, where Ray admits they’re now doing life ‘on the bit’. They spend a fair bit of time these days keeping tabs on their six kids ( Di, Mick, Karen, Paul, Shane and Mark ), and 14 grandkids.

He’s been doing volunteer work for many years with a few old mates, mowing the lawns and tending the gardens of Ave Maria Hostel.

” I’d always reckoned there were two jobs that’d really suit me. One was holding up the Stop/Go sign  for the CRB.  I never achieved that ambition, but I’ve been able to tick off  on the other one – driving a Ride-On Mower !………….”IMG_4247

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‘CHEWING THE FAT WITH ‘CHIZZA’………

Of all the personalities with whom he came into contact in a lifetime of football, Peter Chisnall retains a soft spot for his first coach…….

“She was a Catholic nun – Sister Mary Elizabeth Clancy………I remember she used to tuck her long, flowing, black habit into her belt and spear out accurate left-foot passes to us little tackers,” ‘Chizza’ recalls.

“I was in my forties when I returned to a school re-union at St. Mary’s Primary School, and caught up with her again……. She told me she’d got to see me play a couple of games at the MCG…….then presented me with a scrapbook that she’d compiled, detailing a lot of my footy highlights. I was tickled pink ………”

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‘Chizza’s’ a ‘people person’……..friendly, enthusiastic, exuding positivity, and blessed with a liberal dose of charisma. And boy, does he love a yarn!……I’d promised not to annoy him for too long…….Two and a bit hours later, we were still at it, despite him facing a lengthy drive back home to Numurkah…….

He does some work for the Justice Department these days; supervising offenders on Work Projects. He had a crack at retirement for a while, he explains, but drove himself up the wall with boredom. So he started going around to jails giving talks to prisoners. Then this job was offered to him. He loves it….. Loves being involved, and helping people.

His long-term trade was as a Butcher, but he’s also been a Grain Representative, a Promotions Officer, had stints on talk-back Radio and TV, and operated a corner-store . He and his wife Helen bought a run-down pub in Burrumbuttock many years ago, built it up and sold it, then ran the Tungamah Hotel for more than a decade. I can just picture him engaging in repartee with the patrons from behind the bar of a pub. They’d have stayed for hours, I’m sure.

But I’m keen to explore ‘Chizza’s’ footy resume’….. that’s a fascinating story in itself……………

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The Chisnall’s are a famous Corowa footballing family. Two of Pete’s uncles were part of the Spiders’ first premiership, way back in 1932. His dad Bill, who lost a fair bit of his footy to the war years, also played a lot of games, and later coached South Corowa. An older brother Adrian had been a star, so expectations were high when the lad debuted, aged 16.

“John Hoiles, the ex-Footscray defender, was coaching at the time. ‘Hoilesy’ could be pretty brutal, but he was good for a young fellah like me. He kept hammering into us to ‘put your head over the ball’. We were short on talent though, and won just two games in each of my first two seasons.”

“Thankfully, we picked up some classy recruits in 1968; the club was able to snap up Richmond captain Freddie Swift as coach, and ‘Hoilesy’ agreed to stay on as a player. A big change came over the place,” he recalls.

Peter had done a pre-season at North Melbourne, and played on match-permits in the opening two rounds – a win at Footscray, and a 19-point defeat at the hands of Essendon.

“It was weird to be playing on blokes like Barry Capuano and Russell Blew. You’d been running around collecting their footy card only a couple of years earlier. But ‘Swifty’ and ‘Bluey’ Crisfield came down to see North, and said they’d like me to go back,  play the season at Corowa, and return for good the next year. So that’s what I did.”

It proved a dream season for ‘Chizza’. He played in the Ovens and Murray’s Country Championship win over Wimmera, and was a constant source of drive on the wing for the Spiders, as they surged dramatically towards an improbable finals berth.IMG_3662

Their Round 18 clash with Wangaratta carried huge stakes, as the clubs were vying for the vacant fourth spot. Corowa needed to get up by seven goals or more…..They stormed home to win by 92 points.

Then they overcame North Albury and Myrtleford in successive weeks, thus earning the right to challenge powerful reigning premier Wodonga in the Grand Final.

It was a classic. The Dogs led by 26 points at quarter-time, but Corowa, with a strong breeze at their back, booted six goals to nil in the second to gain the ascendency. It became a nip-and-tuck affair from then on.

In the dying stages, Wodonga maintained a slender lead, but a superb 50-metre goal from Kevin Witherden and a ‘pearler’ from the pocket by left-footer Lindsay Jacob, sealed the Spiders’ first flag for 36 years…….

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Peter returned to Arden Street and established himself in the North Melbourne side over the next two seasons, but by 1971 the winds of change were blowing. Brian Dixon had taken over as coach and proceeded to exert his authority.

“I was asked to attend a meeting, and when I walked in he said: ‘I want to see you upstairs.’ I thought ‘here’s trouble’. He greeted me with: ‘Well, make up your mind. Do you want to be a League footballer….. or a butcher for the rest of your life ?’”

“I thought that was a bit harsh. Here I was, starting work in the Butcher Shop at 4am to cram in footy training. Along with four or five other players who’d been given a similar directive, I walked out on North.”

He moved to Sandringham without a clearance, and played with the Zebras for the next two seasons. When the VFL and VFA declared a Morotorium to eradicate their clearance stand-off, he was forced to serve a one-year penalty.

By now Peter and Helen had moved to Albury. They’d recently lost their first-born, Brad, through cot-death, and were rapt to be back near their respective families. He acted as a runner for Albury coach Timmy Robb in 1973.

But a visit from a North delegation, Ron Barassi, Alan Killigrew and Ron Joseph, changed their path. ‘Chizza’ was about to embark on the ride of his life……

“ ‘Barass’ said: ‘Have you thought about playing VFL footy again ? I can tell you, if you come down and do a pre-season, you’ll play in my team.’ That was good enough for me.”

“I’d always considered myself a bit of a battler. I had speed, and could mark, but the game didn’t come naturally to me.”

“We had a pack of good small men around the middle, led of course, by Barry Cable. Our job was capitalise on the ruckwork of big Mick Nolan, who had the marvellous ability to direct the ball anywhere.”IMG_4229

“It was unbelievable to be a part of North’s journey, as we got to our second-ever Grand Final, then in 1975 knocked over Hawthorn, to win the Club’s first flag.”

What obviously also appealed to Barassi was that his winger; a popular, engaging figure within the club, played on the edge once he crossed that white line.

He had a day out in the Grand Final, collecting 22 kicks, 5 marks, dishing out 5 handballs, and continually pumping the pill to the point of the square.IMG_4226IMG_4227

‘Chizza’ also featured in the ‘76 Grand Final, in which the Hawks were able to exact their revenge. But in the first practice match of 1977 his 80-game League career came to a sad end, when he was involved in a head-on collision and suffered a fractured skull.

That setback may have put paid to his time at the top, but over the next thirty years, he was to embark on a coaching odyssey which would further re-inforce his footballing CV………

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The first stop was to Tasmanian club New Norfolk, whom he guided to a Preliminary Final in 1978.

“I was on a two-year contract, but was released from it when Dad got badly injured in a truck accident, and needed my support. I made a vow that I’d return to Tassie one day.”

“But I’d no sooner arrived back home when Hec Francis, who’d been tied up with Rutherglen, approached me and said: ‘Look, we’re gone. We’re going to amalgamate with Corowa and we’d like you to be Corowa-Rutherglen’s first coach.”IMG_4225

“They were three terrific years. I also coached the O & M side in ‘79, and combined the role with a job as North Melbourne’s Zone Development Officer.”

After working with Barastoc Feeds for several years, he was back operating a butcher shop in Port Melbourne when the famous VFA club had a coach pull the pin on the eve of the 1986 season.

“I’d been doing some Skills Coaching at Essendon, but Port asked if I’d slip into the job. It was a privilege to be involved with such an iconic Club……..They’re great people. I handed over the reins to a Port stalwart, Georgie Allen, at season’s end.”

‘Chizza’ fitted in one final season as a player at East Ringwood, aged 39, as a favour to an old Port Melbourne mate, ‘Buster’ Harland. He then moved on to coach Old Caulfield Grammarians for two years.

He honoured his promise to return to New Norfolk, as non-playing coach in 1990. They’d been on the brink of bankruptcy, and had lurked around the bottom reaches of the ladder for several years.

The Chisnall arrival inspired great optimism and the Eagles, playing with renewed intensity, headed the ladder at one stage, before fading out in the Elimination Final. He worked on morning radio with TTT-FM, made regular appearances on TV, and coached the Tasmanian State side.

After concluding his three-year stint with New Norfolk, he moved north to coach State League Club Launceston for two seasons.

Completing the full circle, he and Helen settled back in the North-East, and he was snapped up by Yarrawonga to succeed Peter Foster in 1996.

Being back in the O & M environment appealed to ‘Chizza’ after a 15-year hiatus, but the Pigeons were on a ‘downer’ at the time.

“I decided to give the kids every opportunity, but became frustrated, and butted heads with a few people around the place. Suffice to say, I was unable to make a difference,” he says. Part of the way through his third season at the helm, he and the Club parted ways.

However, the ‘coaching bug’ continued to itch. He spent two years with Mulwala and one at Devenish, before the 350-game Chisnall coaching journey drew to its conclusion………

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Peter and Helen’s two younger boys chose divergent paths in life. Grant studied at Duntroon, became an Army Captain, and served at several overseas hot-spots . Guy, who’s now involved in the meat industry, enjoyed a fine footy career, played in Corowa-Rutherglen’s 2003 premiership side and won a B &F with the Roos.IMG_4223

The baby of the family, Natalie (Ramsdale) still plays Queensland State League Netball with the Whitsunday Sharks

The grandkids are now his pride and joy, but he still finds time to sate his unquenchable thirst for football.

Next month, along with hundreds of old Kangaroos, ‘Chizza’ will celebrate North Melbourne’s 150-Year Anniversary. He’s looking forward to being back in the thick of the action……………… Continue reading “‘CHEWING THE FAT WITH ‘CHIZZA’………”

‘LOUIE’S 87…….AND STILL KICKING……’

Roma Cesa reckons her husband Lou is still mentally playing footy – even at the ripe old age of 87.

“He watches every game on telly. I’ll look across, and there he’ll be, twitching in the Lounge Chair, kicking and flicking out imaginary handballs.”

“It’s the same when we go down to watch the Magpies play. He can’t sit still. It’s as if he’s out on the ground. I say: ‘Lou, you’re not playing any more, remember’. His one true love is football. I take a back seat,“ she quips………..

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Hardly any of the current Maggies would recognise this reserved little fellah with the swarthy complexion and the trademark peaked-cap. He and Roma sit behind the goals at the Women’s Industries-end of the Norm Minns Oval – have done for more than 50 years.

He’s declined offers to move to more salubrious surrounds; and maybe sample a bit of the Club’s upstairs hospitality. He’s comfortable there, he says, and doesn’t fancy too much fuss.

“I like doing my own thing. I can criticize if I want to…..and no-one will hear me.”

Louie’s from a Golden Era. In his day he was as good as any small defender going around. But he won’t have a word said against the modern game. “I love it; can’t get enough of it.”

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His is the classic story of a lad, born of immigrant parents, who completely embedded themselves in the local community.

His Dad sailed to Australia from the tiny, mountain village of Lentia in Northern Italy, in 1927; Mum followed four years later.

After settling in Melbourne, then Gippsland, ‘Pop’ landed a job out at the Glenrowan Quarry, smashing rocks. It was a tough old gig. Lou still has the sledgehammer he used; says you need to be a muscle-man to lift it.

After they settled in Wang, the old fellah used to ride his bike out to a block he’d bought at the foot of the Warbies, and cut wood all day.

Lou was born at York’s, a Private Hospital just over the Railway line in Rowan Street. It was merely a hop, step and jump to transport him home – the Cesa’s lived just up the road, in Green Street.

Nor was it necessary to travel far for work when he started as an apprentice joiner at R.M.Clayton’s.  He was 15 when he rode to their factory in Mackay Street…….. And that’s where he was to spend the entirety of his working life.

“I started off on 22 shillings and sixpence, and had to hand over a bit of board and pay off my bike out of that. The next year I got a rise to two pounds 13 and fourpence. I’ve still got that bike, you know.”

On the day he retired, his mum, who was 95 at the time, was invited to his farewell barbecue. It was her first visit to her son’s workplace of 50 years. “She didn’t know the building existed, and marvelled at the size of the machines that cost me some of my fingers,” he says……..

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When Lou was growing up, the Wangaratta Junior League comprised just four clubs. They’d introduced a zoning system and, as he was living near the middle of town, Centrals became his club, in 1946.

They were starved of success in his first couple of years. Yet, completely against the odds, they took out the ‘47 flag. I’ll let Lou explain it.

“We didn’t win any of the home-and-away games, and were stone motherless last. Then we happened to take out the First-Semi, Prelim and, amazingly, the Grand Final…… You’ll have to take my word for this, as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one still alive from that side.”

The next step in his football journey was to try his luck with Wangaratta. It was 1949, and the seeds of the Magpies’ greatest era had already been sown. The great Mac Holten had arrived to take over as coach, and duly implement a play-on style of game which was to prove fabulously successful.

Along with many other Junior League graduates, Lou became a member of the Reserves team, which played in the Benalla-Tungamah League.

“I remember buying my first pair of boots at Jack Ferguson’s Shoe Store, and getting old Maurie Adair to hammer some stops in them. Nine times out of ten the stops would be gone by half-time,” he says.

“We’d travel out by bus to places like Devenish, Tungamah, Dookie and Wilby. It was a side of kids, really, but a pretty good standard. We reckoned some of those blokes trained by kicking bags of wheat around. For instance, you had the Lane brothers from St.James who were built like Sherman Tanks-. It was tough footy….and great experience for us.”

The trips back to Wang were rollicking affairs, and Lou admits he’d often be coaxed into providing a rendition of his favourite song: ‘China Doll’.

“When we got home we’d wind down by having a few beers,  then go to the local dance at the Town Hall….a few of the older ones would go square-dancing.”

Mid-way through 1951 he was blooded for four senior games with the ‘Pies. The following season he cemented a permanent spot .

Wang were chasing their fourth flag on the trot, but Rutherglen, coached by ex-Essendon rover Greg Tate, had set the pace for most of the year.

They pipped the Pies by 7 points in the Second-Semi. The decider a fortnight later was a topsy -turvy encounter, with the lead changing several times.

Wang wrestled their way to a seven-point lead at lemon-time, but finished on strongly, to run out winners by 20 points.IMG_4193

Lou had entrenched himself in defence, and performed capably on a back flank in the Grand Final. It was, he admits, hard to get his head around being part of this team of champions.

He was now a key member of the Wangaratta side. When the O & M met East Perth at Albury two years later, there he was in a back pocket.

The following season he represented the Black and Gold in the first-ever Country Championship Carnival, joining such stars of the game as Jack Jones, Timmy Robb and Lance Mann. The side contained eight players who were on the verge of graduating to VFL ranks.

O & M proved too strong for Ballarat in the Final, with the Age reporting that: ‘… Sandral (back flank) and Cesa (back pocket) were crucial factors in the victory, and were responsible for repelling many Ballarat attacks….’IMG_4191

Wangaratta reached another Grand Final later that year, meeting North Albury in a memorable encounter .

Lou’s main focus was on the enviable task of keeping Hopper coach Tim Robb in check . “He and North’s full forward Lester Yensch were the danger-men,” he recalls.

Yensch booted a near-impossible goal mid-way through the final term, then Wang’s Lance Oswald marked superbly, and replied, to narrow the margin to four points. Suddenly, a fiendish gale blew up, with a storm erupting over the ground.

North’s Arthur Pickett, almost from the centre of the Rovers ground, booted a goal with the aid of the hefty breeze. In heavy rain, the Hoppers were content to play out time and hold their 10-point advantage to the siren.

Lou featured in his second O & M flag in 1957 – a classic contest against old rivals Albury – which looked to have slipped from their grasp in the dying stages.

The Tigers held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, but Wang slowly bridged the gap. With just one minute remaining, Lance Oswald snapped accurately from the angle, to see his side take out a sensational game by two points.

“That was Lou’s best-ever game for Wangaratta, I reckon,” says his old team-mate Bill Comensoli. “ He was named on a wing, opposed to Reggie Gard, who was one of Albury’s important players. He held sway all day.”

“I remember the siren blowing and all the emotion that overflowed,” Lou recalls. “Albury’s Jim Robison was that disappointed that he turned and whacked Rex Allen, who was standing beside him. Poor old Rex happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”IMG_4218

The 1958 season proved to be Lou’s last as a player. His legs had been playing up, and he’d been operated on to drain blood from them. Doctor Phillips, and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, both recommended that he give it away before he finished up a cripple.

He’d married that year…….“Yes, he also had a nagging wife telling him to give it up,” jokes Roma…….

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Lou coached Junior League club Combined Churches for a few years in the sixties, and took them to the 1967 premiership. Three of the side – Geoff Welch, ‘Manny’ Booth and Russell Stone were to play in O & M flags in the seventies. A few others had handy careers.IMG_4195

When his own two boys, Ian and Colin, became of age they stripped for Centrals. Roma says that when it was her turn to wash the Club’s Brown and Gold guernseys, she had to drape them on the fence.

One of the neighbors – a keen Rovers man – asked why she didn’t hang them on the clothes-line:

“Lou won’t let me !,” she replied.

Ian and Col both followed in their old man’s footsteps and went on to play senior footy with the Pies.

The Cesa’s also had three girls – Cheryl, Karen and Joanne. Sadly, Cheryl suffered an inoperable brain aneurism and passed away, aged 33, after being on Life-Support at the Alfred Hospital for some time.

“It was a sad time. You never forget it,” Roma recalls. “We cared for three of her kids for about three years, before their dad took them back. It hurt us when they left…..We wish we’d kept them.”

Lou and Roma headed over to Italy a few years ago, and made acquaintance with many of the Cesa clan in Lentia. They were treated like,. well, long-lost relations, and had a whale of a time.

Just the same, it was great to get back home. After all, Lou was missing his footy…………….IMG_4194

“THE DAY ‘CHOPSY’ JOINED THE GREATS……..”

Barry Burns was half-way through a fencing job up Myrrhee-way, and had stopped for a cuppa when the news came through………

“Someone from Wangaratta has won ‘The Warrnambool’,” was the caller’s message..

“Oh, that’d be Glenn Clarke. Good on him,” I said.

“Nah, apparently it’s some young kid that you’ve had a bit to do with……….”

Cycling legend Burns had to sit down and let the news sink in. The ‘kid’ was 18 year-old Brendan McAuliffe, whom he’d had under his wing for a couple of years .

Brendan was a talented lad, but when he’d enquired about the prospect of tackling the 1995 ‘Warrnambool’, his mentor warned him of the pitfalls he’d face in the Southern Hemisphere’s longest one-dayer – the second oldest cycling event in the world.IMG_4141

“It’s a brutal race. There’ll be times when you’ll want to give it away. But remember, the other blokes’ll be feeling the same as you. Just hang in there…….” Barry told him.

“Deep down, though, I didn’t give him a chance…………..”

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‘Burnsy’ had a unique insight to the iconic event. Most will be familiar with the story of him returning from the Vietnam War with his body intact and his mind shattered……And after getting back on the bike as a form of therapy, how he’d reconstructed his life.

One of his targets along the way was the ‘Warrnambool’ of 1988. By this stage, even though he’d turned 41, he was ranked among the nation’s best-performed road cyclists, and was assigned to the scratch mark for the journey.

With characteristic determination, he held off fellow scratch-men, including Paul Miller, Tony Hughes and ‘Bulldog’ Besanko, and hurtled to the line to achieve the cherished distinction of First and Fastest………

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When Brendan McAuliffe was growing up, Barry Burns was one of a number of riders who had thrust Wangaratta to the forefront of the cycling world.

“For instance, I was just a little tacker at Our Lady’s Primary School the day Dean Woods turned up to show us the Medals he’d won at the Olympics,” Brendan says. “That left a big impression on me.”

“And there were a few others who were at the pinnacle of their form too, like Olympians Glenn Clarke and Damien McDonald, and his brother Dean, who’d represented Australia.  John Kent, Chrissy Neate and Barry Bodsworth were others with whom I’d come into contact……”

,“But my cousin, Chris Long, from Shepparton, who once won a Melbourne to Yarrawonga Classic, and showed oodles of potential as a teen-ager, was probably the main reason I was drawn into the bike-game……”

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I’ve contacted ‘Chopsy’ McAuliffe at his shop – South-East Cycles – in the Gold Coast suburb of Beenleigh. He’s been running the business for just on nine years and admits that life can get pretty full-on. Some days he’ll put in a couple of hours fixing bikes, pop home for brekky, then head back to work for a full day, before he drags the bikes in from the front of the shop , just on dusk.

“Funny,” he says, “…I used to hang around Rob Sullivan’s Bike shop in my early teens, asking him if he needed a hand…..and here I am doing exactly the same thing nearly 30 years later.”

He’s been comfortably domiciled in idyllic Queensland since 2000. What clinched it, he says, was meeting his wife Olivia up there, finally settling down to a normal lifestyle – and raising their two daughters, Ella and Aslee.

We get yapping about his brief, but meteoric career – and the day he pulled off one of cycling’s biggest boilovers………….

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Brendan was 15 – and chock-full of ambition – when he approached Barry Burns and asked if the veteran could supervise his training.IMG_4139

“I’d climb into his green Panel-Van and head off to races. He was a terrific coach; always eager to impart his knowledge. You know, he never charged us a cent. We were all really grateful to him for what he did for us,” he says.

There was already a ‘stable’ of about nine, which included prodigious talents Baden Cooke and Rowan Croucher. Cooke, of course, was to become a pro cycling great, competing in the Tour de France on seven occasions, and collecting the highly-prized Green Jersey in 2003.

Croucher, according to Brendan, was one of those riders who ‘could have been anything’. Recruited to the VIS, there were huge raps on him, but he possibly lacked the necessary hunger to really push himself.

Some would term it ‘The Mongrel Element’. It’s said that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you haven’t got that bit of ‘shit’ in you, you’ll probably fall short.

Brendan was reminded of this in a Club Combine they were contesting around the hills near Thoona.

“ Rowan had got right away from us this day, and won comfortably. ‘Cookey’ and I were chatting as we were riding up this hill, when he looks across, starts clicking down the gears, and takes off.”

“Anyway, he finishes 6th and I floated in to come in a distant 7th. Dad (Max) gave me a hell of a serve about not sprinting to the finish. I said: ‘ But it was only for 6th.’”

“He snorted back: ‘That’s why he’ll make it and you won’t. He’s a friggin’ ‘animal’.”

“And he was dead right. Cookey wanted it more. He had an abundance of ‘mongrel’……”

Brendan’s improvement was gradual, but the thing that kicked him along was being exposed to the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of European cycling.

Still not old enough to hold a driver’s licence, and envious of the stories his cousin had fed him of his experiences in Holland and Belgium, he decided to join him over there for a few months.

It gave him the opportunity to ride in events like the Junior Tour of Flanders, and several longer-distance races which, he found, suited him to a tee.

On his return home – and still in excellent nick – he began looking around for some more challenges, but discovered that there wasn’t much available for a junior rider like himself.

That’s when he began to entertain the notion of having a crack at the ‘Melbourne to Warrnambool’…..

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He’d read of the thousands of instances of Club riders, blessed with a handy mark and a head full of dreams, being unable to cope with the bitter October crosswinds which would batter them to such an extent that they were unable to complete the 264km trip of the iconic ‘Warrnambool’.

Yet he’d also been told of the percentage of out-markers who’d taken advantage of more favourable conditions, and prevailed.

Sometimes, they said, it all comes down to the wind. Dean Woods created history when he covered the distance in a remarkable 5 hours 12 minutes 26 seconds in 1990. Three years later, he rode 2 hours 23 minutes slower, yet finished First and Fastest – to complete one of his finest cycling performances.

The bottom-line was that, prior to this Centenary running of 1995, eight of the previous nine races had been taken out by a scratch-rider.

“I said to Phil Griffiths, who drove me down, that I was looking at it as simply trying to better myself……… just going for a bit of a training ride,” Brendan recalls.

As a junior, he wasn’t technically eligible to ride any distance over 120km. But he was given a dispensation by the Chief Commissaire…..”probably because they didn’t think I’d finish”.

And a favourable mark of 60 minutes helped. ”When I picked up my number the day before, the bloke behind the desk said: ‘Geez, you did alright there. You’ve just gotta finish it now.”

Feeling a touch toey, only minutes from the start, he felt the urge to go to the ‘loo’….and worse still, discovered he had a puncture.

“Out of nowhere, Graeme Daws rushed out of the crowd and said: ‘Settle down, son. You have your pee, I’ll fix this’ ……… “

“Once we got going, it was great. The wind was up our arse all the way. I felt really comfortable, but didn’t entertain the thought of winning.”

“When we got to the 180km mark I was in ‘LaLa Land’…….buggered. I remembered Burnsy saying, when you get like this, just put your head down and go harder. Then I became refreshed at 200-220 and started winning sprints. I think I took out the last 2 or 3. It definitely wasn’t hard. I almost felt guilty in some ways…………”

Three hundred metres from the finish, Brendan sprinted to the line, to the applause of the crowd gathered along Raglan Parade.IMG_4138

He’d entered the record books, as the winner of the Centenary ‘Warrnambool’ – and collected the handsome $5,000 prize-money.

“I had a couple of regrets. One, that I was too young to appreciate it. We had to come home that night, and I missed the opportunity to say to the Warrnambool people: ‘Wow, what a privilege it was to compete”……..

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‘Chopsy’ McAuliffe and his coach, Barry Burns

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Controversy reigned in the aftermath of the race. Classy German rider Marcel Wust, who recorded Fastest-Time honours, declared that: “I’ve just competed in my first, and last, ‘Warrnambool’ “. He couldn’t quite get his head around the handicapping system, that had left him, as the quickest rider, so far behind the winning bunch.IMG_4146

But, to the victor went the spoils.

Brendan used his prize-money to fund a return trip overseas, where he contested several big races on the European circuit, including the 320km ‘Hanover to Berlin’.

He learned a lot, but was stricken with Glandular Fever, an illness that cuts down many young sportsmen in their prime. It prompted his return to Australia, and forced him to hang up the bike, presumably, he thought, until he’d recovered full fitness.

That never came to pass…….the burgeoning pro career of ‘Chopsy’ McAuliffe was over, at the age of 20.

He maintains a fervent interest in cycling, and his most recent trip down south was to take part in the High Country Charity Ride earlier this year.

No doubt a few of his old Wangaratta mates would have been keen to re-visit the day he rode to fame 24 years ago…………….

P.S: Brendan McAuliffe was the last winner of the ‘Warrnambool’ in its status as a Handicap Event. For the last 23 years it has been conducted as a Scratch Race.

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Wangaratta’s four ‘Warrnambool’ winners: Graeme Daws 1959, Barry Burns 1988, Dean Woods 1993, Brendan McAuliffe 1995

Continue reading ““THE DAY ‘CHOPSY’ JOINED THE GREATS……..””

‘WATCHING THE GAME FROM THE GATE….’

I wake up on Sunday morning with a queasy feeling in the stomach.

No, it’s not from last-night’s over-indulgence……Worse…It’s Derby-Day, and I can’t see how my Hawks, who’ve been competitive this year, can be any match for a rampant Wangaratta.

I can only go on media reports and local scuttlebut, which indicate that they’re flag favourites, boasting a side chock-full of talent. Aside from an aberration up at Tigerland, they’ve swept all opposition aside with consummate ease.

To further aggravate matters, I’m working on the Gate, and will have to contend with chirpy Magpies filtering through – all with that look of smug satisfaction on their dials – their only irritation being that they have to begrudgingly hand over some of their ‘hard-earned to these Rovers pricks’………

Being on gate-duty once the siren blows, is like watching life unfold through the bars of a dingy prison cell. You peer across, and catch a glimpse of the scoreboard -if you can -through the heavily-populated bank to the right of the Hogan Stand.

And it’s not a happy tale……

The roar of the crowd is a sure-fire indicator. Sounds like it’s all one-way traffic, after a promising start. The Pies pile on the goals. To my surprise, one fan is departing, even though it’s only half-way through the second term….or maybe, he’s going out to fetch something from the car.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

“Want a Pass-Out ?” …..”Nah. I’ve seen enough. They’re too slow……Keep turning the ball over. It’s gonna be a belting.”

Gee, that doesn’t sound promising. Am I seeing right ?…..Looks like it’s blown out past six goals.

To confirm this, I switch on the trannie, and pick up Gambie and Omo on OAK-FM. They’re full of praise for the Magpies, who are chopping up the Hawks through the mid-field. And big Josh Porter is causing headaches up forward……… Then they utter the words I didn’t want to hear : “……the Rovers are flat-out trying to keep tabs on their classy opponents, and seem to be losing control…….”

Just before the half-time siren blows, we start packing up, and see that there’s only four goals in it. Are the Rovers slowly creeping back into the game……or will the Pies run away with it? For verification, I consult a couple of knowledgeable experts in the rooms, and, though they’re usually ‘Glass Half-Full types’, they’re of the latter opinion.

Wang are too strong all over the ground, they tell me; they’re using the ball better, and have capitalised on the Rovers’ skill errors…………….

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So I take up my usual position, leaning on the inter-change box in front of the rooms. From this vantage-spot you can also watch the ‘Crezza Show’. He’s in fine form today. Fully-animated…. gesticulating….arms waving….offering priceless morsels of advice to youngsters coming off…..and a blast to those of his players who’ve deviated from the game-plan.IMG_4149

He couldn’t be any closer to the action, and you can see by his body language, that he likes what he sees in the early stages of this third-quarter.

The Hawks are kicking to the ‘Gum-Tree End’. After hearing the prognostications of those at half-time, I’m staggered by what I’m seeing. Early on, diminutive Patty Hourigan takes possession of the pill deep in attack, and snaps a ripper, which enthuses the packed Rovers supporters on the balcony.

Then the ‘Brodie-Filo look-alike’, Matt Medcraft contemplatively takes a long-range shot from deep on the far flank. It evades flailing hands and bounces through. A miracle goal…..and what a team-lifter.

A change has certainly come over the game which, those around me say, has gone to another level. The tackling and ferocity is Ovens and Murray footy at its best from both sides.O&M Wang Rovers vs Wangaratta (17)

But the momentum is certainly with the Hawks. When dashing Jack Gerrish bolts through the middle of the ground, bouncing and skilfully keeping control of the ball at full-pace, it illustrates what a game of inches it is.

Had he faltered, the ball would have been quickly rebounded to the other end. But he steadies, and it ends up in the hands of his 2018 Thirds team-mate, Sam Allen, who slots a major, mid-post high, through the big sticks.

Amazingly, the Hawks have drawn level, and there’s a buzz around the ground reminiscent of those fabled Derby clashes of days gone-by.

Minutes later, young Sammy pops another one through, once again demonstrating his forte – a lethal right foot – and proving that  a footballer can be transformed. from a ‘turd to a camellia’ in a matter of twenty minutes.

The Rovers hold the ascendency by a goal at three quarter-time, and both camps are reasonably confident of their chances.

Will the Pies steady, and with their big-game experience, regain the upper-hand ? Or, with adrenalin pumping in their veins, and taking their chances, can the Hawks hold on?

Wang do most of the attacking in the early-to-mid stages of the final term, but can’t land the blow which would swing the game their way.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (10)

In one of the key moments, the big fellah, Ed Dayman, tackles and scores a free kick, then lines up a pressure shot for goal. This shot’ll test him surely, I surmise. No problems, it doesn’t deviate. He’s a gun, young Ed.

Matt Grossman, who has been thrust forward by the Pies, is free-kicked, and the 50-metre penalty which follows, aids him in nailing their first goal in a half.

They boot four successive behinds; the last of them a flying shot which causes the post to shake like most of the nervous fans. It reduces the margin to two points, but it’s only when Stuart Booth runs in to hammer a goal home with less than two minutes remaining, that the game is finally put to bed.O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (18)

The siren, which brings finality to a contest and a half, prompts an overflowing of emotion, as the players congregate in mid-field.

Apparently one player gave a bit of lip, which prompted Maggie Daniel Boyle to react. Nothing wrong with that, I reckon. More to the point, it’s nice to know that the old home-town rivalry is alive and well.

What is worth a rap, though, is his effort to come into the Rovers rooms to apologise. That’s character for you……………..O&M Wangaratta Rovers vs Wangaratta (20)

Special thanks to Melissa Beattie of the Wang. Chronicle, for the photos.